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iPhone Game Review: Hysteria Project 2

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Oh so long ago I put myself on the pre-order list for a Sega CD and got one as soon as possible following its release.  Among the games that came with the add-on system was one called Night Trap which featured none other than Dana Plato of Diff’rent Strokes fame.  It was the first full motion video (FMV) title that I ever played (save maybe Dragon’s Lair which I was too young to “get”)  and consequently found it all very new and different. 

In Night Trap you basically sat at a computer and had to watch several rooms in a house, trying to trap bad guys and thereby stop them from hurting some innocent young lasses who were at the house for a slumber party (really).  Let too many bad guys escape the traps you controlled and the game would end.  The game was relatively static, you had few (if any) choices because the video clips for the right path remained the same. 

As bad as the acting may have been, as bad as the game controls were, and as silly as the overall plot unquestionably was, the game had something going for it because it was completely different than anything else I had ever encountered.  I played that game at the end of 1992 and if Hysteria Project 2 is a disappointing title on the iPhone it is because it implies that we haven’t progressed very far beyond Night Trap over the course of more than 18 years.

Hysteria Project 2 picks up where the original game (now available for free from the iTunes store) left off – there’s a crazed axe murderer and you’d rather not die at his hands.  The game features FMV, giving you a first person perspective on the events.  The way it works is that you get to see a little video clip (like of someone giving you a shot as you’re strapped to a table) and then you get to take control and execute an action or two (via swiping and tapping the screen)  Usually, if you perform the wrong action or take too long to decide what to do, you die.  Do the right thing in a brief enough period of time and you’re treated to the next cutscene and then your next opportunity to take control and die once more.

Let’s be clear, you’re going to die repeatedly in this game, which is kind of okay because you get to keep restarting from the exact moment you died last time and the game sometimes provides useful hints after you expire about what you should have done.  It’s also kind of not okay because having to try to do the same things over and over and over again is just annoying, particularly when you’re convinced that you’re doing everything right (like tapping in the spot the game says to tap which doesn’t always work even though you really think it should).

In the original Hysteria Project while there was some tapping required, more often the FMV would stop and give you a set of options about how to proceed.  HP2‘s swiping and tapping and not going away from the game scene is clearly meant to be an upgrade, but it doesn’t always work out that way.  The original game gave (whether real or not) the illusion of choice in your actions.  In HP2 there’s little illusion – you have no choice, do the wrong thing and the crazed axe murderer kills you.  There’s not a lot of story behind it all either, mostly it’s just stumbling from place to place and keeping your fingers crossed that your swipes will somehow prevent your death. 

I don’t think that the problem is that the game is hard; it is hard, but hard doesn’t necessarily mean bad.  No, the problem is that the game is hard but doesn’t feature any sort of reward for your progressing.  Yes, you do get the chance to die in an all-new situation for every situation from which you escape, but somehow that doesn’t quite feel like enough. 

Executing a good FMV is exceptionally difficult – filming a game means that you’re completely tied to what you’ve filmed.  Trying to film every possible eventuality for what a player might want to do is impossible.  Consequently, to execute a good FMV game you need to convince the player that the direction you want to send them in is actually what they want to do.  Hysteria Project 2 doesn’t do that, interaction is kept to a complete minimum and it tends to substitute forcing you to do things quickly for creating any sort of suspense. 

Once the Hysteria Project series of titles is completed I think I’ll be very curious to see how the story progresses and what exactly the tale that they’re trying to tell is.  However, I think I’d much rather have the opportunity to simply sit down and watch the video than actually being forced to play through it.

Hysteria Project 2 does not have an ESRB rating but does carry a 12+ rating at the iTunes Store for:  Infrequent/Mild Realistic Violence; Frequent/Intense Horror/Fear Themes; Infrequent/Mild Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use, or References.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.