Monday, December 2, 2013

Splatterhouse (PS3/360) - Review: Objectively Mediocre, but Really It's Pretty Awesome

Splatterhouse, which released in 2010 for the PS3/360, arrived beside some critically negative press. As a game with lengthy load times, repeated animations and sounds, various technical glitches, and a lackluster ending that does not conclude anything the player has done, Splatterhouse genuinely earned it's Metacritic score of 59/100, and is, objectively speaking, a truly mediocre title.
But that doesn't take into account the fact that Splatterhouse is simply solid entertainment, and is a straight delight to actually play. Most refreshing about Splatterhouse is that it isn't trying to be anything other than its core content: it's a game based on gore, and never loses sight that gameplay involving gore is what is most important here. Furthermore, for all of those things Splatterhouse gets wrong it makes up for with well-crafted upgrades and unlockables that expand the overall content in meaningful ways.
Splatterhouse would have benefited by some additional efforts in technical polish and animation/voice variety, but for what it is Splatterhouse is still a lot of fun.
The strongest portion of Splatterhouse is that the focus is 100% on gameplay. Game-pausing cinematics are few and far between, and story is told through dialogue and gramophones that do not interrupt the gameplay. Splatterhouse is interested only in keeping the player active, and while this may seem an obvious inclusion the amount of games that have ignored that this generation far out-number those that have heeded it.
Most important to understanding how Splatterhouse is successful is cutting out the idea of it being an Action game, because it's not. Splatterhouse is a Brawler that is about pound-for-pound carnage while painting everything and anything in blood and body parts. There are combos and a small requirement for strategy, but mostly Splatterhouse is all about punching demons into pulp while building up Necro (special-attack cost) and then unleashing either super-powered attacks or transforming into a super-powered hulk. The end result is always the same though: everyone but you (but sometimes you also) is shredded into bits, the floor is ankle-deep with blood, and you move on to kill some more.
It's simple, but it doesn't become repetitive. Splatterhouse works with very little; basic brawler mechanics, macabre art-direction, and a heavy-metal soundtrack. But with that minimalism Splatterhouse becomes a game that, while not innovative, maximizes upon its included elements and delivers a fluent, active title that has just the right incline of difficulty alongside an addictive upgrade system to keep you satisfied.
Also in Splatterhouse's favor is that despite its brevity in both complexity and length (campaign is about 5 hours on normal) the additional elements all expand upon the game in addictive and rewarding ways. Character upgrades, which include new combos, abilities, and stat boosters, all exemplify a growth in your character. While not all upgrades have a significant use-factor, once obtaining the upgrade you can still notice the overall enhancement, and your masochistic, murdering avatar becomes just a little bit more of a psychopathic hero. Because most upgrades are also very affordable via Blood (the in-game currency you amass by the bucket-load) they quickly become addictive in a "Collect 'Em All" style.
A relevant criticism to Splatterhouse is that the game's ending is downright terrible in that it doesn't wrap anything up. This is unfortunately true, but at the same time the story prior to its clumsy ending is one investing and enjoyable. Again, though, Splatterhouse keeps its grindhouse roots front-and-center, and while the story is well told it is also very simple, existing as an addition and not a priority. Without spoiling anything the story has two focus': a college couple and their relationship, and a mad scientist with apocalyptic pursuits. Surprisingly, by the end of Splatterhouse I was genuinely invested in the overall histories and motivations of both stories, and both of the games two collectibles (photographs of the girlfriend, and pages from the mad scientist's journal) addition to the stories with fully-voiced, well-written dialogues and memories. If the story is not your thing than the collectibles will be just that, but I think it's more fair to attribute that the team behind Splatterhouse recognized that having players collect things without there being any reason to beyond trophies/achievements was meaningless, and seeing that extra effort put out to expand the game in a divisive, significant manner is one deserving of kudos.
The unfortunate reality of Splatterhouse is that it released at a time that both journalists and gamers were fully enveloped in a new style of gaming antithetical to simple and solid entertainment as found in Splatterhouse. 2010 was a year of very involved, expensive, and emotive gaming experiences such as Red Dead Redemption, Mass Effect 2, Heavy Rain, and Bioshock 2, and with the surging rise of valuing games as an "artistic expression," something that is still completely and totally undefined, something like Splatterhouse, a game that thrives on exploitative entertainment-values and is interested solely in gameplay, was a title that everybody viewed as a "backwards step," a videogame that was too much of a videogame.
It's really a shame, because in my eyes Splatterhouse delivers just about everything I could ever want from a videogame. Enjoyable, approachable gameplay with addictive qualities and yes, gory violence and fantastical creativity. While Splatterhouse is not necessarily a quality videogame because of the faults mentioned at the beginning of this review, that isn't to say that Splatterhouse isn't a fun videogame, which it thoroughly is. And, in my opinion, that's the most important thing in any videogame, and so despite its fault Splatterhouse is a title I'd wholly recommend to anyone looking for what it is that makes videogames, well, videogames: solid, enjoyable gameplay and a creative art-direction that inspires one's own imagination. You'll find just that here in Splatterhouse, and you won't be disappointed when you do.

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