Hysteria Project (PlayStation Minis) Review – Lost in the Woods

Hysteria Project is not the name of a Def Leppard cover band. It is a throwback to the early 90s, though, specifically the Full Motion Video (FMV) game. Back then, graphics were relatively primitive, so when the new-fangled storage device, the compact disc, came out developers had the brilliant idea to simply stream live-action video from the disc. The results ranged from the extremely impressive (Rebel Assault and Dracula Unleashed) to the rather sad (Night Trap, which ironically is now probably the best-remembered FMV game).

The genre lasted for a few years, then all but vanished as more powerful hardware became available (3D cards on the PC, and the launch of the Playstation and Saturn consoles). When the DVD format came out, it did make a brief comeback as “interactive” DVDs that would work on any DVD player, and you would play via a remote. But that fizzled out quickly.

Hysteria Project, originally for the iPhone by BulkyPix and ported to the PSP by Sanuk Games,  is really closer to those DVD player games. Gameplay mostly consists of choosing from two or three options in a menu. “Take the Left Path” or “Take the Right Path” for instance, then the appropriate video plays. Sometimes as the video is playing you are required to hit the X or O button. Sometimes if you hit the wrong button it doesn’t seem to matter, but in the final scene if you make a mistake, game over.

So what generally makes FMV games then is the scenario and the video, not so much the limited gameplay. And this is what makes Hysteria Project notable. It’s a horror game and told from a first-person perspective – the game starts with you being dragged into an old tool shed, a mysterious figure binding your hands with duct tape. Your goal is to escape from your captor.

At first, it’s quite impressive, it’s a shocking opening scene, and at least with headphones on, it’s very immersive so you feel the shock more. I would not go as far as saying it’s scary, but I did find it unsettling. The suspense and unease continues as you slowly make your way out of the tool shed and into the woods.

Unfortunately, this wears off shortly after you have reached the woods. Here, the gameplay becomes rather repetitive, facing the same choices over and over. The creepiness also vanishes, as you get a good look at your captor, a skinny guy in a hood and a small hatchet. I couldn’t help but think “Why am I running from this guy? I should just pick up a big stick and whack him with it.”

If you look at horror movies, most villains are menacing. Big, wielding scary weapons, often disfigured or wearing a William Shatner mask or something similarly horrible. And the way they kill their victims is gory and distinctive. Here, if you screw up, he just swings his little hatchet and you get a text screen saying you got killed.

From the first five minutes of the video, I was expecting something like Saw or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, instead, it’s closer to The Final Sacrifice.  Though to be fair, at least the killer isn’t wearing a tank top with his hood.

There seem to be some attempts at fleshing out the story – you have occasional flashbacks and see mysterious symbols occasionally. But when you finish the game, none of this is resolved, you simply see a “To be continued” flash across the screen. But it’s unknown if it will be continued, as the iPhone version came out over a year ago and there is no sign of a sequel.

So, I was let down by this. It’s a very clever idea, but the implementation could have been much better. Having tried to write a “Choose Your Own Adventure” type project once, I realize it’s much harder than it looks. And I realize the budget for the video must have been very low. But many creative and creepy horror movies have been done on a shoestring budget.

Still, as I said, I really do think it’s a very clever idea. Even though it’s very short (perhaps half an hour at most) and has little replay value, it’s possibly worth a buy due to the low price and novelty, and because it does give you a few moments (maybe ten minutes) of genuine uneasiness. Just know what you are getting into.

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