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About the Story
The Grave cannot hold them...Nothing human can stop them...Torn from their tombs to terrify the world, the cravings of their undead blood made them kill...kill...KILL!
Nominee, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Puzzles; Nominee, Best Implementation - 2021 XYZZY Awards
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Number of Reviews: 4
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This long game is set on a movie set for a company that makes cheap horror films. After a harrowing experience with your boss, you have to explore five different studios to assemble a team to save your life...and the world!
Each studio generally represents one 'big' puzzle, and most have at least one mini-puzzle as well. The big puzzles range from using animals to complex timing puzzles to story-based puzzles and more. The grand finale is a puzzle with many strategies, many solutions and three distinct outcomes leading to three endings.
The writing is humorous. It is pretty gory (lots of blood and body parts) and violent (with the player initiating much of the violence). There was one instance of mild profanity. Conversation uses a simple menu system which seems to be custom (no Inform extensions are listed). There are quite a few characters to talk to, more than ten.
The game contains several linear action sequences that are predetermined, with only one sensible action available at a time (although that might be just an illusion). When I encountered two such sections (one at the beginning, the other at the end), I felt a bit railroaded, but each one opened up into a large puzzle, so it balanced out and felt great.
Some personal thoughts I had in relation to something I recently worked on (not really relevant): (Spoiler - click to show)I was especially interested in this game as I had just released a game with striking similarities, one I had intended to enter into IFComp. The two games are completely unrelated (this game has clearly been in production for a long time), but I too released a horror game where you wander an entertainment facility, solving big set-piece puzzles (including a lot of animals) and befriending the supernatural inhabitants of the park while it slowly transforms, culminating in an epic battle between two factions. I'm glad I didn't release my game in this comp, as Ade's game is better in every way. I love how he slathered plenty of story, conversation and characterization over everything, leaving very little 'filler' text, which is something I struggled with.
I had a great time playing it! I also enjoyed seeing tie-ins to Ade's other games, both mechanically (the puzzle involving (Spoiler - click to show)ghosts reminded me quite a bit of Map) and story-wise (the animals and their behavior is very reminiscent of Hard Puzzle 2, and other references are even stronger).
Edit: I should say that I worked really hard to solve this without hints. I almost never do that, and only tried because the work was engaging. My biggest mistake (that, once I fixed, solved most of my problems in the midgame) was thinking that (Spoiler - click to show)each studio puzzle could be solved by itself, but that's not always true.
Franky and Johnny are strolling across the dark parking lot of the movie-theater. Some distance behind them, bright lightbulbs are flickering above the theater entrance.
DR. HORROR'S HOUSE OF TERROR
So, what'd you think?
I don't know, man. I thought we were going to watch a Horror movie. But half the time this guy was joking around and I could plainly see the trees were plywood.
That's the point, J.
Think of it like this: you've got scary horror on the one side and laughable camp on the other. The director's hung a tightrope between the two and the whole movie is a balancing act, never leaning too far to one extreme. He reinforces this with how he shows the locations: sometimes like real places where something gruesome happened, sometimes like a fake plastic set, just as unscary and laughable as King Kong's zipper showing.
Yeah, I guess... What was up with the dialogue though? People don't talk like that, neatly listing their questions and getting them answered one by one.
Well, J., you gotta remember: not everyone going to the movies is as smart as you are... Some people need a bit more handholding to pull them along through the story. The neat question-by-question dialogues give a bit more exposition to those poor sods that can't quite follow as lightning-fast as you, Johnny...
Heh, yeah... I suppose some o'them would need some more explanation than brainy ol' me.
The flickering lightbulbs above the theater entrance blinked out one by one until only two remained. These two seemed to tear themselves free from the façade, blinked as well and then squinted, two shiny yellow eyes were focusing on a prey...
Hey, something else bothered me about this movie. What was up with all those weird obstacles? It was like the main guy was jumping through all sorts of hoops.
Those diverse obstacles are there to show to the audience how smart and versatile the protagonist really is, man. And since we're there on the front row watching him, we get to experience his cunning solutions as if we thought of them ourselves.
The shiny yellow eyes had now closed the distance to the two young men. They were following quietly in their footsteps...
Well if he's so smart, why did he lose the end-battle huh?
I dunno, I kinda liked the ending. Even if he did lose at the end, it was all nicely wrapped up in the epilogue. By the way, my cousin saw this movie last week, and he says the main guy won the final battle. So there must be different versions around. Maybe you could go and see it tomorrow and it would end differently.
Really? Wow, that'd be so cool. One more thing: I really didn't care for how the guy just killed all those innocent people. Seems he should've tried to just knock 'em out or something.
Well, maybe the director wanted to show that normal moral principles don't hold up when you're trying to avert the end of the world as we know it.
Or maybe it was just some gratuitous gruesome killing, just for the heck of it.
