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Review #350

Hysteria Project
Developer: Bulky Pix
Publisher: Sanuk Games
Genre: Survival-Horror/FMV
Release Date: 04/22/2010

As mentioned in my interview with Sanuk Games from a few days ago, Hysteria Project is a return to games in pure Full Motion Video format. This genre had two heydays. The first was in the early 1980’s with arcade games like Mad Dog McCree and Dragon’s Lair and the second was during the Sega CD years where FMV games ran the gambit from shooters like Sewer Shark to adventure games like Who Shot Johnny Rock?. Although horror games using Full Motion Video were rare, they were not unheard of. Titles like Dracula Unleashed, Night Trap and Corpse Killer all used FMV, but aside from Dracula: Unleased, horror FMV games weren’t very popular or successful. Probably the most popular was The 7th Guest and that’s more Adventure than Horror by today’s standards.

Still over a decade has passed since FMV’s golden age. Technology has improved and systems can finally hold quality video footage. Combine this with the fact Hysteria Project is both a PSP Minis title and only $1.99, and you have the perfect combination to get people to try the first of a new breed of FMV games. The question remains though…is it any good?

Let’s Review

1. Story

Hysteria Project in an odd duck in that it captures the feelings of terror and dread perfectly, yet there is little to no story to the game. The entire game takes place from a first person perspective where you wake up to an axe murdered binding you with duck tape and who then leaves the one room shack you are in. From there the game has a single goal – escape the guy trying to kill you. It’s short and sweet and to the point with the premise. The game then follows the typical FMV style of game play where you choose paths and press buttons at the right time to keep the story going. Of course the story here is simply to run and hide from the guy trying to kill you while the Smoke Monster from LOST occasionally shows up for no reason. No really, it does.

The game continues until you die a terrible death or you beat the game. When you die, you do get a text ending and the game tells you exactly WHY the path you chose led to your demise, which is pretty cool. When you beat the game by escaping your killer, you get a weird montage of clips followed by a “…to be continued.” Screen. I have to admit I was pretty letdown by that at first until the game ran through the credits and returned me to the title screen, where a new option was unlocked. Clicking on it gives you a TON of back story about the game involving secret experiments an insidious pharmaceutical firm and the eventual fate of your protagonist. The odd thing is that none of the back story actually really connects with the actual game itself, nor does it give you any real insight to your character, the guy attacking you or how the two of you are connected. The only thing you get is an insight as to WHY your character meets their eventual fate and a clue about the tattoo on your arm. In fact, the smoke monster gets more of an explanation and back story than the protagonist and antagonists combined. Crazy. It really does feel like the unlocked story belonging to a different game from the one where you just spent half an hour running and hiding for your life.

Hysteria Project really gets the feel of what a survival horror game should be like and it has more in common with titles like Clock Tower or Echo Night than Silent Hill or Resident Evil. The atmosphere is truly well done, but the game will leave you with more questions than answers and the unlocked story bits at the end may be a bit disappointing if you were looking for a substantive answer about what the hell (or why the hell) just happened.

Story Rating: 6.5/10

2. Graphics

In the interview I did with Sanuk Games about Hysteria Project, they mentioned that they re-compressed the video footage to under 100MB so it would fit as a PSP Mini. Considering the PSP and PS3 (which can play PSP minis) are two of the three best systems for video footage on the market, I was hoping for visual quality that would really set FMV as a solid gameplay style for this console generation.

Unfortunately, the video quality looks about that of a Sega Saturn FMV title rather than what we all know the PS3 or PSP are capable of. On the PSP, the game looks fine, but nowhere up to the quality of footage like those seen on UMD movies or even YouTube clips displayed on the system. It’s definitely playable and the game is only $1.99, so you’re getting what you’re paying for which is so low res footage that sometimes looks like it came from a VHS tape nearing the end of its life. On the PS3, the game looks…well, it doesn’t look good, especially when you are running through the forest at full speed. Then the footage get really pixilated and although it’s not 16-bit bad, it’s still pretty underwhelming for what we know is capable in 2010. I’d have rather paid five or ten dollars for a better resolution of the picture, but even on the PS3, what’s here works, even if it is unimpressive.

My advice is to keep the game on your PSP where the screen resolution and size keeps the picture looking better. The footage here isn’t the greatest, but at least you can make out what is going on and it’s definitely got some creepy imagery going on.

Graphics Rating: 5.5/10

3. Sound

There’s not a lot of music to the game outside of menus or visual clip montages. The sounds you will hear are mainly footsteps, branches cracking under said feet, a lot of winding breathing, the rare sounds that come from a wandering smoke monster or getting an axe to your gut. I really enjoy the lack of music in the game as, combined with the first person viewpoint, it makes the scenario more realistic, believable and creepy. Everything sounds like you’re a real life schmoe being chased by a deranged lunatic. Well, except for the smoke monster, but that shows up only two or three times in the game and is more just a bemused observer than something that plans to eat you.

So you’re getting a game that is light on any real audio or sound effects, but what is here fits the tone and atmosphere of the game perfectly. If anything, the lack of backing tracks or musical numbers adds to the experience rather than detracts from it.

Sound Rating: 6.5/10

4. Control and Gameplay

For younger or more casual gamers, think of Hysteria Project as the equivalent to one of the Heavy Rain Chronicles. It’s a short interactive video experience. The only real controls you have involve pressing the X or O button at random times in a brief window or picking an option during game pauses like, “Run away” or, “Make a makeshift tourniquet.” The button presses are random on each playthrough, so you won’t be able to memorize which buttons you press when, especially during the frantic final sequence of the game.

