Looking Back on… Run Like Hell (Sony Playstation 2)

Run Like Hell
System: Playstation 2
Genre: Action/Survival Horror
Publisher: Interplay
Release Date: 9/30/02 (Back to 411Games posts we go for a bit, as I wrote a small handful of reviews for the site before interest waned and availability became something of a lost cause. I’m not really sure what I expected from the 411 endeavor, if I’m being honest, but IPGames nee DHGF was more my speed in terms of feedback and interaction with the staff; with 411 I always felt disconnected from the process and my coworkers, and it never really clicked for me. These days the site fucking sucks out loud, though, so I’m not sad that I’m not a part of it anymore.)

The first impression you get when you start playing RLH is the feeling that the developers were trying to make the gaming experience into a more cinematic experience than anything else. The story is mainly told through cut-scenes, and these scenes are extremely prevalent throughout the six to ten hours of playtime contained herein. (Oh for the days when action games using heavy amounts of cutscenes was a new thing.) The game also starts off slow, story-line wise, and picks up more and more as it progresses to the finish. This is hardly a first, as Metal Gear Solid 2 attempted much the same thing, to a different degree of success. (At the time I was implying that MGS2 was more successful than this game, though I would also note that being more successful at something than a terrible game does not, itself, mean you succeeded.)

The second thing you notice is that this game seems quite a bit like The Thing, for many obvious reasons: The oppressive feeling of you versus them is the basis of the game; the enemies are made up of a collective, rather than individuals; alien protoplasm begins to cover most of the space station you inhabit; the enemies are seemingly quite intelligent and begin to evolve as the game progresses; and so on. (I believe I meant the game rather than the movie here, though on reflection you could make a case for a comparison to either.)

The third thing you notice, sadly, is that while it tries to accomplish both of the feats the previous games listed achieved, it never quite makes it, leaving you feeling as if the game is second rate from the first chapter all the way to end game. (And really, how bad is your game when it can’t manage to offer a better cinematic experience than MGS2 or a better survival horror experience than The Thing? I mean neither one was any great shakes in those categories, let’s be honest here.) That’s quite a shame, because had Interplay worked a bit more on this game, it could have been a fantastic experience, but as it stands, the game never becomes more than the sum of it’s parts, which are mediocre all-around. (Mediocre, he says.)

The gameplay is perhaps the most distressing thing the game provides. Gameplay is broken up between combat, puzzle solving, and a strange running/button pressing oddity similar to the Active Time events in Shenmue, with each being thrown about seemingly at random. (Oh Christ, for the days when Active Time Events were an uncommon thing in gaming.) The combat here works, to a certain degree, but is never really interesting or fun. Basically, there are only three weapons you find that prove to be of any use, and every other weapon you find/create is either there only for story-line progression, or is practically useless. Secondary fire is also included on many of the weapons, but these options are almost always less useful than they sound, and are altogether useless in boss battles. (Today, I could not tell you anything about the weapons in this game if you put a gun to my head, save that I’m certain there was an Aliens style assault rifle, and some weapon that threw explosives that you needed to fight the brute-monsters late in the game.) Combat is done primarily through auto-targeting, which is something of a blessing, because manual targeting is all but impossible, which becomes painful when facing cloaked enemies. Sadly, the auto targeting is stupid, and all too often you find your focus on the least threatening thing in sight, as opposed to the thing you’d prefer to shoot at. (And yet I felt that the combat worked to a certain degree. HOW?)

Puzzle solving seems to be quite skewed at times; the solutions are either incredibly simple, or so mind-numbingly asinine that you feel like a moron when you realize what you were missing. Backtracking is also a major part of the game; you spend most of your time running back and forth through the same places over and over, whether it’s to get a keycard, password, blowtorch, or some other sort of device that is plot specific. (Run Like Hell had a big problem with this, in that it would change the look of the game world to try to impress upon the player how fucked everything was becoming, but it still meant that you were walking through the same area six times before the end of the game, so it didn’t really work as intended.) And many times, the puzzles revolve around how to remove Brutes, an exceptionally large, highly lethal enemy you can’t kill until almost the end of the game. This seems rather ridiculous after the tenth puzzle you see that involves them, and makes many of the puzzles seem tacked on for no good reason. (Ah, Brutes. This was essentially Run Like Hell‘s attempt at making the game scary by way of supplying an enemy you couldn’t kill, but in reality they mostly existed to make you solve puzzles so it never worked. Nemesis, they were not.)

The Active-Time events here mostly involve running from something, be it a Brute, an explosion, or something equally as lethal. Basically, the stick controls you, and you press a button at the right time to do something, usually jump or slide. These, thankfully, are few and far between, and while they are the source of a good bit of frustration, they are often mercifully short. Had they been taken out altogether, that would have been something of an improvement. (Oh God, I didn’t even mention the worst part of these: these sequences revolved around you running from something, directly into the camera. In other words, the challenge here came from your character running at you, and you having only a couple seconds to react, sort of like a fucked up Dragon’s Lair, as the obstacle appeared on the screen. Memo to any developer, anywhere, ever: this concept is the dirt fucking worst and you are an instant failure as a developer if you do this, ever. Seriously, I stop playing when developers do this anymore and just trade that shit in; it’s a lazy, shitty mechanic and I refuse to deal with it.)

