Review: Hysteria Project 2 (Sony PS3/PSP)

Hysteria Project 2
Publisher: Sanuk Games
Developer: BulkyPix Games
Genre: FMV Adventure
Release Date: 08/23/2011

So late last year, I found myself with a ten dollar PSN card to burn through. I decided to use that money to buy a few Minis. Up until that point, I’d only played ones that I was given to review. I picked up three games that day; Echos, Zombie Tycoon, and Hysteria Project. I’ll spare you the details on the prior two, because they’re unrelated. Hysteria Project was a interesting game. It was as if it were pulled straight from the Sega CD days. It was an FMV game that played almost like a choose your own adventure book. It wasn’t great, but it had some interesting ideas.

As such, when this game showed up for review, I volunteered my services. The first game ended on a cliffhanger, and I was also interested to see what the developers would do to improve the formula. After all, this genre is pretty much untouched by anyone else, so if someone can bring it back, that’s worth looking into.

Let’s see what they did for a sophomore effort.

Story

Well things certainly start off weird. There is a lengthy flashback at the beginning, but it the one thing it fails to do is decide whether or not you’re playing as the same character. On top of that, a hidden secret in the previous game made it seem very likely that your character did not make it out alive. At no point are you given concrete proof that you’re playing as the same guy.

There is a big difference between the two games, however. This game takes place inside of a research building instead of the woods. You also have contact with a fellow non-murderous human being. You start things off tied to a stretcher while a woman comforts you and gives you an injection before running off and leaving you to die. Still, this leads somewhere and she’ll become a guide of sorts that leads you through the building. You’ll even have a chance to investigate a room in order to find out more about what is going on. There’s just enough backstory fleshed out so as to give some intrigue, though you still know nothing about yourself.

Overall, the atmosphere is pretty nifty, but the story isn’t firing on all cylinders. The game ends on another cliffhanger, though this one is much worse. On top of that, there’s no connection to the characters in the game and the villain just isn’t scary. In fact, he’s pretty comical thanks to some of his gestures. As such, the story just isn’t memorable.

Graphics

This game contains several full motion video scenes. Basically, there are live action scenes that play depending on your actions. For example, while strapped to a gurney, you can click on your arm. The scene will then switch to real footage of a man trying to break free from the straps. These scenes aren’t the entire game like they were in the prior entry, but there are plenty of them and they look pretty good. All except the intro. The flashes were annoying and the idea that when you blink everything slowly turns black and then slowly reverses is silly. The effect wasn’t pleasant.

There are plenty of non-FMV sequences this time, as well as plenty of sequences of graphics placed on top of FMV. For example, one scene has you crawling through a fire. In the base footage, there would be no fire. It was added in digitally. Most of the scenes that don’t use FMV look remarkably worse, but are still fairly good for a Mini title. The art style is also pretty nifty, with rundown hospital rooms and a genuinely creepy atmosphere.

It looks impressive on the PSP, but if you chose to play this game on the PS3, it won’t look that great. The effects just aren’t up to snuff compared to rest of the package. Odd looking lasers and gas are the big culprits. Hysteria Project 2 ends up being better than the average Mini, but it doesn’t rank with the best.

Audio

The music in this game is very limited. It exists solely to give the player a sense of dread, and it does so with a very minimalist approach. There aren’t any songs that you can hear, but rather musical tones and sounds that set the mind on edge. This is a double-edged sword. While the music does a decent job of getting you hooked into the atmosphere, it also completely fails to be memorable.

A first for the series, there is a voice actor in this title. Your female companion gets quite a bit of dialogue for such a short game, and she does an OK job. She certainly has a sense of urgency about here that fits the game’s ideals. However, if you die, and you will most likely die a lot, you’ll have to hear her same lines repeatedly, and they will start to grate on you.

There aren’t too many sound effects in the game, but what’s here is pretty solid. The player character is constantly breathing heavy, doors click, and footsteps echo on the hallway walls. The only issue here is that some sounds seem muted unnecessarily. For example, the villain will crash through a wall on a certain game over screen, but the sound is pretty much nonexistent.

Though there are some hiccups, this is a game that loses much of its luster without the sound. The game suggests you use headphones while you play the game. I’d agree that this is a good idea and significantly improves the playing experience.

Gameplay

As a port of an iOS game, there were several developmental challenges that needed to be overcome. I’m sorry to say that BulkyPix wasn’t up the task this time around.

For starters, the game constantly changes between the use of the analog stick and the d-pad. However, there is no on screen prompt to let you know when this happens. For example, the ending sequence uses the d-pad exclusively, whereas the d-pad did nothing only moments before. It will cause unnecessary deaths and feels cheap every time.

The controls for this game are very laid back. This is basically a simple point and click game with some context sensitive puzzles. Most sections have you stationary while you move a cursor around the screen to find the object you need to click on. Then, you’ll either need to watch a quick scene or start pressing the correct buttons. In one case, you need to input a security code while your companion screams out possibilities at you. Another section has you investigating a room for clues as to a password. Apart from one room, most of these sections are “click the right spot the first time or you die”. This gets really annoying.

