Review: Haunted House (360/Wii/PC)

Posted: November 17, 2010 in PC, Reviews
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Haunted House Review

Spooky Dwellings

Atari has created a shiny new take on their original Haunted House for the Atari 2600 that retains strong ties to the gameplay of the original with a few new twists. The game begins as you choose one of the two Silverspring siblings as they enter the Graves mansion to search for their grandfather. They have to navigate it with various light sources – everything from matches, cell phones, and candles to magic lanterns. You can carry two light sources at any time, and each one has advantages and disadvantages. Torches and candles burn bright, but don’t last long. Cell phones last a long time, but don’t give off a lot of light. And lanterns offer the best bang for your buck, as they’re long-lasting, bright, and can burn enemies. There are also several magic items that may give light indefinitely, as well as provide powerful attacks against the residents of the mansion. You have to ration your lights carefully, as they’re in limited supply.

One of the goals is to collect journal entries of your grandfather, as well as the house’s inhabitants. This reveals a compelling little tale, which is surprisingly dark for an E rated game. The core of the gameplay involves collecting usable items (as in lights and weapons) as well as finding keys and flipping switches to move to the next area. Every few levels you’ll also run into a boss.

You can also collect various items for the sake of collecting, most of which are shout-outs to various macabre movies – you’ll find things like a Scissor Hand, Hockey Mask, and some of the weapons from Clue. You can also collect coins, but I haven’t found a use for these – this house doesn’t seem to be crawling with merchants or vending machines! You can view all of these things in the trophy room, where the items are accompanied by an often humorous description.

Fear Effect

Haunted House for WiiThe camera view never changes (although it zooms in and out in two-player), and usually this is for the best – although I have run into at least one occasion where I lost myself behind a wall. The graphics are fine – nothing special, but they represent what they should, and they look clean and run smoothly. If you run out of lights, the blacks and blues of the environments can be a little hard on the eyes. The presentation of the game is great, with nice-looking menus and painted stills as cutscenes. It doesn’t feel as cheap as a lot of budget titles do. The atmosphere of the game is nice and spooky in a Scooby Doo sense, although I doubt it would be scary for anyone over the age of 6. As such it’s not Silent Hill, but you might enjoy the ambience anyway. I’d most closely relate it to the old PlayStation game, MediEvil.

The graphics are functional, if nothing special. You can pretty easily identify what you’re looking at, and the game does have some nice lighting effects.

The two-player co-op mode is well implemented, although it doesn’t seem to be very different from the single player, aside from allowing a friend to tag along (and consequently allowing you to carry four items between the two of you).

In spite of the fact that I enjoyed the game, I do have a few gripes with it. First and foremost, the lack of a map is a bit of a double-edged sword. There are times when it can be frustrating, however I think the game might be extremely easy if it had a map. Oh well, it would have been a nice feature. A bigger problem that players will inevitably run into is the limited number of sounds. Monsters have one sound each, and the characters don’t have a lot of variation in their speech. You’ll hear “Grandpa?” and “What was that?” repeated a lot. The game also lacks an option to save on the fly, and it doesn’t explain saving very well. When you light a fireplace it saves at a checkpoint.

Also, during co-op, my friend and I managed to render the game unwinnable by leaving a necessary key item (a red lantern) in a room, and had to re-load. It also happened to me in the last level, of all places, in single player.

Another problem is that the game is often very dark, and tends to strain on your eyes after a while. While this is to be expected from a game where finding a light source is a core game mechanic, just remember to take a break every once in a while or turn up the brightness a bit.

There are also two other matters that should be factored in. The game is very easy. Even on the highest difficulty you have infinite lives and can restart from your last checkpoint. Death is pretty much a slap on the wrist. On top of this, the game doesn’t offer a huge amount of variety in gameplay. You will pretty much be doing the same thing for the entire game. If you’re looking for a deep, minigame-heavy quest, look elsewhere. The game ran me about 6 hours on the medium difficulty.

The Final Verdict

Haunted HouseĀ is a budget title, and for its modest aspirations – to recreate and improve a game concept from over thirty years ago – it’s not bad. Frankly speaking, I enjoyed it more than the A-list title Metroid: Other M. It has some flaws, but considering that it’s a budget game, it’s pretty solid. It’s nothing groundbreaking or mindblowing, but you should have some fun with Haunted House.

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