The graphics are a mixed bag. The light sourcing is decent, and the weapon and in-game special effects are interesting enough, though they could have been better, considering the system in question. (In fairness to the game, it was originally planned as something of a launch title for the PS2, but delays and funding issues kept it in development hell far longer than it should have been, meaning its visuals ended up being a lot worse than they would have been had it launched when it was supposed to.) The character models are well-done, and move very convincingly, though their clothing and hair seem painted on, and move in ways they shouldn’t. (Yeah that happens a lot during the PS2 era.) The levels also portray the “being taken over by alien goop” well enough; when you return to a level, it’s noticeably different each time, thus reinforcing the point of the game: survival against innumerable odds. (Oh boy, a semicolon and a colon in the same sentence. I R SRS RITER. Fucking hell.) Overall, however, the graphics end up being bland and non-descript, and many of the levels end up looking the same, which really ends up working against the game here.

Musically, there is a well composed mix between heroic, spooky, and action oriented music, and it plays where appropriate. The action tunes are done by the band Breaking Benjamin, and while they give credence to the cinematic atmosphere, and they certainly fit the violent nature of the game, they overshadow the remainder of the in-game music by comparison. (While I’ve since become something of a fan of the band, the soundtrack provided in this game comes from their first record, Saturate, meaning that, yes, we hear a song about the fucking Wizard of Oz while killing aliens. Speaking of, holy shit, what a shitshow Breaking Benjamin has become in the past couple of years. The lead singer, Ben Burnley, fucking went mental, attacking the label for releasing a Greatest Hits record, and subsequently suing and firing two members of the band because they licensed out “Blow Me Away,” AKA “The song written for a fucking Halo soundtrack,” to allow someone else partial vocals on it. The last remaining member who wasn’t Ben quit in 2013, and the band, or more accurately, Ben and a whole new band, made a return this summer, so hopefully that’s all resolved, but Jesus Christ what a mess.) The voice acting is also top notch, with talent like Lance Henriksen and Kate Mulgrew, and really breathes some life into the games interactions and plot development. (Henriksen voices the Commander Shepard-esque main character, which kind of just adds to the B-Movie quality of the product.)

Fun Factor
Surprisingly, even after all the negative points I listed, the game was quite entertaining, though I attribute that more to a desire to figure out what was going on in the story, and less to the actual game itself. (lolno) The story is quite interesting, and is perhaps the sole positive factor of the game. I say perhaps because many of the plot points seemed somewhat ridiculous and unnecessary, and never really did anything for the game as a whole. (The weird Thing-esque aliens reveal they’re semi-sentient and end up taking over the main character’s girlfriend as the visual representation of their leader; it’s basically a combination of Dead Space and Prey, only less interesting than either… though both came out years after the fact. So the possibility exists that this game inspired those. Sleep tight.) Replay value was also practically nonexistent, as completing the game reveals nothing except the blatant reference that, yes, there WILL be a sequel. (lolno) I think that’s the only time I cringed at the possibility of a sequel to a game. Anyway, nothing new is unlocked, there is only one ending, and honestly, there’s no reason to go back and play it again.

The 411
It’s truly sad to see such an ambitious project go to waste. The game was in development for what seemed like forever, had quite a bit of press surrounding it, and had many a reviewer looking to it as Game of the Year, bar none. (Seriously, this game had a SHITLOAD of hype behind it when it was first announced, and a lot of press was calling for it to be a huge PS2 property until its first release window was pushed back and everyone kind of realized it was DOA.) Instead we received a game that spends all of it’s time trying to be more like a movie than anything else, with mixed results throughout. (Or more accurately, like The Thing meets Aliens.) With inaccurate control, spotty AI, repetitive scenes, backtracking galore, and so many oddball puzzles, the game barely climbs to above average. (BARELY CLIMBS TO ABOVE AVERAGE he says. Did you READ how you described this game? BECAUSE I DID.) And when you realize that, sadly, there other games that have tried to accomplish what RLH was going for, with far better results, one has to wonder if the development time was worth it.

Gameplay – 5/10 (.5’s are allowed)
Graphics – 7/10
Sound – 8/10
Fun Factor – 6/10
Overall – 6/10 (not an average) (Not even close. I’d put the Gameplay at a 4 or less, between the weird locked-down combat sequences and the God awful running into the screen segments, and the audio at a 6 because Saturate was not a good Breaking Benjamin record. Since Fun Factor incorporates replay value that’s easily a 4 or a 3. Overall? Call it a 4. It’s not the worst game ever or anything, and it almost certainly isn’t even Top Ten material, but it is pretty embarrassing.)

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