Silly scientists with Dr. Jekyll complexes, always injecting themselves with things that turn them into growling axe murderers — will they ever learn? That question lies at the root of the conflict in Hysteria Project 2 (Out Now, $1.99). If you’ve played the first Hysteria Project you’ll have some idea of what’s going on, as this one appears to continue directly from the previous episode, but players new to the franchise might have even more fun walking into this fresh and trying to figure things out from scratch.
If you are new to Bulkypix’s experimental video/game hybrid, get ready for a school of hard knocks where there’s absolutely no hand holding and no punches pulled. The player character is only just beginning to come out of sedation when the doctor resuscitating him flees the room, leaving one unfortunately flimsy padlock between him and the bogeyman that happens to be stalking through the facility in search of fresh victims. The game transitions from Full Motion Video to interactive mode, leaving the player just enough time to figure out the basics of searching the viewpoint character’s environment before his nemesis suddenly bursts in and promptly gives him forty whacks. The first of many Game Over screens leaves one particular question on the player’s mind: “Wait, was I supposed to do something?“
That’s how things are much of the time in Hysteria Project 2. Sprinkled throughout what is essentially a B-horror flick the player watches through the eyes of its ill-fortuned protagonist are short interactive sequences that require the player to tap and slide as necessary to survive and progress. What is “necessary” to solve any given interactive sequence is a puzzle gradually unraveled; often the player’s character will die right after stepping into some dangerous situation, and the player will receive a helpful clue on the Game Over screen that will give him or her a better idea how to react when the situation is relived.
While the “Help” screen on the game’s main menu does inform the player that tapping and sliding motions will become necessary, many players are liable to grow frustrated with the sense that the victory and Game Over conditions for particular survival puzzles are about as clear at first as the player character’s own groggy vision. Ironically, where this becomes most problematic are in a few puzzles the player must complete in safety, deprived of the Game Over screen’s handy advice. The offender that stood out most in my mind is a puzzle about halfway through the game, in which the player scavenges a Bluetooth earpiece from a body bag (convenient, that!) and has to fumble with its frequency setting until the voice of the doctor who resuscitated him starts instructing him on how to survive — and this, without knowing that the player character’s goal is even to resume communication with the doctor. Hey, it’s not too much of a stretch to think he’d just be searching for a soothing radio station by that point.
That’s not to say Hysteria Project 2 should be easily written off, because the player’s reward for completing the aforementioned puzzle is a surprisingly compelling second act. While the just-figure-it-out-yourself approach to gameplay will certainly be a turnoff for many, gamers who enjoy a good horror story will relish in piecing the plot together by rummaging through computer files and tape recordings that document the antagonist’s gruesome origins. The story also builds some replay value into the game if the player becomes intrigued enough to go back and collect frightful journal pages the murderer has left lying throughout the facility. Various GameCenter achievements also exist for the nabbing.
Hysteria Project 2’s gameplay rises to its best during the last few interactive sequences, which involve everything from arranging fully rotatable picture scraps to a harrowing gallop through the facility’s laser security system. It is also during these sequences that the touch interface seems most reliable. The early segments are unfortunately dogged by eerily spotty controls; at one point I found the touch interface would respond to my index finger but not my thumb, try as I might to hold the iPod differently as an aid in controlling the protagonist’s movements in that particular sequence.
Aesthetically, Hysteria Project 2 could benefit from whatever techniques are used to keep environments crystal clear during pinch-zooming in the Find the Hidden Object genre. Here, zooming in makes the protagonist’s environment noticeably grainy, at least on Retina Display-equipped iDevices. Subtly atmospheric audio – punctuated by the typical screeching “murderer rushes in!” jingle – work well in the survival horror context.
Particularly deserving of kudos on the audio side is the English voice actress for the doctor who resuscitates the player’s character and provides basic guidance in helping him survive. The most compelling sequence in Hysteria Project 2, by far, has to be a segment in which she feeds the player a series of passwords for a door lock — each of which fails in succession, all while the protagonist keeps looking over his shoulder to track the wraith-like murderer’s approach. The player’s first tendency will be to seize up and make mistakes as her voice grows increasingly frantic on the other end of the line, which makes for an episode of truly great spine-tingling fun.
iFanzine Verdict: Hysteria Project 2 is a textbook case of a game not putting its best foot forward; players are liable to be turned off by the feeling that the developers have set its puzzles up in a way that pulls the rug out from under the player at first. However, those forgiving enough to stick with it are likely to find that its second hour of gameplay is much better than the first, holding within its bizarrely constructed folds a few nuggets of survival horror gold. A pick-up-and-play title sure to enthrall millions? Not a chance. Worthy of scoring a cult following among die-hard survival horror fans? Absolutely.
Don’t forget that Bulkypix has made the first Hysteria Project available for free, and that a copy of the walkthrough for Hysteria Project 2 is available in iFanzine’s forum. You’re liable to be thankful for it later!