Dr Horror's House of Terror

by Ade McT profile

2021

Go to the game's main page

Member Reviews

Number of Reviews: 4
Write a review


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Worth it, though I almost put it down for good, December 26, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2021

The title isn't joking around here. It gives you a clue that there is a lot of horror, and it may be overdone on purpose, but there is a point to it all. The problem with this is that one image or passage is probably not going to go down well for you. This is far from fatal, and I don't know how that can be helped. All I can say is, the bad guys are exposed as bad in the end. Because this was the game I most had to sit myself down to play. Others, my mind wandered. Here, I wanted my mind to wander. But there were rewards.

What, then, got me nervy? (Spoiler - click to show)You kill someone innocent in the game, rather early on. It made me get up and walk around a bit. Itís all there to establish what a bad person you are and how much youíll do to gain power. But itís there. And it quickly changed the tone, for me, from a light-hearted, silly "look how messed up bad movies can be" into other things. Yes, itís supposed to be over the top. Yes, you may be the surprise-twist bad guy. Thatís the point. Everyoneís revealed at the end to be awful, power-and-fame-grubbing people. But, hoo boy. One of the implements of death, well, might offend religious sensibilities. Perhaps people more comfortable with horror tropes can cast it aside. Part of the joke seems to be that you, a bumbling actor, get worse along the way to power. Knowing the author is a good person and a strong writer, I think this is the right explanation.

Maybe I felt ambushed by the gore, though, because the game does seem to go full-scale joke at the first required command. It's a pitch-perfect well-clued guess-the-verb that gives an idea of who you are. Then, after being called to Arnie, the director's, office, you discover that a cult is backing the whole production, and later, you find the big-shot actors also playing a role on-set are not quite as they seem. It goes well beyond needing makeup or a hairpiece. Along the way, you gain your first points, too. SCORE doesn't just give a numerical total but a list of "horror movie themed" things you did to avoid perilous situations, which mostly involve running away or, later, not letting someone else run away once your inventory's at full strength.

Enough strategic running away lets you make forward progress to Studio 5 (yes, there are four others) to see your first task. The actors are involved with that, and you not only need to gain their favor but also need an additional item for protection, which you can only get from killing the security guard. Security guards pop up throughout the game. They scold you and kick you to the studio lot without ever hurting you, so you see how it can be disturbing that you may need to deal harshly with one. There is a definite Chekhov's Gun lying around. I felt guilty considering doing what I needed to do. But I did it. And a part of me still felt, boy, it's pretty annoying to have to HIDE from the security guard for the fifth time. It'd be nice to get rid of them and get on with solving the puzzle.

Yes, there are five studios, each with a theme. Each brings you a phalanx you will need to defeat your executive director's evil cultish plans. The puzzles for all this work technically. The best one is where you have to summon and banish ghosts to create a sub-story by itself. This could be trial-and-error, but it's pretty clear who has to go where, and the locations also have clues. The outline of a body suggests a murder. And so forth. The build-a-monster one, while not as emotionally effective, signposted the pieces I needed, and then there was some thinking about how to tie them together. There's another one where you have to force someone who's scared of animals somewhere. I thought the English pub scene was the weakest, but it was still pretty good. The big basic types of horror movies are covered here: building a monster, giant predatory animals, and so forth. This was all well thought out, and there are a lot of good laughs leading up to the final fight scene, where you defeat evil. Of course, you don't exactly have a holy army behind you.

The final scene ... well, if I have to poke the author about something, it'd be to streamline the parser so you don't have to type in so much. Use abbreviations. Because it's a neat bit of five-on-five fighting, with different army groups pitted against each other. Then the surviving ones fight, and so forth. There are several possible outcomes here, but I found it amusing to compare aligning who fights whom to gerrymandering, which is a banal evil of its own sort. Gerrymandering? Why, yes. The way to win the war with balanced armies is to find who barely beats whom else (the mechanics, as far as I can see: (Spoiler - click to show)units start with 0-4 strength and lose one point for each fight they win,) and give yourself four wins and one big loss. You can even try to lose this way, too. But one thing I noted was (Spoiler - click to show)it wasn't whether you won or lost, but WHO won or lost, that caused the ending. There are three, and one is almost redemptive and potentially makes Dr. Horror feel like a big trolley problem. And this made me think: for all the physical power everyone has, or the offices and connections, you ultimately have the most power, because you have a bit of knowledge the others don't. And with this knowledge, your status as outward underdog is a bit fake.

Overall, if you're up to a lot of macabre jokes, and you understand/enjoy the genre (written or film,) Dr. Horror seems like it's for you. Perhaps it hit a perfect storm that almost made me put it down. But it was an "almost" because the craftsmanship is obvious, and the bad guys are clearly labeled as bad guys. "Bad actor trying to force their way through" could be a cliche, but here there's variety in the puzzles and knowledge of over-the-top horror films in detail.

One word on the fatalities and why I found them unpalatable: (Spoiler - click to show)I've run into mean security guards and nice ones. Perhaps it's not even security guards, but the people who work the late shift at the athletic club and have to deal with folks who won't go home. I remember leaving my house keys in the office at work and forgetting my badge to sign in when working late, and a security guard I knew helped me get back in. Or I left some writing notes on top of a machine at the athletic club, and the front desk person let me run in to get it. That sort of thing. And it's not a very respected job, and it's not where people want to be, but they need to pay the bills. But it's funny. I admit to thinking "gee, why can't the security guard reminded me more of that one condescending security guard from my high school? That'd be more fun." So Dr. Horror brought out that less-than-beautiful side in me. And I suppose the point is that you are killing innocent people, which is a step beyond Arnie ruining careers or providing lousy pay and benefits.