“In “HYSTERIA PROJECT”, YOU are the hero!”
The year was 1993. The Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series, “Jason Goes to Hell” was scaring horror fans at the movies, and a video game by the name of “Night Trap” was causing a shit storm at meetings of the joint Senate Judiciary and Government Affairs Committee. The Sega CD introduced the world to FMV (full motion video) games- video games that use pre-recorded video footage and actors instead of sprites and 3D models. The problem with FMV games was the footage was grainy, the gameplay lacked true interaction, and the overall experience was ultimately a pretty shallow affair. Fast forward 17 years…Jason still isn’t dead, Dana Plato is, and FMV was…until it rose from the grave last year in the form of Hysteria Project, an FMV game released by Bulkypix for the iPhone and iPod Touch.
Hysteria Project has been re-released this week by Sanuck Games in the form of a Playstation mini available via the PSN for the PS3 and PSP. The PS3/ PSP version is identical to the iPhone version previously released with the only exception being button presses have replaced the on screen tapping that was featured in the original version which won the “Revelation 2009” Milthon award in Paris.
The entire game is filmed in the first person perspective and events unfold as if you are looking through the main character’s eyes. The game begins with you waking up in a filthy room; a dark figure towering over you and binding your feet and hands with duct tape. No explanation is given as to who you are, where you are, or who your tormentor is. This vague set-up works wonders in establishing the game’s mood and throwing the player into an honest state of confusion. Before long, the dark figure leaves and the “interactive” part of the game begins. Throughout the game, the video on the screen will pause and bring up a “Choose Your Own Adventure” style of choices. Do you A. “Try to loosen the duct tape” or B. “Look around the room for something sharp?” These choices are where the game begins to lose steam. The stop in action definitely weakens the suspense the game tries so hard to build up.
You eventually escape the confines of your prison and start to run through the woods to freedom- only to look over your shoulder and see the dark hooded figure chasing after you with an axe. More choices…do you A. “Stay hiding behind the rock” or B. “Quietly find another hiding spot?” I choose the wrong answer and am greeted by an axe to the head and then a “Game Over” screen. In most cases, there is only one correct choice which leads to quite a bit of trial and error game play. Another wrong choice later in the game brings up not a startling death scene but just a “Game Over” screen with an explanation of my error in judgement and the deadly consequence. I guess filming death scenes every time would have been too much trouble? Weak, weak, weak.
Other parts of the game do require a bit more interaction by requiring the player to follow the onscreen prompts by pressing the X an O buttons. Need to silently brush those branches from your path so the killer won’t hear you? A series of X and O button presses will safely get you through. Feeling you have almost escaped is quickly spurned as your view is constantly shifted over your shoulder only to see the axe-wielding psycho still hot on your trail. Eerie noises and a fantastic soundtrack drive that initial fear (with the exception being a later part of the score that features an electric guitar that sounds more at home in a Lifetime movie sex scene than in a horror game.)
As the rest of the game continues the alternating of trial and error choices and button pressing mini-games. The shallowness I felt all those years ago playing the Sega CD begins to sink in. Gameplay flaws combined with years of horror cliches randomly thrown in begin to wear my patience thin. Unrelated images suddenly flash on screen and stutter wildly as if Nine Inch Nails videos were all the rage again. The ominous killer must suddenly become the leader of some hill-jack militia group because I am now carefully making my way through a maze of trip wires mounted to the surrounding trees with C-4. Yes, fucking C-4. All interest is now gone but I continue to plow through just to see if this can get any worse. As I continue to run down a path, I am at least happy to see a familiar face as the smoke monster from Lost (sound effects and all) races across in front of me and is gone before I can tell him to say hello to Locke for me. A few puzzles here and there are the key to knowing which way to choose but are easily solved by anyone over the age of five…and then before you know it, the game ends (clocking in at well under an hour.)
The conclusion of Hysteria Project hints at a sequel with a “To Be Continued” ending, but the story really gives no reason to really anticipate or hope for one. A game that starts out with such atmosphere and character is quickly turned into a crappy B movie by trying too hard to mimic too many genres of cinema that inspired it. I would love to see a sequel to Hysteria Project only if to see the mistakes of the first one addressed and fixed. NOW- for the good news. This title is ONLY $1.99…so, I am recommending a purchase. If you are a horror fan you will at least get $1.99 worth of enjoyment. Yes- the video is grainy. Yes- the gameplay is weak. Yes- it is $1.99…So go support indie game developers…are you really that fucking cheap?