In trying to flesh out the ideas established in its predecessor, BulkyPix has crafted a game with more ambition and less polish, resulting in a frustrating mess of trial-and-error puzzles.
Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. It's an idiom we couldn't stop thinking during our entire time with Hysteria Project 2. Having enjoyed some of the ideas in BulkyPix's original FMV horror title, we figured the sequel would correct many of the issues we had with its predecessor. Unfortunately, Hysteria Project remains a great idea that's poorly executed.
As in the original game, Hysteria Project 2 is pieced together using a sequence of first-person FMV sequences. The game opens with our protagonist strapped down on a bed in a serene medical clinic. As a lady checks your vitals, she starts to panic, and runs from the room warning you "he's coming". Those that played the original game will know that "he" is the hooded man intent on chasing you down and killing you.
The FMV has an amateur tone to it, but the production is fairly good. The game has some fantastic audio, and the experience is really enhanced if you play with headphones during the evening. We've always found something personal about horror games on portable platforms, and Hysteria Project 2 plays on that well. The game's got a genuinely tense and creepy atmosphere, and BulkyPix deserves credit for capturing that in such an original way — even if the subject matter itself is a bit predictable.
Unfortunately the game's mechanics completely let Hysteria Project 2 down. It plays like an adventure game, with a cursor popping up on screen allowing you to select objects and progress the story. But the game leaves far too much to trial-and-error. Take for example Hysteria Project 2's opening sequence. In order to escape from the bed you are tied to, you need to click on your character's hand. This prompts a cut-scene where the character tugs at the straps and is unable to break free. Now what? Before you've had time to think, you'll be ravaged by the afore-mentioned hooded man and prompted to restart. For approximately fifteen minutes we replayed this sequence over and over, until we realised that you actually had to click on the protagonist's hand twice. Finally we were free.
But the game continued to put its worst foot forward. After an enjoyable cut-scene showing our character walking through the strange laboratory environment, we happened upon a lift. But we didn't have the correct keycode. Thankfully, the nurse from the start of the game had written something on our right arm, so we inspected. We rolled up our sleeve and found the keycode — partially smudged — written on the inside of our character's arm. So we punched it in. Code denied. We punched it in again. Code denied. "Well is that a '1' or a '7'," we asked ourselves, trying to decipher the dodgy handwriting and smudged writing, "Could even be a 'T'." So we tried all possibilities. Code denied.
Nothing about this sequence was tense, challenging or frightening. It was just frustrating. And that frustration was emphasised by the fact that the puzzle itself was cool. But the game gives you no guidance or help, and so your left to linger. We eventually sought help from a FAQ, but that really shouldn't be necessary.
While there are clever puzzles in Hysteria Project 2, most fall foul to trial-and-error. The whole package feels unrefined and poorly play-tested. It's almost as though someone familiar with the puzzles checked the game, already aware of all the solutions, and said, "Yep, it works." But those not inherently involved with the game's development are given no clues as to what to click on at any specific moment. It's an unfair comparison, but games like God Of War are so successful because Sony Santa Monica play-tests every element of its campaign over-and-over, picking out the flaws and finding a way to guide players without holding their hands.
Hysteria Project 2 improves on the production values of its predecessor, but takes a step back where it matters — the gameplay. Despite giving you more control and more options, Hysteria Project 2 is a very poorly designed game. BulkyPix need to think about what it's trying to achieve with the Hysteria Project franchise. The trial-and-error, pseudo-puzzle-game pixel-hunting at the crux of Hysteria Project 2 is just not fun. Perhaps the inevitable sequel can finally straighten things out, but we won't be there day-one to find out this time around.