Thursday, October 27, 2022

Doctor Hauzer (1994)

Title screens are starting to become more animated, so this still is just one way you'd see this
Name:Doctor Hauzer
Publisher:Riverhill Soft
Developer:Riverhill Soft
Genre:"Survival Horror"/Adventure
Time:1 hour 50 minutes
Won:Yes (50W/52L)

Riverhill Soft, despite the fact that you probably haven't heard of them, are one of the more influential Japanese game companies of the '80s. Starting off as a publishing house on the PC-88 the company would become known as a Japanese-style adventure company. The J.B. Harold series has sold millions of copies. Without ever leaving Japan. Its popularity was so huge once upon a time there was a full-blown FMV game, made in America with American actors, that barely even exists outside of Japan. That one only exists on the LaserActive, a system you probably haven't heard of. Murder Club, the first, was released on DOS, but only managed to get a bit of minor controversy for its fairly hardboiled nature.

The aforementioned DOS version of Murder Club

Oh, they did other games between their first adventures and now, but those are all in Japanese, and my grasp of the language isn't at that level just yet...and they're all RPGs or adventures. Doctor Hauzer has a fan translation. This game is pretty comparable to Sweet Home at first glance, as these are both Japanese survival horror games that have captured the hearts of people writing histories of the genre. When I fired it up the first time I was shocked that its really more of a horror adventure game. Its close enough that you could call it a hybrid, but this feels like a weird predecessor to Alone in the Dark rather than the step between AitD and Resident Evil. Nevertheless, I was excited, since even though this is a B-team, this is a company whose work I've enjoyed.

Apparently either a genius or really lucky

The story is, we're a journalist who did a bunch of reports on the titular Doctor Hauzer, an archaeologist who is the greatest archaeologist ever, has gone missing. We're curious as to why he's disappeared and find a mansion he's supposedly holed up in. I hope this sounds better in the original Japanese. Apparently the other reporters don't like Hauzer, and they bullied our protagonist into interviewing him. He's as close as anyone has to being his friend apparently.

Look at the ground, look at the fence, its all very obvious

By the way, the CGI cutscene in this has that whiff of early CGI of it. You can tell. They're purposefully avoiding anything they can't model, and everything is much flatter than it should be. Also, there's a demo mode showing some of the traps the game has. Very Tomb Raider-esque.

After that, there's another cutscene showing our protagonist entering the building...

...In this small foyer of a giant mansion.
Then, in-game cutscene. We get a close-up of his mug as he raises his eyebrows weirdly. Its an acquired taste to say the least, but when he's not up-close it doesn't matter much. A chandelier falls down and he says how close that was. Now the game begins. The pause button enters a menu, akin to Tomb Raider, except I can examine items. The notebook, the only item I have at the start, is used to save.
I am actually turning right now, but because I started running before doing this, that's what animation I get
The pad moves, tank controls, and B (or whatever the middle button is) allows you to run or if you go backwards, pull. Running and turns seems to be a bit wonky, but works. A activates things and C jumps. That's right, we have jumping. Why did so many people NOT get that jumping in fixed camera games is actually bad? This isn't as bad as all games, however, since unlike those, you get something special.
By pressing L or R, you can change your viewpoint from standard survival horror, to FPS map view/top-down...
First-person, though in this case my guy is looking downward because I'm trying to use this
...and first person. Unfortunately with the first-person view, you can't really look up or down, pressing A just examines whatever's in front of you. The game does this because unlike most survival horror games of the era, everything is 3D. I have no strong feelings about it yet, but I do note that I don't care for Adams, that's the guy's name, and his mug.

We also get the door trick. I believe this is now hiding loading times, but I don't have those. I do get every agonizing moment of these screens though. What I do have, and I don't know if its the game or me, is slowdown. 3DO games are just going to be like this, aren't they? 30-year-old games with slowdown. Sigh...

