Spring Thing 2011 is now on, with six entries. Today’s review is for Hallow Eve, by Michael Wayne Phipps Jr.
Short summary: Hallow Eve is a horror game that feels out of its depth. Starting from the genre-standard premise of a group of teenagers out in the woods, it tries to do too far much — there are several different threats, which makes it hard to build up fear around any one of them. The writing and implementation doesn’t always stand up to the demands on them. I don’t know how long it would take to play normally because I went to the walkthrough fairly early.
It’s a staple of a certain type of slasher movie to have teenage girls being victimized, often as a consequence of their daring to be adventurous (sexually or otherwise). This game follows that tradition a little enthusiastically for my tastes: one of the female characters is stripped half naked for no very good reason, and the narrative describes all of them with a hint of mixed desire and repulsion. I suppose this might be meant to characterize the protagonist as a certain type of teenage boy, but it wasn’t a headspace I was eager to inhabit.
Besides that, the story is trying to do way too much at once. We start out with the characters telling each other scary stories, all of which turn out to be factually true, so that we have multiple threats to contend with, none of which is set up especially carefully. Vampires, ghosts, mad scientists, skeletons, etc. turn up in rapid sequence, and because there’s so little atmosphere build-up, I never exactly felt like one of these was going to attack me. Successful horror is as much about waiting for something bad to happen as it is about the revelation of gory corpses, and this game skips ahead pretty directly to the aftermath without spending much time on anticipation.
Finally, there’s the issue of implementation. The game wasn’t buggy in any particular that I ran into (though I was playing on walkthrough for most of the time), but there were a host of polish issues. Items you need to interact with, like the can in the protagonist’s car, aren’t necessarily highlighted in descriptions. Room descriptions often mentioned things twice, once in the default form and once in a specialized form; or they relied on a default where that wasn’t appropriate. A corpse should not be introduced in a sentence like “You can see a lantern, some keys, Rachel’s corpse, and a can here.” Pacing is also problematic. There are periods at the beginning of the game where, as far as I can tell, you just have to wait for the plot to ratchet forward on a timer, but the player can feel a bit at loose ends for what to do.
Overall, I felt like I had an idea of what the author was trying to do — emulate a classic slasher movie — but I think the experience I had wasn’t at all what he intended.