Gregory Horror Show PS2 Review
Firstly, I think we should take a moment to revel in what we have here; Yes, it’s a bizarre Japanese game that has made it to our fair shores, skipping America along the way. And with a 60hz option! Is that a flying pig..?
Ok, revelling over. Is this game worth celebrating our apparent preferential treatment? Well, for once in taking a chance releasing something as niche as this into the Western market, Capcom haven’t slapped a £40 price tag on it and wondered why it has flopped (Mad Maestro or Mr Mosquito anyone?). The £19.99 price tag is certainly appealing for someone scouring the shops for something…a little different. Hey, if you hate it, it wont have burnt a hole in your pocket. But no more worries about that scenario – let me tell you all you need to know. Hopefully.
The first thing you will notice is the graphical styling, which may remind some of you Freeloaders of a much-overlooked cube game called Cubivore. Since this game is based on a Japanese cartoon show (perhaps why its so cheap?), the characters are all very bold and basic. The second thing you will notice is…well, the graphical styling. Again. Namely, how poor it looks compared to other titles on the current market. The FMV shows nothing that could not have been displayed on the PSone; similarly, the straight-edged structure of the characters means that jaggies are abound. There is also some strange warping of shadows when multiple light-sources are on-screen at the same time. While this is somewhat disappointing to find in such a new game, the charm (or grotesqueness) of the characters and the intriguing atmosphere does make up for this to an extent.
And so we move onto the gameplay – and at this point, may I suggest that anyone after a rip-roaring storyline will probably be better off quitting now while they’re ahead. Your chosen character (boy or girl) awakens outside a dark, foreboding hotel, having no recollection as to how they have managed to get there. The purveyor, a Mr Gregory (a bizarre mouselike creature) welcomes you with seemingly too much enthusiasm, and shows you to your room, making some sly reference to the other guests in the building. You promptly fall asleep once more (you never learn, do you?), and are visited by Death in your dreams. He tells you that he has loaned you your current body, and in return he wants the souls of the guests of the hotel. Just your every day deal, then.
The first fifteen minutes or so of gameplay are dedicated to a tutorial to get you going, most of which is orchestrated by a disturbing zombie cat called Neko that has been locked in the room next door. Straight away, you can see that appearances are deceiving; the gruesome story behind the cats mutilation, which goes into some nasty detail concerning it being “sewed back together” is certainly not in keeping with the colourful design of the game. Similarly one of the other guests, a pink lizard-nurse called Catherine, takes great delight in drawing your blood from your body into a giant syringe while making somewhat…dubious sounds of enjoyment. Certainly spooky stuff, made all the worse for the innocent context its placed in.
Anyways, Neko and the library provide you with plenty of gameplay information. You can peek through keyholes using triangle – important when making sure that no enemies are lurking in the next room. Peeking can also let you listen to the conversations of other guests, to see what they are thinking. As your purpose in the game is to follow these guests to determine when they are most vulnerable to attack, this kind of snooping is integral to gameplay. Discovering the routines of your guests results in logs being made in your memo book in your own room, which you can look through to see what any guest is up to at any given time. It can also be used to enter a first-person mode (handy when the camera is too slow to respond), and to hide in cupboards. The x button can be used to utilise your equipped item (which can be anything from a key to a “dirty book”) at the appropriate time, initiate conversation, open doors and pick up visible items, whereas square will “knock” on walls or items, drawing out guests if they are present within. Strangely, part of the job of picking up items has also been given to the square button; if you “knock” on a table or something that looks as though it might hold a hidden item, you are often rewarded. Bizarre, and slightly awkward.
Other than these elements, the game play is standard pick-up-and-use-elsewhere fare, akin to Resident Evil. An early puzzle involves you picking up a banana peel and dropping it on the floor to trip up a guest; these rapidly become more complex as the game goes on. As a final twist to the difficulty, the guests whose souls you have already stolen become less than well-disposed towards you; lets face it, if you had your soul stolen, you would hardly befriend the thief, would you? So, as you hunt for the remaining 10 souls, just remember that the last two people you robbed are now looking out to make you a part of the hotel forever… Getting spotted by these angry guests results in a chase sequence, which you must try and win by escaping into a room or cupboard and hiding until they give up. In fact, being seen is the least of your worries; walking too noisily, moving too quickly while looking through a keyhole and knocking your head against the door…all of these will bring suspicious guests running. To add to your problems, Gregory has an irritating little grandson called James who will tail you laughing evilly to try and get you in trouble. All of these things, as well as your recorded schedules, will have to be taken into account to get around the hotel safely.