Those windows look into the interior room for some reason
This is some guy's mansion? Its as nice as I suspect they could have made it, but it looks like an abandoned building. Also, the animations this guy has aren't as nice as the ones in Alone in the Dark. No, this is very obviously video game-y, where you can practically see where animations stop and start.
This is the only time such a weird camera happens
Anyway, by taking a key, I get this weird cutscene and a weird sound. Suddenly the clock starts ticking. Oh, it wasn't? This opens a door in the same room. This room has a recess for some reason and a door to a bedroom with a couple of vases and a painting of a vase.
As I explore this room, I unwisely decide to take a vase. Which results in gas appearing. Oh, good. Its at this point I decided to stop treating this at all like a survival horror game and more like a straight adventure game with funny camera angles. What I was actually supposed to do was take a flower from one vase and put it in the other. This in turn reveals that the painting is a door I can unlock. This nets me the first piece of the mystery, apparently the good doctor was doing an examination of lithographs on some sort of holy site, and wanted to treat the place with the utmost care.
Shouldn't you notice this before walking through it?
I'm not quite sure how much you can screw yourself, but the kind of puzzles this game has is definitely the sort of stuff that the least beloved adventure games had. Enter this door and fall down a random hole! Its the kind of thing that a developer laughs and and frustrates a player. If I had to deal with loading times, I'd complain, but its not that bad. Nevertheless, more points in the adventure category are that you have a seemingly unlimited inventory, the map is an item, and there are seemingly no enemies and you don't have weapons.
So the game's difficulty is done in a different way, through traps. Soon in the game, there's a boulder that travels down a hallway, Tomb Raider style, with a niche on the side. You, being an intelligent human, think that since you can walk into this while the boulder slowly travels down the hallway, you can hide in this niche. Nope. Adams is dead. Basically, you do something wrong the first time, and the second time you get it right.
This is just begging to be taken out of context
I think this guy's face was supposed to be expressive, but in motion he comes off as comical rather than interested in things, and in stills comes off like this.
Gee, I can't tell this game is Japanese...
Hey, wait a minute, there's a weapon. Its actually in one of the demo rooms, where they imply that Adams is running away from something, but there's nothing here. Except a shotgun. So I save here, because I think that this is a good thing. The game even gives me a lighter and a crowbar too. Only...its not quite that. The only door out is locked. The game just pulled a fast one on me. I have no key to get out of here. I think I've screwed myself until I find a ladder in one of the cabinets.
While this does kind of make sense in English, this is also something that feels more Japanese-esque, since the language contains a lot more elements a reader wouldn't be familiar with on the high end
This leads to a library, where I piece together most of the plot. Doctor Hauzer had a wife, who died of a mysterious illness. He regrets that he didn't spend more time with her and that he didn't finish the excavation in time. What excavation? Why, the Garden of Eden, according to a dictionary the game also conveniently gives you. Guess encyclopedia wouldn't fit. Yeah, I'm sure a book talking about cherubs and the tree of life in the Garden of Eden isn't going to factor heavily in this game's plot. And a lithograph further talks about it. You have to check every single part of this room too, its maddening!
Its also at this point that I start feeling like this game isn't very horrorish. The game's sound design is pretty good, but very limited. We get all sorts of stepping sounds and what seems to be one or two music tracks. The primary one is this very Friday the 13th-esque track with a lot of whispering in it. That "ki-ki-ki-ma" sound if you remember it. Its trying too hard, since it feels like its trying to put together every horror cliche into one song, and it starts over again every time you enter a new room. In general, this game has aged quite poorly. Whereas Alone in the Dark mostly passed from being serious into charming, this just passed from serious to goofy. That the only threat in this game are death traps too makes this just feel meh.
He's talking about the good doctor's wife
The platforming isn't great. Adams has a leap of about 1.5 "tiles" and his hitbox is a bit larger than you'd expect. So its very easy to hit things like scenery objects in your way. Through no legitimate fault of my own, I ended up failing the first jumping section, first because I accidentally hit an object, and the second because I FELL OFF WHILE BOTH FEET WERE STILL ON THE PLATFORM. I feel I need to point that out because what happened was I was inching towards the edge, so I had the maximum amount of jump distance, and the tip of Adams's foot was in the air above the empty space. Funnily enough I was using the camera angle view rather than the top-down while this was happening. So the game has different hitboxes depending on what view you use. Interesting. And yes, the camera angle view does indeed screw you over here.
This honestly just shows how much better they were at doing sprites than everything else
The game takes a bizarre turn when all of a sudden Doctor Hauzer's ghost, or rather a sprite in what is otherwise a 3D game appears. I thought Adams was about to die at first. There's also a real, "I have to do that?" energy to the game at this point. Not that the solutions to the puzzles are absurd, but that that there is a puzzle at all is. Cut a painting to get a map, which throws away your knife. You can't break open a glass door with a crowbar, because you threw it away after opening some wooden boards. So instead...I have to use a shotgun.
The game is quite linear and sticks to the 1st floor, 2nd floor then basement format most mansion survival horror games have to a tee. Well, cave in this case. As the game continues, honestly, the story is quite solid. Doctor Hauzer slowly goes completely mad and started killing everyone who came near the mansion...
...and then I meet him. He is inside the cherub and apparently got his eternal life. His wife apparently isn't there and he attacks. This is the closest thing the game has to a fight. By fight...I mean you end up having to dodge a thousand fireballs. By the way, if you somehow don't and get hit enough to have to listen to the good Doctor's speech all over again! Unskippable obnoxious cutscenes, joy! Also, slowdown in this crap, someone okayed this. Yeah...

