Year: 2001
Platform: Dreamcast
Developer: Crazy Games
Genre: Survival/horror
Review Date: 4/7/02
Rating: ***

Schlock horror movie director Michael Reynolds has created a deadly theme park called Illbleed. All you have to do is survive, and you'll win $100,000,000. But survival is a tricky thing, as hundreds of people visit Illbleed every day and no one has ever left the park alive... Two weeks ago, Eriko Christy's friends from the Horror Club went to Illbleed and haven't been heard from since. It's up to Eriko to rescue her friends and survive the horror of the park.

First of all, let's review my criteria for selecting a game to play. I will basically play anything that features a young female protagonist in a mini-skirt, and that alone was what made me pick up "Illbleed." Apart from the thrill of running around a haunted theme park in a mini-skirt, the game is a campy and surreal journey into the bizarre, with wacky sensibilities that only the Japanese could dream up. Each level is based on some awful B horror movie that Michael Reynolds produced and is full of strange traps, shocks, and monsters. Each level is refreshingly unique, and the whole game has an increasingly menacing "Westworld" aspect to it. There are people behind the scenes who are operating the traps and monsters, and sometimes they fall victim to mechanical failures or boss monsters who go out of control. Pulling back and seeing the operation from the inside just gives the whole game another layer of perversity. And at times it's hard to tell if you're playing the game or if the game is playing you. In fact, the totally bizarre storyline was the only thing that inspired me to finish this punishing game.

Like most survival horror games, "Illbleed" is absurdly complicated and difficult to play. Or maybe I'm just getting too old for the demands that these types of games place on me. In addition to worrying about physical attacks, you can also bleed to death or get scared to death, so you have to constantly keep track of your physical strength, adrenaline level, pulse rate, and bleeding rate in order to survive. You also have to rely on sight, sound, smell, and an intuitive "sixth sense" in order to locate items and traps. All of these senses and health meters are represented in a heads-up display, which is surprisingly elegant and simple to read. As you collect special items and earn prize money, you can opt to buy recovery items or choose to upgrade your body via surgery. As you rescue your friends, they become playable characters with their own strengths and weaknesses. The strangest aspect of the gameplay is the Horror Monitor, which looks like a set of night vision goggles. When you use the Horror Monitor, you can see points of interest that may contain items or traps and mark them so they don't scare you. However, using the monitor and marking areas uses up adrenaline at a frightening rate, so you have to be extremely judicious in using it. Unfortunately, that's the biggest flaw in the gameplay. A lot of the entertainment value in the game comes from encountering shocks and traps, and since the objective is to avoid and/or mark these areas, you're often denied that thrill.

Visually, the game has a distinctive Dreamcast look about it, if that makes any sense. Although the graphics and level design are attractive and functional, they're not overly impressive. Much like the B-movies that the game pokes fun at, the game itself reflects those same qualities in presentation and craftsmanship. But what the game lacks in polish, it makes up for in its outrageous content and obscene bloodletting. For the most part, the camera is very cooperative, although it jerks in time with the character's forward movement which can cause motion sickness if you're running for any extended period of time. The music is very well done and quite enjoyable to listen to. It also helps set the campy tone of the game.

However, "Illbleed" is riddled with problems and design flaws that seriously detract from the enjoyment of the game. First of all, the controls are just terrible. The worst offender is navigation, the single most important control in the game. You can either walk or run, but you can't break into a run while you're walking, or slow down to a walk while you're running. No, you have to stop altogether before you change your speed. Walking/running is achieved with the analog thumbstick - you press slightly to start walking or harder to start running. What you do with the stick after you start moving doesn't affect your speed whatsoever, until you just let go and come to a complete stop. This system is infuriating and absolutely makes no sense. Come on, this problem was solved years ago! You either use the analog controls to determine your speed dynamically (like "Shenmue" for instance) or you use a button to toggle between walking and running (like the familiar "Resident Evil" model). Jumping is the next problem area, and the jumping puzzles in the game will have you pulling your hair and swearing like a sailor in no time. Quite often, the character won't jump at all when you press the jump button, and when you do manage to jump, getting to your intended destination is extremely difficult. Just getting to the boss fight with Rachel was maddening and took at least twenty attempts, but the jump-roping puzzle was even worse. You see, not only does your character jump poorly, but it takes about a half a second for them to wind up and about as long to wind down after the jump before you can jump again. This severely taxes the player's ability to anticipate and compensate for their character's jumping disabilities. After about thirty minutes, the jump rope puzzle nearly made me throw my controller across the room. Combat is sluggish and cumbersome, and the controls often don't respond at all. The problem is compounded by the fact that you can't actually use any recovery items while you're fighting, which is a SERIOUS issue. However, most of the time you're allowed to call for a helicopter to rescue you from a fight, but you've still got to stay alive long enough for it to pick you up. The most minor control issue is with the Horror Monitor, which oddly enough uses the flight simulator convention of pushing up to look down and down to look up. Very annoying and disconcerting. At the very least, there should have been an option to change this behavior.

Other minor complaints are that the characters aren't overly attractive and have very stiff motion cycles. Even though Eriko has big eyes and purple hair, she's decidedly not anime looking - she's something else... Apart from a couple of exceptions, the voice acting is pretty awful. Eriko's voice is inappropriate and sounds way too old for a teenager. Of course, the bad dialog doesn't help any. Unfortunately, the map isn't as useful as it could be, which is made worse by the fact that it takes up so little screen space. You've got the entire screen, so why not use it? You also have to press the exit button twice to leave map mode, which is a slight nuisance. The proportions are also a bit odd in the game, and it often seems like Eriko is only three feet tall when compared to her surroundings (much like the bizarre scale of Lara Croft's mansion in the "Tomb Raider" series). And finally, it's very annoying that you can't actually see any of the items that you collect throughout the game. You have to rely on your senses monitor and the Horror Monitor to seek them out, and even when a steak dinner or a machine gun is lying at your feet, there's no physical representation of it.

Still, the game has its own compelling charm, and its humorous self awareness helps to keep everything in the proper perspective. The game also offers a bit of replay value by unlocking a cute little mini-game and by giving you a chance to play through the game again to get the real ending. This also involves Eriko losing her clothing along the way. That's right, this is definitely not a game for the kiddies. Apart from the excessive blood and gore (not to mention exploding toilets and butchered pigs that fart in your face), there are some not-so-subtle sexual themes and undercurrents going on in the game. The inclusion of a child's toy called "Sexy Doll" drives the game into further decadence and makes you wonder just how this game ever got made. However, if you've got an open mind and aren't easily offended, it's certainly good for some laughs.