There are a few action sequences in the game. These involve balancing while walking down a hallway, keeping a closet door open just wide enough to see without being seen, and hurdling lasers at high speed. These sequences control the worst. The laser sequence, for example, has you pressing corresponding directional inputs to dodge lasers. For left and right, this is fine. However, the timing on the jumps and ducks is quite off. To beat it the first time, it took me about twenty times. The most annoying thing about these sections is that you’ll have to keep interacting long after it seems you should have stopped. After the killer has left the the room, why are you still balancing the open door? If you use this logic, you’ll die. Keep pressing buttons until that next cutscene starts or until you see a save notice.

Very often, it becomes difficult to figure out what to do for one reason or another. At one point, I was standing in front of a a double door. I clicked the doorknob, but nothing happened. I explored the room and found a body bag with a light shining through it. I clicked the bag, and was greeted with a death screen. I was given no warning. Turns out, you need to click the crack between the doors in order to open them. Another section has you inputting a ten digit code from memory. The issue here is that their idea of a seven looks like a one and the last digit is so obscured that most people don’t know what it is. I had to look it up online, and I’m still not sure how I was supposed to see that letter from what I presented.

The last game was a simple choose your own adventure title with some occasional button pressing. The developers took the series in a new direction, but they didn’t pull it off well. What we get is an often frustrating adventure game with some bad design choices. It is nothing less than a letdown.

Replayability

This game offers one mode and every playthrough is exactly the same There are no difficulty levels, challenges, or alternate endings to get players to do it all again. To top that all off, the game can be completed in less than half an hour once you figure out all of its nasty tricks. My second playthrough halved the time, and it would have been even less if not for a couple nasty sections.

What this game does offer is hidden files throughout the game. If you find them, they reveal pages of the killer’s journal that you can access via the main menu. I got all but a couple of these the first time, and I could easily get the rest on a second playthrough. Basically, you can completely finish this game in less than an hour.

Value, this game offers not.

Balance

Most of the balancing problems with this game can be explained by bad design choices. That obscured character, that awkward jumping timing, and stubborn door can all be attributed to that. Sure, they all make the game harder, but not through difficulty curves or anything.

The game can often feel unfair, and that is what I’ll cover in this section. Often, you’ll die instantly upon clicking something, without any idea as to what happened. You’ll then see a vague clue on the game over screen and try to figure it out from there. One section has you peering over a corner, trying to time a quick escape to a nearby room However, there are times when peering over just a bit more causes death, even if the killer is nowhere to be seen. The game over message says you need to time your shot carefully, but you didn’t even attempt to enter the room. It gets frustrating very quickly if you don’t figure out the trick.

Poor controls and bad design make this game feel cheap, killing the balance and making the game seem harder than it really is. Once you know all of the tricks, the game is a breeze.

Originality

Well, since this game is not only a sequel, but also a port of an iOS game, I’m not going to be handing out points for originality.

If you haven’t played either the first game or the iOS original, the game will certainly feel familiar, but every puzzle and sequence feels like it was ripped straight from a Sega CD or adventure game. The killer, with his black hood and axe, doesn’t even manage to feel new.

Were this not a port, I could give it some points, but that isn’t the case.

Addictiveness

I actually had a hard time putting this game down.

The atmosphere, when not broken by poor control issues, makes one want to keep going. You must get your character to safety, and you must figure out what is causing this all. There are far more questions than answers, but that served Lost well, so why not this game?

The big problem here is that he game is really short and really frustrating. After I beat the game a first time, nothing was interesting to me anymore. I could put the game down easily. I only beat it twice to remind myself of the issues before I sat down to review the game.

The mixed reactions here lead to a similarly mixed score.

Appeal Factor

Well, this game is a sequel to a fairly well received title, but it changes directions and ends up being an inferior follow up, despite a bigger scale. The game goes out of the woods and into a fully realized horror setting, but it loses itself along the way.

For fans of the first game who want to continue the story, the game is cheap. So, even though you won’t get much time out of it and the experience won’t be great, at least you won’t have spent too much money to play it.

This game ends on a cliffhanger, setting up a third title which will probably be released next year. It may be a spoiler of sorts, but I can’t in good conscience not bring this up. If you’re really into the series, you may just want to wait until all of the pieces have been released.

Miscellaneous

I’ve already gone over the extras in this game. The files you find fill in the killer’s journal and clue you into his mind. I found this particularly interesting, as both games have offered nothing during actual gameplay. This mechanic is a bright spot in the game.

Beyond that, there’s nothing left to talk about regarding this game. It went for a grander experience, but fell much like Icarus flying to the sun. I would like to give these guys another shot, as they can certainly nail down atmosphere. Maybe the game controls better on the iPhone and this is just a bad port. I hope the third game is what this could have been.

The Scores
Story: Poor
Graphics: Enjoyable
Audio: Enjoyable
Gameplay: Bad
Replayability: Dreadful
Balance: Pretty Poor
Originality: Worthless
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Poor
Final Score: Poor Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

Hysteria Project 2 could have been a pretty solid game. However, control issues cripple it from the get go and the story is unfinished. What this adds up to is a pretty forgettable game, despite the fact that FMV games are rare nowadays. If you enjoyed the first game, this game changes things too drastically. Still, you might get some enjoyment out of it. One thing we can be assured off, 2012 will see a Hysteria Project 3, and I hope it can get the series back on track.

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