Through sheer luck, I manage to get past them. You need the picture of his wife, once you're close enough Adams throws it in. Then, Hauzer says he found his wife before exploding in a fireball. Somehow, Adams manages to escape the mansion, and says he can't publish what just happened. No one would believe him and he just wants to forget.

The ending shows a bunch of weird alternative scenes from the game for some reason
The game is not completely without merit. One aspect that I haven't seen before is that if you examine a locked door and you have the key, Adams will tell you he thinks he has it. Otherwise, this sort of feels like the bare minimum of what a survival horror game should be, even though I don't think I would call it that. Yeah, that's what this is, acceptable as the bare minimum. Its nothing special, but I've played worse games for 2 hours. I'm be incredibly disappointed if I purchased it for more than say, $10. Checking, the current price on E-bay is a minimum of $30. So, another money protip from your dear friend Morpheus, don't pay that.
Its not necessarily bad, just not impressive in any way. I can see where its ideas could be executed well under better hands. Its just one of those games that you play and don't think much of later. Even its claim to fame, the 3D design, doesn't create that memorable impression, except of the constant slowdown I had.
This is what you get if you look out a window

There's only one real enemy, a final boss who's mediocre at best. 1/10


Yeah, its a mansion, nothing special, nothing awful. 3/10

Player Agency:
Adams just feels bad to control. None of the smoothness even Alone in the Dark had is here and tank controls is now 100% apt, because Adams just feels like a tank. Also, jumping and slowdown. 4/10

Very few puzzles are actually interesting, and your methods of interacting with them amount to pressing A on everything or using items on everything. Even so it does manage a few clever ideas. 3/10

Despite the feeble-looking visuals, there is some creepiness in the game. Its too few and far between to pack any real punch though. 2/10

This building feels really underwhelming visually. Objects aren't anything impressive to begin with, but constant repeating textures that don't quite meet their edges properly is not my idea of good design. Adams is not an appealing-looking main character and his animations are not great. There was also this weird see-through static in a lot of objects for some reason. 2/10

Despite my intial mixed feelings on the writing, I thought it worked out pretty well. Hauzer's descend into madness was short but sweet and everything wrapped up in a somewhat satisfying conclusion. 4/10

It was nice hearing the musical track that went through most of the gameplay the first time. The tenth time it started up because I changed rooms it got annoying, and I wasn't that far into the game. The sound effects are nice, but there's this persistent skipping, which might just be my system but I find I don't care enough to check. 3/10

That's 22, a bit higher than I would have thought. Thoroughly mediocre through and through.

Reading reviews other people have made of the game, while there are reviews describing it as mediocre like me, there are just as many praising aspects of its design. The music I hated is apparently someone else's highpoint, for example. I will highlight that one person called it an interactive movie, something that describes it well. Solving some light puzzles to see what happens next. I do find someone describing the game as being worth the price tag because of its replayability, as if there is some.

Regarding future Japanese-exclusive survival horror titles. Yes, I will be playing them. I hope to be playing them by next year. I have made incredible leaps and bounds over the past year, to the point where I can recognize considerable parts of a Japanese book. Granted, at this point its still isolated characters rather than full sentences, but considering that it wasn't that long ago when even that was impossible, I'm taking my wins where I can find them. At the rate I'm progressing I should know all 2200 regular characters by the end of the year. We'll see if this results in me actually making it to those two Japanese games I set aside for later in the FPS category.

No comments:

Post a Comment