Thursday, April 15, 2021

Game 54: Escape From Monster Manor

Name:Escape From Monster Manor
Developer:Studio 3DO
Time: 12 hours 10 minutes

There are three kinds of shooters that get under a ten on Almost a Famine; Games I just don't get, like the arcade titles; Games that are just old, like Battlezone; Games that are actually horrible to play and experience, like today's title. Why must I find a new low in the latter category monthly? New, from EA, the latest bottom of the barrel title. Escape From Monster Manor! Monsters that require absolute precision to kill! Levels that feel like inescapable hellscapes! A soundtrack that's just a bunch of people screaming! A joke fitting to the 3DO, a system known for FMV trash. Imagine being some guy who spent all that cash on this system, tired of the FMV crap, finally finds something resembling a good game, only to have reality cruelly crush his hopes and dreams.

Borrowed from Mobygames

 But, let's go over the claims on the back of the box first.

  •  Its not that fast, in fact, its very slow compared to other games of its time. My neck's sore, but that's from staring at this piece of crap. I see nothing that couldn't be done elsewhere.
  • Its not that fast, in fact, its very slow compared to other games of its time. My neck's sore, but that's from staring at this piece of crap. I see nothing that couldn't be done elsewhere.
  • Battalions? Yeah. Shoot, would have used a Battalions of Fear joke if I knew that was the case. The clay was okay but the translucency was a problem.
  • Enter at your own risk! Yeah.
  • Discover keys...these are baic game elements.
  • Use your map or you may be lost forever. True.
  • Eerie music [...] set the mood. Is that mood lost in a theme park haunted house? Then yeah.

So, as you can tell, I'm not favorable towards this game. I never had a good opinion of it, but it still didn't make me hate the game. I only felt mediocre about it, not outright hatred. Then the spiders came, good god the spiders. You don't automatically hit them like the other enemies, you have to wait for them to attack. They have next to no rhyme or reason to their attacks. They jump around. This is all annoying when they're pressed against a corner, and you're waiting for them to start walking forward. The jumping is always to the right. The only guarantee is that they will attack just before they would be free of that corner, and they jump a lot when they're next to you. Imagine if in Doom the only effective strategy was to let an enemy attack you.

Oh, but I'm not done complaining here. The enemies were never good. Okay, stop-motion animation is underused in video games, and I have no feelings on the matter irregardless, but four enemies and four boss variants is nothing. One of the enemies, a skeleton in a robe, basically disappears halfway through the game or about 6 levels. That's three identical enemies. Remember that 1monster.wad? Where each level only has one enemy type? Try doing that for 9 or even 30 levels, Doom meisters. There's no AI, they just go straight at you. They're interesting in that they don't activate until you see them, well, slightly outside your sight range. A concession the game doesn't offer in reverse, they have small hitboxes for their sprites. Which makes hitting them tedious. And they stack up in a single space. That's right, those ghosts? There could be any number in a single tile from 1 to 100. Its noticeable with ghosts because there are many times when so many stack up their transparency effect disappears. Their attack naturally stacks too.

This isn't even the worst level
What really cemented my hatred of the game was the level design. It was never exciting, but it was playable. At the same time the spiders appeared every level turned into a maze. You know what's bad level design? Every corner hiding another enemy. You have to maintain vigilance at all times or you'll get hit by the something. And you can run past enemies, so you might end up getting a ghost behind you. They have a short recovery time, which is fun. But the mazes are all basically the same, here's a snaking corridor with enemies, here's a diagonal one, and here's the small item room it leads to. This wouldn't be so bad if they didn't decrease the gameplay speed of an already slow game to zero. The diagonals in particular just slow the game down.

Death screen
The difficulty of these levels is really schizophrenic too, you have some that barely offer any health and ammo, followed by some with them aplenty. And look at this screenshot of the map screen, its one of the later levels. Blocking scenery isn't shown on this map, so some of the shortcuts you might be seeing don't exist. These levels feel like they've been made solely to justify the cost of the game and to pad out the running time. Some of them take close to an hour to finish, and this is all if you don't die.

To top things off, the playing of this game is not the most satisfying experience in general. The game tries to put weight into everything, it takes a moment from you no longer pressing a movement key before the player stops. The gun pushes you back with every shot. These felt interesting at first but by the end just made it like running around with weights on your shoulders, or like being underwater. Not pleasant, regardless.
And then we have minor problems. Doors are only opened by keys, but beyond one level there's little point in the system. For a horror game, there's not much beyond minor window dressing. I don't care for the start button starting a new game on the menu, too many games have that as an accept button. The interface, while minimalist, does leaves me disoriented. It is cool that health is reflected by how damaged your hand is, but it just reminds me of Nitemare 3D again, and I really like that game.
Some of the sounds used in the game are from Doom. The wallhump sound effect is a pain effect here; The demon awakening sound effect is in one of the music tracks. My previous experience has no bearing on this, but they're not well-used here. Not that any of the sounds in the music tracks are used effectively, since they're background tracks. Its bizarre, what is it supposed to be? Are there actual people getting torn apart? Why am I not seeing them? Is it just the ghosts? Why are some of them doing that and not just attacking me? What reason is it there from a game perspective? How does hearing the sounds of gruesome death improve gameplay in any way whatsoever?