Now obvious the controls are nothing mind-blowing or even that interesting, but they are easy to learn and still present a challenge during rapid fire sequences. I know there were three or four times where I hit X instead of O and vice versa. For the most part, it’s a simple and easy game to play through and as it is geared primarily for casual gamers, the controls work just fine. Besides, most FMV games don’t even give you a visual clue as to what to do. It’s all guess and check. A LOT of guess and check. So thumbs up, for Hysteria Project giving gamers a window regarding what to do and when to do it.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 6.5/10

5. Replayability

There is only one “true” path to end the game, with all other ending in your grisly demise. Of course that’s not to say the true doesn’t have a similar conclusion, but once you get it, you’ll have a fairly strong idea of what to do each time. Once you’ve figured out the correct way to do things, that doesn’t mean you won’t be returning to the game just to see what the other paths lead you to, unless you’re a gamer that has no sense of curiosity or interest in what else could have happened to you.

At $1.99, the game offers a nice amount of replay value for your buck, and it does imply there is a sequel (or more) on the horizon, even if the game has been out for a year on the iPhone without any news of its release or even development. You probably won’t pick up this game very often once you’ve beaten it, but it will be something to show to your horror minded friends and see how well they do. Even if they die horribly, they’ll be sure to get a kick out of it.

Replayability Rating: 5.5/10

6. Balance

As mentioned earlier, the game is pretty easy. You will generally only have to press a button a few times per scene, save for the last one, where it is over a dozen in rapid succession. You have a pretty big window for hitting the button too; you just need to make sure you are tapping the right one when it comes up and then only once.

There’s not much here, but with only a single “correct” path, it may frustrate some casual gamers who aren’t used to having to think on their feet quickly and with a real world common sense mindset over the usual video game attitude where physics and reality play little to no part in the equation. I will say I found the game tremendously easy, but that is because I caught each visual clue regarding the right path to follow each time, even though it was on the screen for less than a second. I guess it all depends on your experience with the FMV style of gameplay. Most people will find the game pretty easy as long as they remember to treat this as if it was actually happening to them and that time matters.

Balance Rating: 6/10

7. Originality

It’s been a long time since we had a truly original FMV title and even long since we’ve had a well made one – ESPECIALLY a horror based one. It’s going on at least ten years there. Sure Hysteria Project was originally released for the iPhone a year ago, but how many people knew of it then? Cthulhu knows I had never heard of it, and I’m a FMV junkie.

Hysteria Project is a nicely made game that would have cost forty or fifty dollars a decade ago for the same amount of content, and the controls and style are definitely superior to many of its predecessors. It has style and atmosphere that is superior to many full budget high profile horror games including crapfests like Silent Hill: Homecoming.

France (the home of Bulky Pix) has been the go to place for horror in both video games and cinema for the past few years and Hysteria Project is a continuation of both. It’s great to see FMV return in such a user friendly (and budget friendly) fashion.

Originality Rating: 6/10

8. Addictiveness

While I couldn’t put Hysteria Project down in my first go around (in which I died four times – two by wrong paths at the very end and twice by button fumbling), I had a hard time picking it back up again after reading all of the unlockable plot. At that point, it was just testing other paths only to learn there was but a single solution to the game. Now that’s not so bad as most FMV games have a single solution, but they do tend to have multiple ways to get to that final path. Hysteria Project doesn’t. As such unless you really love the atmosphere, this is a “one and done” sort of game.

Of course, one has to keep in mind it’s only $1.99, so you shouldn’t be expecting a full length RPG with customizable characters. This is a quick atmospheric interactive movie and it that’s all it needs to be.

Addictiveness Rating: 5.5/10

9. Appeal Factor

FMV games have always been a niche genre. Sure on occasion you have a huge success with titles like The 7th Guest or Dragon’s Lair, but those are rare gems. With solid gameplay and an exceptionally low price, Hysteria Project has the potential to fall into that category. If you enjoy horror games at all, this should be a definite day one purchase and many others will no doubt be tempted to pick it up as well since it’s only $1.99. After all, it’s not going to break the bank. Hopefully, the cost and outside the box nature of this game will not only draw people back to the possibilities of Full Motion Video, but also remind them that the best horror games are not ones where it’s a dude with a machine gun blowing away hordes of the undead as there is no actual fear factor there –it’s a relatable protagonist having to do whatever it takes to survive an unstoppable killing machine.

Appeal Factor: 6/10

10. Miscellaneous

So, two bucks for the first entry in what appears to be a series of Full Motion Video games? The price is right, the format is right and the atmosphere is killer. This should be one of, if not THE crown jewel of the PSP minis collection. We’ll just have to wait and see if it lives up to its potential. I’m extremely pleased with the game even if the video quality isn’t as good as it could be on either of Sony’s systems. It’s not going to be a game of the year contender or anything like that, but it’s a fun title that will find an audience with both casual and diehard gamers alike. Come on people, it’s TWO DOLLARS.

Miscellaneous Rating: 7/10

The Scores
Story: 6.5/10
Graphics: 5.5/10
Sound: 6.5/10
Control and Gameplay: 6.5/10
Replayability: 5.5/10
Balance: 6/10
Originality: 6/10
Addictiveness: 5.5/10
Appeal Factor: 6/10
Miscellaneous: 7/10
Total Score: 61

Short Attention Span Summary
For a mere $1.99, Hysteria Project is arguably the best title in the PSP Minis collection and a throwback to when survival horror games were actually scary and when FMV had its golden age (as it were). The game is a bit odd in that you don’t get any actual plot points until after you beat the game and the video footage is quite grainy compared to what you would normally see on either the PSP or PS3, but it’s fun, frantic, creepy and will be enjoyed by casual and diehard gamers alike. It’s definitely worth picking up, even if it is just to experience the first in what will hopefully a nice line of FMV titles for this generation of consoles and handhelds.

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