Chased through a trap-laden forest by an axe-wielding murderer, Hysteria Project is a step in a much darker direction for the iPhone.
Reviewing Asteroids-esque shooter The Void last week, I mentioned that some iPhone games are ditching the cute and getting darker. With their first release, the BulkyPix team have taken the anti-cute movement further: chopping up any semblance of cuteness with a rusty axe, putting the bits into garbage bags and burying the bags in a creepy forest.
Hysteria Project is a choose-your-own-adventure for the iPhone. Blending atmospheric film sequences with quick-fire decision-making to create an intense horror experience.
A Beautiful Place Out In the Country
The game opens with you waking, bleary-eyed, in what seems to be deserted cabin. Viewed from a first-person perspective, your eyes are still adjusting themselves to the dingy gloom. After discovering your hands and feet are bound with tape — trademark crazy serial killer move — the first decision is to how you’ll go about freeing yourself.
After freeing yourself of the killer’s makeshift bindings, bursting out of the cabin, you’re on foot, limping through a foggy forest. Occasional flashbacks and visions, like twisted treats, fill in the back story. A hooded axe-man took you here and is now on the hunt as you make a desperate bid to flee the forest.
With the action kicking in immediately — a constant blurred chase-scene, stalked by a madman — the game’s unrelenting pace holds up throughout. From the handheld first-person camera, to the blurry shadow monster and the creepy killer, it’s clear that the creators have cherry-picked from a selection of horror classics. As such, the game has a distinctly Blair-Witch-meets-Texas-Chainsaw vibe (with a sprinkling of Lost for good measure).
The gameplay itself takes its cue from choose-your-own-adventure books, updating the old-school concept with a modern(ish) twist using live action sequences. The game ends up playing out a little like the old FMV games like Sega’s Night Trap and Cinematronics classic Dragons Lair.
Every minute or so you’re given a choice, such as freeing your legs or finding a sharp implement to help you. Most of the time however, these are not branching choices — one of the options will result in the game advancing while the other will lead to death at the hands of the axe man.
There are also infrequent touchscreen interactions, such as tapping different highlighted areas to push branches away as you search for a hiding place in the forest. It’s fun at first, but feels incomplete — there’s a sense of disconnect between the action and the interaction during these quick-draw sequences.
Sticking the Knife In
This sense of disconnect from the world of Hysteria Project doesn’t end there, however. The low level of actual interactivity is due largely to the constraining nature of video. Although there’s a poor illusion of choice, you’re pretty much on a one-track path to the end of the game.
Furthermore, because most choices end in death or success, the game ends up playing out like a freaky trial-and-error process, replaying chases and choice sequences as all the intensity drains out of them.
When a choice does arise, the game drops out of the first-person video view to provide a video game-style description scene. Paired with the waiting time as the choice (or video) loads, this text-based screen feels completely at odds with the intensity and immediacy of the video sequences.
Based on the story-arc in Hysteria Project, I’m under the impression that this is the first episode in a series. And perhaps it’s best to look at Hysteria Project as more like an interactive TV series than a straight-up survival horror game.
There’s not enough interaction to really classify this as a proper game; furthermore, there’s not enough real choice, either. It’s more an intense, shocking and exciting interactive experience than a playable adventure.
While Hysteria Project isn’t as groundbreaking or genre-defying as its creators would have us believe, it’s certainly an accomplishment to have realized such a twisted vision. Fans of horror movies and players should check out Hysteria Project; though it’s not perfect, it’s certainly a unique iPhone experience.