Sunday, March 4, 2007

Game Review: "Elvira II - The Jaws of Cerberus"

This ancient contribution from HorrorSoft makes for an interesting - if deeply flawed - experience.

You play an anonymous hero-type summoned by horror hostess Elvira to her movie studios. The demon Cerberus has kidnapped our Mistress of the Dark, converting her three film sets into real nests of supernatural activity. You must search all three studios (a haunted house, underground catacombs, and an insect maze) for the captive Elvira, slaying Cerberus' minions along the way, and then gather the magical artifacts needed to banish the demon back to Hell.

"The Jaws of Cerberus" belongs to a particularly unforgiving sub-genre of adventure/RPG, the type where it's very easy to make a mistake (ie: drop or use an item at the wrong time) resulting in an unwinnable game, only there's no mechanism to let you know that you're stuck. You can just go on for hours, never realizing you can't proceed beyond a certain point. It's the sort of thing that makes playing without a walkthrough far too great a chore to be enjoyable.

Even with a walkthrough, gameplay leaves much to be desired; combat is pretty much randomly clicking on the enemy, and either you hit it or you don't. Spells are useful, but there's no way to recharge your MP aside from standing around for hours at a time - and unfortunately, the game will most likely force you into this position at least twice. Magic is also problematized by the enormous amount of dead weight, ie: a lot of spells and spell ingredients are just plain useless to you in the course of the game.

Fortunately, "The Jaws of Cerberus" excels at visual presentation, and that's enough of an incentive to at least give the game a casual run-through - there's plenty of gore (exploding eyeballs, blood, mutilation, giant insects, maggoty corpses), but more in the vein of how the '80s classics used it (to enhance frightening scenes) than the more gratuitous methods used in modern films like "Saw". The set designs are surprisingly detailed given the technology that was available when the game was made.

As a throwback, then, it's the sort of game you wouldn't mind watching as a film or television series, but actually playing it requires a great deal of patience - more, perhaps, than is warranted.