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SummaryRunning Hard, But Not Getting Very Far
The GoodI like horror games. I regard the pinnacle of this genre of video games the Silent Hill series, but more specifically Silent Hill 1 and 2. Horror games are unique because they pull so much from so many different genres; the list includes film, music, and literature. To oversimplify this explanation, what horror games have you played that did not include "creepy" camera shots, "atmospheric" music, and a surprisingly large amount of reading? A good horror game pulls all three of these influences in and marries them to a functional story line, archetypal characters, and game play that is usually a mix of combat, puzzle solving, and investigation. Most horror games get the first half right, that is the film, music, and literary parts. And most horror games get most of the second part right, which is the functional storyline and archetypal characters. But where many differentiate themselves from the pack, and/or succeed or fail as a game, is that last bit of the second part: the game play.
Now we turn our attention to Run Like Hell: a horror game. The strongest elements are the story and characters. We are presented with a space station, orbiting some planet far away from Earth, with a cornucopia of alien races living together side-by-side. The purpose of the station is not that important, we know that something bad is going to happen and there needs to be dark and confined spaces for them to happen in. The story involves a galactic war fought between humans and some bug-like alien called the Neh-Lok. The war is over, humans won, peace was made, and now everyone gets along. There are other aliens aboard too: the big and tough aliens called the Jaxen-Trep and the small and docile aliens, the Mnenulys, (or something like that). That, of course, is just the background story. the real plot picks up when a Captain in the military returns from some routine mission and finds the space station devoid of life, the walls covered in blood, and various new aliens, (some of which actually look like the alien from the movie Alien), running around the corridors. This captain must find his fiancé, (yes his fiancé is on board), as many survivors as he can, and get off alive.
So this all sounds pretty standard right? Well that's not a bad thing as far as the horror genre goes, because a functional story gets good with interesting characters. And this game, despite its many flaws which I will talk about in the next section, has some great characters. Remember, these characters are archetypes. The hero is heroic and relentless, (but not young - he is in his mid-30's, you don't know how tired I get of play games that star teenage-boys), the big alien is big and tough, the small alien is cautious, the scientist is nerdy and doesn't get along with anybody, and the heroine that needs rescuing is... well... just think Heavy Metal. I don't have much more time to get into the details of the characters, but what brings them to life, literally, is the voice acting. We are graced by the talents of Lance Hendrickson (The Terminator, Millennium TV series) as the hero, Clancy Brown (Highlander, The Bride) as the big and tough alien, Michael Ironsides (Highlander 2, Starship Troopers) as the Station Commander, Brad Dourif (Dune, LOTR: Two Towers and Return of the King) as the nerdy scientist, Thomas F. Wilson (Back to the Future and Wing Commander 3, 4, and Prophecy) as the asteroid-miner, and Kate Mulgrew (Star Trek: Voyager) as the insect-alien-doctor. There are many other voice actors worth mentioning but I must omit them due to time.
Decent story + great cast + cool setting = great game? Not quite. I am going to jump ahead to the end by stating that this game is fun, worth playing, and worth owning, (especially now that it is quite cheap). Quantitatively, there is far more bad than good about this title, but as far as quality, the good far outweighs the bad.
The BadThere is much wrong with Run Like Hell. First is the music. There is some here and there, and much is orchestral. But there isn't enough; there is too much silence. Then there are the boss battles, (the few that there are). I am not sure why the developer and/or publisher made this choice, it served more to annoy than drive me into a vengeful-alien-killing-frenzy. The music during the boss battles is contemporary "hard rock" music from the band Breaking Benjamin. I like true heavy metal, (I even cited the film Heavy Metal above), but not this stuff. Why didn't the designers just have the composer put together some heavy guitar and bass stuff? I am thinking of the film Equilibrium specifically here. Maybe they thought by putting some modern music is would pull in some more audience. I think they thought wrong.
The next thing wrong is the investigation, a part of all horror games. There is very little here. A good horror game usually requires moving from point a, to point b, to c, to d, then back to a again. To make this work, the actual layout of the physical setting needs to make enough sense that the player can create a mental image, or map, of the place they are traversing. The Resident Evil games do a very good job at this. When I walk out of one room, into another, then into another, I can link all of these places inside my head to a general sense of cardinal directions. Run like Hell took a more Ridley Scott approach: there are a bunch of cool settings and environments, but when characters start talking about going here or there, I am hoping the game knows where to send me because I certainly don't know how to get there. There is little investigation, but there are many fetch and retrieve puzzles, and more of an emphasis on action than exploration. It's a shame the combat wasn't that good.
That brings us to the last negative point, and perhaps the most important: the game play. It isn't broken; it works fine; it's not that fun. The camera follows the hero around and it can be rotated. Combat is achieved through pressing the lock-on button and firing at the enemies. There is no aiming involved, the player can still move about, and the camera does a good job of keeping everything in frame. To better render the game play, let me outline an example. Aliens pop out of the ceiling, (which happens far too much), they run towards the hero, you depress the lock-on button and start firing, after a few seconds the alien dies and you move onto the next and repeat - then that's it. You move on to the next room and repeat. Rather bland.
What could have redeemed the mediocre combat were interesting boss battles. But alas, the boss battles are copies of regular combat and, oddly, are very rare. I think there were about three all together through the entire game.
The Bottom LineOnce the game was finished, I was left with the impression that this game started down the right track, (the beginning is actually quite good), but immediately after something went wrong in development. Either their budget was cut, they ran out time (the development time for this game was very long), or something else happened. When all the ingredients of this game are looked at holistically, there seems to be some very subtle, but none-the-less important, conflictions. This is a horror game, through and through, but at times I thought I saw some elements of Halo influence. The disappointment after the strong beginning, lousy combat and emphasis on combat instead of investigation, reveal to me that somewhere in the development phase compromises had to be made to some puppeteer/executive that decided to make the focus of this horror game action instead of a healthy action-investigation hybrid.
In the end I recommend this game for the voice acting and characters and how they play in the story. The background story is very interesting and it is a shame that there won't be a sequel to make further use of this material. Some of the music is quite good, as are the visuals, particularly the lighting. And come on, who doesn't want to see the actor who played Biff Tannen in Back to the Future work as a miner on space station?