You have one weapon, a hitscan lightning pistol. There is no melee attack. Standard stuff, but wait, there's a problem, you have 100 ammo, but you drain 5 with each shot. That's 20 shots, ammo comes in 20 packs. It does feel weighty, but at the same time it doesn't feel powerful. 0/10

You've got four enemies, they're okay, melee and a ranged one. If the game just consisted of them, this would be acceptable. Certainly not good in any way: They're set up in precisely the most annoying placement at all times; They don't have long recovery periods; There can be many in a single square, troublesome for the ghosts; Their hitboxes seem very small compared to their sprites. No, what makes this category outright horrible are the spiders. You can't shoot at them unless they're attacking, and there's no set pattern to their attacks. While the ghosts were the most deadly, the spiders were just so tedious to deal with. 0/10


A new standard in bad level design has arrived. It starts off innocent enough, following standard level design, rooms, not great. If it was just that it'd get a few points...but by the halfway point each level is just an overwhelmingly long maze consisting of hundreds of enemies, barely enough ammo to kill them all, and just everything intended to shallowly increase level length. 0/10

Player Agency:
The player is very slow, turns very slow, moves very slow. These are big levels. I didn't find out until afterwards that there's a strafing function, the problem was due to my emulator not recognizing the shift keys properly. That doesn't really change anything, since strafing was never really necessary. Its faster though, curiously. 1/10


It starts off with a cookie-cutter Halloween theme, before turning into a haunted house theme park attraction theme...then finishes on a "I live next to a theme park, right next to their chainsaw bloody clown haunted house and their rollercoaster that they have to clean bodily fluids off every time it runs. Teenagers think my house is part of the park, and constantly try to break in. I want to move away, but I'm stuck at a dead end job, during the nightshift." 0/10

Everything looks much the same as everything else. There's no real variety to things, every part of the level looks much the same as a different part. There's little variety, and static props and enemies are consistent across all levels. Further, wall graphics at either side of the wall look weird in their distortions. A weird complaint, but its very distracting. 1/10

Cheesy narration aside, just a generic spooky mansion containing a magical item. The intro tries to go for a big payoff and the ending is more disappointing than a text endscreen. 0/10

The sound effects are fine, I guess. No enemy alert sound, which is a problem. The problem is the music, good god the music. Or soundtrack, since half of it isn't music. I never thought I'd say this, but you shouldn't have enemy sounds in your soundtrack. You shouldn't have scream sounds in your soundtrack. You shouldn't have any kind of sounds in your soundtrack that distract from the game itself. The music is generic, just harpsichord noodling. There's also not much of it, every track is really short as is the amount of them. 0/10

That is...2 out of 100. A new low in shooters. Would I recommend this? game developers. This is the kind of crap you need to know to avoid. You don't necessarily need to know the good, you need to know what common pitfalls others have. What else can I say that no one else has said? Its really bad, that's what. My opinion is apparently unique. Judging by reviews both modern and vintage, I am the only person who thinks that. I also think this is the only review by someone who beat the game, so take those statements however you will. Although the official 3DO magazine in the UK gave it a 2 out of 10, which I think is most telling of all.

Of interest is the lead developer's own LP. It explains a lot of the problems I had with it. And a lot of things I didn't. Its worth listening to in the background on its own merits, if not because of the game, but because of the sheer amount of technical knowledge relating to 64 bit era. And it even explains the biggest problem. Turns out the game was developed in 6 months because the last game was something that would take them considerably longer than the amount of work they already put in. It should be noted that even he didn't beat this game.

As an aside, I've spent some time compiling what games on the 3DO I should be playing. There are an astonishing 44 games that I've put in my sights, and quite a few of them are actually pretty cool looking. That's not including some of the Japanese ones nobody has any info on, which I'll probably give a quick check to. What's more astonishing is the number of EA titles there are, surpassing the amount 3DO or Panasonic put on their own console. These are legit exclusives to the system, for the most part. The only thing I find curious is the lack of sports titles. I wonder if that contributed to the death of the console, as there aren't any beyond racing or golf games. I think mine and others mocking of the 3DO's library is unfair. However, feel free to continue mocking the CD-i and Jaguar.

As another aside, the level designers which crashed the lead's career; One of them would go on to working on Hellgate: London, Dragon Age II and Mass Effect 3. Which if you haven't played them, also have have tedious level design. I don't know if the same guy was responsible, but it seems a reasonable accusation. And another was one of the testers. Sigh...

Next time...something better, which statistically, has to be true.

No comments:

Post a Comment