At this point, Franky glanced over his shoulder at the beast following them. He sighed and gave an almost imperceptible nod.
CRuNCH! GLooP! GRoK!
Johnny's headless body stayed upright for a few more seconds. Then it fell down to the tarmac. As Franky made his way to the car, the scrunching and slobbering noises continued.
(This is a lightly-edited version of a review posted to the IntFict forums during the 2021 IFComp. My son Henry was born right before the Comp, meaning I was fairly sleep-deprived and loopy while I played and reviewed many of the games, so in addition to a highlight and lowlight, the review includes an explanation of how new fatherhood has led me to betray the hard work the author put into their piece)
Is there a harder genre at this point to parody than Hammer horror flicks? By this point, not too many people have actually watched the movies, but we’ve all seen a million I-vant-to-suck-your-blood-bleh-bleh sendups that make it seem like the originals were just as silly. Dr Horror’s House of Terror manages the task, though, keeping the traditional comedy monster-mash angle while adding a meta twist (you’re not running around actual Transylvanian villages and Alpine laboratories, just movie sets) and playing some moments of horror just straight enough to land. To be sure, the main draw of this big puzzlefest is working through its just-hard-enough challenges, but the tone is also just-novel-enough to make the fourish hour runtime go quickly.
The other strong element here is the pacing. I find long games can often feel awkward on this score, with an intimidatingly-big environment at the beginning and a saggy late-middle as you run out of things to solve. Dr Horror does well out the gate, though, with a focused, linear opening that establishes the premise and stakes – the head of the horror-movie company moonlights as a cult leader and wants to give you a starring role in a sacrificial rite to summon their demonic patron to earth. Then the map leads you to a hub where you find five different themed soundstages where the bulk of the game plays out, but you need to solve the first one, and get a feel for how the puzzles will work, before all the doors unlock.
Indeed, the game actually winds up being a bit formulaic. To fight the cult and their demons, you need to build an army of undead, since turns out Dr Horror has been cutting costs by enslaving real-life (er) zombies, vampires, and mummies. On each soundstage, you’ll need to deal with a roving security guard (in gruesome ways that raise the question of who exactly is the monster here), then figure out how to find, summon, resurrect, or control the various flavors of monster before doing it again at the next stage over. There’s enough variety of theme – you’ve got your werewolf-stalked hamlet, your sun-blasted Egyptian ruins, your voodoo-y New Orleans – as well as puzzle style – there’s some traditional object manipulation, some messing around with NPC behavior, some light futzing with machinery – that this formula winds up being a strength, since it gives the player a framework to grab onto without making things stale. Then there’s an endgame that introduces a fun new puzzle-style that’s not too out of left field, nor too hard – often the bane of late-game mechanical twists.
Speaking of difficulty (what a segue!) I found it tuned well throughout. Most of the soundstages are self-contained, with only a few requiring bringing items over from other areas, which helps limit the possibilities, and several puzzles have alternate solutions implemented. The puzzles aren’t easy enough that I solved them immediately, but at the same time I only needed one hint (Spoiler - click to show)(I didn’t realize the animal cages were portable) which is impressive in a game as long as this. The implementation was also quite smooth, and once I had an idea it usually didn’t take any wrestling with the parser to make it happen. I did run into a couple of bugs, though – I encountered a thematically-appropriate resurrecting security guard in the sands of Egypt, and one time when I got thrown out of Dr. Frankenstein’s lab, the crematorium wound up accompanying me to the parking lot. But some quick UNDOing was enough to set things back to right.
The writing is another strong point, with jokes that generally land (I liked the main character’s perhaps-forced naivete about where their co-stars kept disappearing to) and some real moments of gross-out horror preventing things from getting too weightlessly silly (those poor security guards!) There are some typos, though, and I did find things got a bit overly wordy in places, leaving me scrolling through more than one page of text just to see what was happening in a location. These are small niggles that hopefully can be ironed-out for a post-Comp release – given its long run-time, I’m guessing some folks won’t completely finish Dr. Horror’s House of Terror during the judging period, but this would be a perfect one to revisit once the time-pressure is off.
Highlight: There’s one puzzle that was a standout for me, a Delightful-Wallpaper-style combinatorial riff that requires you to reenact a Cajun-spiced melodrama of family secrets and voodoo curses. The writing and puzzling are both really fun, and there are enough clues to prevent things from devolving into the trial-and-error slog that often reduces the fun-factor of these kinds of puzzles.
Lowlight: When you solve that puzzle, instead of recruiting the cast of messy antebellum ghosts, you just got a crowd of zombies to swell the ranks of your undead army. Boring!
How I failed the author: I played the first half of the game while keeping my wife company during one of Henry’s late-night feedings, when I was feeling pretty loopy – things got pretty wacky in my transcript as a result.
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