minis Monday: Hysteria Project

April 26, 2010

According to the developers of games for consoles such as the Philips CD-i and the Panasonic 3DO, FMV was the future of gaming. In the PS1 era, FMV was the medium of choice to explain narrative in the form of filmed cutscenes. Fast forward to 2010, and FMV is used as the chief game mechanic for this weeks minis game, Hysteria Project.

Hysteria Project opens in a room with the camera focusing on what the main character sees through his own point of view. Your legs and hands are bound by duck tape and your first task is to get yourself free and escape the room you have awoken in. Hysteria Project handles the camera much like the shaky handi-cam aesthetic you would find in low budget horror films like the Blair Witch Project or cult hit Cloverfield. The video compression is poor, and the shaking effects, rapid cutting, and occasional inversion of the colours all feel cliched, and a scratchy audio track does little to alleviate these impressions.

Hysteria Project’s greatest flaw, however, is its stubborn refusal to allow the player to be immersed in its scenario. The FMV sequences would be far more powerful if their juxtaposition with the gameplay elements wasn’t so crude. Choices made in the game are presented to the player by cutting away from the footage completely, presenting decisions in huge blocks in what has to be one of the most hideous user interfaces designed for modern devices. Any creepy soundtrack that was playing, however primitive, is silenced while the player makes a decision. Choices are often confined to very basic options, such as Turn Left or Turn Right, or Hide and Run – Hysteria Project rarely tries to expand on this throwback experiment. Most of the hour-long gameplay takes place in a foggy forest, where one path through the dead leaves and dried twigs looks identical to the others. It does punctuate the banality with the odd puzzle, but these are primitive at best.

If the filmic part of Hysteria Project feels substandard, with its solitary aesthetic and pixellated execution, then the ‘game’ part of the experience fares little better. Sections which require the character to negotiate through a series of tripwires, or search a pile of leaves, or fend off the shadowy attacker that pursues him throughout the game, are navigated by alternately pressing the Cross and Circle buttons to the on-screen prompts. A missed button press results in a brutal switch to the dog-ugly Game Over screen. Never have QTE’s felt so uninspired, or so divorced with what is happening on screen. Heavy Rain, this ain’t. And just when you’re coming to terms with what Hysteria Project is, and accept its many limitations, it ends; barraging the player with a lot of spliced footage and vague answers before flashing up a dreaded phrase: “To be continued.” Yep, developers BulkyPix seem to be planning even more Hysteria Project…

Whilst the premise is mildly intriguing and the execution is, in places, unsettling, Hysteria Project is an budget experiment that tries to revive a concept long since consigned to the scrapheap of videogaming history. For £1.19, it’s an experiment that I don’t begrudge taking, but the conclusion is still painfully clear; FMV games are as much of a non-starter now as they were 15 years ago.



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