So…what happens if you’re caught? This is where the relevance of the show comes into play. When you’re captured, you end up as a participant in your captor’s freakish Horror Show; for example, Catherine will draw a load of blood from the back of your head, driving you to the edge of death – and the brink of your sanity. At this point I’ll sneakily slip in the life-force of the game: at the top of the screen you have a little picture of your character surrounded by a cloudy haze which represents your sanity. Just being in the house will slowly deplete this haze; and, naturally, getting caught and being forced to take part in a show will cut it dramatically. When the gauge is empty, you go nuts and its game over. Sanity can be regained through sleep, or by reading books (largely concerned with death…or syringes). As well as this, you can also experience one or more of several status problems, such as headache, nervousness and darkness. These problems can be cured by various objects lying around the house, but be warned; they will be affected by what actions you take. For example, reading when your status has been affected may make it even worse – and having multiple status problems is no fun, especially when your character starts walking backwards. The fact that you can get a status problem just through prolonged fatiguing action, like staring through a dark keyhole for too long, is an interesting touch.
Sadly, the gameplay isn’t without its flaws. Firstly, the translation; this reeks of a rushed job, and has a few of grammatical errors that are usually ironed out by the time a game reaches a European translation, a couple of which are carried across to the voice acting. The camera, which can be rotated with the right analogue stick, moves somewhat sluggishly; this is a pain when you can hear an enemy advancing towards you but cant see from which direction. Also, in a move that may be familiar to Resi fanatics, there seem to be hardly any curative items hidden in the house at all – and while they can be bought from the hotels giftshop, trying to get there when the controls have been reversed is a nightmare. Little things, but niggly things.
Its also pretty tedious to collect the daily information of all of the guests; you’ll probably find you waste several hours of gameplay just trying to build up a map of what the people of the hotel are doing at different times without actually progressing any further through the game. This is where the slow pace of the game comes into play; while you can technically take it at your own pace and do things your own way, you seem to be forced to spend a great deal of time just wandering around doing very little at all. This concept is further hampered by the fact that you can only review the memos in your room – to have it carried about on your character’s person, like the notebook of virtually every other video-game character in existence, would have been far preferable.
There’s also a constant feeling that something is lacking in this game… while there are numerous interesting ideas, such as hiding in cupboards to outwit your enemy, none of these feel like they have been used to their full potential. For example, there are several empty cupboards in the Jacuzzi room which your character refuses to hide inside – it seems a shame to waste these opportunities to add in extra hiding spots. Similarly, a few more dark corners to slip into would have gone down well; the fact that the hiding spots seem have to been too choreographed makes the gameplay feel stifled.
Sound in the game is functional; that’s really all there is to say. It’s obvious a great deal of time hasn’t been spent on this aspect; while floorboards creak convincingly, and the voiceovers are eerily appropriate, its certainly not the most polished element of the game. Perhaps the most effective use is the “Psycho” slasher-music that accompanies the chase scenes; this becomes more intense depending on whether or not the enemy is aware of your presence or just suspicious. While the characters in game dialogue is largely constructed of looped samples of laughter or surprised grunts, everything works reasonably well.
The lifespan of the game is questionable…while following the guests around will bump up your game-time no end, you never actually feel like you have progressed as a result of this. Consequently, I find that I play the game in short bursts, working painfully slowly towards getting the next soul. In this respect, it will certain last you a long time to figure out the exact motions of the guests. As well as this, after performing certain actions in the game you are rewarded with a small figurines of the characters. These act as a mini-gallery, with which you can view their frames of animation. While this is a neat feature, there seems to be little else to unlock. There is no online content for your money either.
In conclusion, this is an interesting effort at bringing something new to the survival horror genre – and in some aspects, like the tension created by the chases and the twisted humour, it arguably does succeed. However, one cant help feeling that some of these ideas could have been pushed that little bit further…as it is, the majority of the time seems to be spent wandering around gathering information on the guests movement without ever actually achieving very much at all. This seems to be a shame, as the interesting gameplay ideas that this game offers are plentiful; to fall at the execution post is a pity. Still, as I said at the start of this review, the game is cheap and offers something very different for your money – perhaps one to tide over the time until the next big release.