Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Review: illbleed (Dreamcast)

I didn't beat Illbleed. Let's just go ahead and get this out of the way immediately. I did not beat Illbleed and on top of that I have no intention on doing so. It's not that I'm stuck or there's this section that's too difficult I just sincerely have no interest in continuing to play a game I hate, especially one that is as poorly designed as this one.

Illbleed is I assume by the same developers behind the early Dreamcast game Blue Stinger. Both of these games seem to share a number of common elements(I'm also currently playing Blue Stinger and well...I'm not entirely a fan of that game either). The story goes is that there's a haunted house where the owner has proposed a multi-million dollar prize for whoever can survive it. A plucky group of kids decides to take their chances at this place, much horror and wackiness ensues.

The game is broken up into multiple levels. Each level is patterned after a B-movie horror film and the player will have to contend with the "star" of the movie as well as the numerous traps that are scattered everywhere. Adding to this is a monitor that tracks all of the player's vital signs. Getting scared, attacked by enemies, and just generally letting bad things happen will cause their health to drop, their heart-rate to go up, and so on. Keeping these maintained through items or otherwise will result in more cash rewards from completing a level. 

The premise and concept is actually quite good. The Haunted Mansion is consistently played more for laughs than actual scares and the characters are well-developed. Each of the levels are not limited to one aspect of gameplay as you're liable to do a number of entirely different things in your search to figure out the mysteries and get the prizes.

For example. In the beginning of the first level you start by exploring an old hotel while defeating traps with a special set of goggles. Along the way you also trigger fights with various grotesque beasts and you must fight them off or hail a rope-ladder which looks as if it's hanging from a helicopter(?!). After solving a couple basic puzzles you then have to run through a maze while dodging a monster and then engage in a bossfight. The conclusion of the level involves evading an absolutely gigantic version of the monster while running across a bunch of wreckage in the middle of a lake. So over the course of a single level one can expect to see a lot of variety in the gameplay.

Unfortunately not much of this is handled well at all. The first annoying aspect is the traps. These traps are triggered when you get too close to suspicious objects(mainly because they cause your five senses to go haywire, and yes all this is monitored on the screen). The thing is though is that in order to defeat these traps you have to spot them with your goggles(which actually have to be found in the level first, poor idea) and they use up a sort of spectral energy whenever you examine something. However not everything is a trap, some objects contain items while other objects contain nothing at all. The biggest problem with this system is that while trying to defeat some traps you could potentially wander into others. Though your five senses are usually good for discovering traps there are times when multiple objects are clumped together thus leaving you to guess which one is dangerous. It's not a stretch to assume that one could end up replaying sections or even entire levels because they guessed poorly too often.

The combat is really bad all around. The mechanics aren't exactly sound as you'll find yourself getting hit by things that look like they didn't even touch you, many enemies ignoring your attacks, and so on. Another annoying aspect is that the only way to dodge most attacks is through an evade move. You're practically invincible while doing this move but it also causes your heart-rate to increase dramatically. Unfortunately for encounters with multiple enemies you're almost required to do several of these(and it's a bad idea to simply take the hit since you can't access your inventory during combat, which can be a serious issue for longer battles). Even getting encountered by an enemy causes the player's heart-rate to go up. Worst of all however is that there is zero incentive to fighting 90% of the time. Outside of boss fights it's a better option to run away for the rope ladder simply because you get no reward for winning the battle. Killing these foes doesn't get you cash or items or adds to your end of level rating. It's no wonder the combat in this game is so poor it's because the game doesn't expect you to engage in it(except for the bossfights so I'm not sure where the designers were going with this one).

Another absolutely infuriating aspect of this game is the general lack of savepoints. Now I'm the kind of guy who despises the frequent checkpoint-fests games have turned into lately but there is little excuse for the placing of these save locations. Some save locations have a hospital nearby, others are surrounded by monsters, sometimes there isn't one when it would be useful(like say before a boss fight or a particularly difficult area). The first stage had some very sensible savepoint placing yet the very next stage has one savepoint in the middle of a huge worm-filled maze. So the game essentially expects the player to complete an obtuse & frustrating jumping puzzle(where failing gets him or her into a bossfight they have to escape from, which again raises the heart-rate and probably damage), engage in a number of difficult fights with gun-wielding enemies, defeat the boss, and another encounter or two towards the end. Would it have really been so hard to put a save point in the general area where all this takes place? At least then it wouldn't be such a huge deal to replay certain sections. 

This is honestly where I quit the game at. Maybe the savepoint issue isn't a big deal by itself but when other issues with the game crop up it becomes harder to ignore. If this was intentional by the developers they should have been more clear about it. It's probably not a terribly long game(definitely less than 10 hours I imagine, maybe even less than 5) but the game requires so much of the player for things that are just not good game design.

Quite frankly if you think the concept is endearing you're most likely better off watching the full playthrough that's floating around on youtube. In fact I believe all of the cutscenes are in there as well so you can enjoy the experience without suffering from the numerous issues in place. 

Next up will be Kenji Eno's D2 which is again for the Dreamcast. It's a Cinematic RPG which I guess would make it the equivalent of Parasite Eve. Both games also happen to feature blonde female protagonists who use guns and their storylines are pretty screwy. 

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