It doesn’t look like Metacritic has any reviews aggregated for this neo-retro survival horror game yet, nor does Destructoid seem to have a review published. I figured I’d get my impressions out there as I’ve played the first couple hours of the game.
The aesthetic is spot on with low poly models, seams in the architecture and low res textures that warp in a Playstation One manner when you get near them. The game also has optional filters that give the illusion of being displayed on a curved screen LCD with RF style video noise. It reminds me of the film grain texture from Silent Hill 2 although the effect is slightly different, imparting less of a verite film aesthetic and more of a voyeuristic security camera vantage.
It also deliberabely apes the feel of survival horror games of old, beyond the mere visual presentation. The first enemy encounter is in a narrow hallway that forces the player to avoid the creature in order to reach the room containing the first melee weapon. Using the action button commences an attack animation that has a long wind up, taking several moments to finish the full swing. The player encounters many “broken” doors, signaling to those familiar with the Silent Hill series that there’s no use ever trying to get through it. Clues are found in the form of memos, writings on white boards and the player must piece them together to open numerical locks.
The slavish devotion to the form and conventions of Playstion One era survival horror isn’t always in the game’s favor. One particular puzzle led the player toward a “safe” that looks exactly like any other door in the game. I retraced my steps several times looking for what might be a safe. Some of the box shaped objects on the first level’s roof certainly seemed safe-like. No amount of investigation would allow any interactivity with them, however. Ultimately, I decided that the only thing even remotely resembling a safe was a numpad locked door, so I applied the clues toward opening it. It worked. I’m honestly not sure if the misdirection was intentional, a further form of pastiche meant to mirror the misleading clues that sometimes resulted from poor localization, or an actual oversight. This is the inherent problem with homage and parody, I suppose. Intent can sometimes become foggy.
The game’s overall structure seems to be discrete and level based rather than somewhat open ended and exploratory as was the case in such games as Resident Evil or Silent Hill. Giving the player the freedom to explore the mansion of Resident Evil, albeit with gates to funnel him toward the intended sequence, imparted a certain dread inherent in navigating an unfamiliar space, especially one that happens to be a spooky old mansion. Silent Hill begins by giving the player a clear directive – follow your fleeing daughter into the ominous mist. Beyond this sequence, the game opens up and, again with careful gating to guide the player toward the intended objective, allows her to explore at her own pace. Although Back In 1995 does begin with an obvious objective from frame one in the form of a distant tower the protagonist expresses a need to reach, apart from that the game sets up a structure whereby NPCs provide mission objectives. This seems out of place for a survival horror and more in line with an RPG or open world game. Taking it at face value as a slight wrinkle on the classic formula, it still became somewhat monotonous, even within a couple hours, as I fetched an item and brought it back to the NPC. The process of returning the key-item has yet to yield any interest as the path invariably remains cleared of enemies and gates. At no point did the game surprise me with a new enemy, scripted event or the like during the schlep.
Finally, the game has yet to yield any sense of dread, suspense, uneasiness or, most importantly, fear. The routine, fetch quest structure undercuts the sense of exploring the unknown as the environments devolve into mere holding rooms of clues, keys and items. Most survival horror games rely on these same conventions but the context here makes it feel more like trudgery than it ought to. The enemy designs have yet to instill any sense of horror as the most common enemy type so far resembles Slimer The Brazil Nut. Speaking of which, one section recalled the infamous staircase sequence in the David Crane Ghostbusters game. The dearth of fear and dread is exacerbated by the wealth of healing items and easily killed enemies. Despite the long wind up and required commitment of the attack animation, landing a blow cancels the attack animation of the monsters. As long as you get the first blow in, you have nothing to fear.
And that’s the ultimate problem with the game so far – there’s nothing to fear.
I hope to have a full review within the next couple days. Check back then if Metacritic hasn’t caught up with the demand.
Oh, on a final note, I was deeply disappointed with the game’s soda machines. They were emblazoned with the fictional brand “Back In 1995”. Original. Hassy remains without competition.