Review: House of Evil

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Review copy provided by developer via Curator Connect

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Some games have a lot of heart, but lack the design chops to make something of it. You can see it in games that work hard to be different, in games that have unique art styles and paper-thin gameplay to make up for it, or in games with unusual gameplay systems that just don’t come together quite right. House of Evil is the latter, a game of great ambition that can’t really deliver on any of it. And while it’s a hilariously confounding romp for awhile, eventually you’re sure to run into something that’ll stop the fun dead in its tracks.

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Your protagonist is but a simple Russian man who receives a terribly disturbing (and confusing) phone call. His ghost hunter wife has vanished into a remote mansion and it’s up to him to extricate her. On arrival, though, it becomes immediately apparent that all is not well in the house. The occupants are varying degrees of eccentric, there are strange creatures roaming the grounds, and ominous portends abound. If your fated fellow is to survive this ordeal, he’ll need to bone up on the dark rituals being carried out there and whip up some sanctified remedies for the evil before it consumes him, his wife, and the whole world.

That’s about as much as I could piece together from my hour with the game, really. I completely understand the difficulties of localizing a game into other languages but there’s a basic level of comprehensibility required, and House of Evil sails comfortably under that bar. You’re going to be dealing with item descriptions like “It allows to start expulsion a pianist” and dialog like “Eee, thanks! suddenly” pretty much universally here, muddying already confusing cutscenes where characters blink in and out of existence after not being properly established in the first place. I didn’t recognize my own character until half an hour in when he started talking to a little girl who may or may not be a ghost.

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These problems are only compounded when mixed with the game’s more involved systems. You’ll have a full inventory to manage here, cluttered with notes, keys, tapes, herbs, vials, and so on. Everything has a potential use, too, and your herbs are of particular interest if you can decipher the text block that explains the alchemy system. In lieu of actual combat, you must mix potions to perform exorcisms on the creatures that assault you. In and of itself that’s not too complicated but interpreting what you need, how it works, and how to perform the actual QTE ritual will take a few frustrating restarts and a fair bit of experimenting, too.

All of this plays out in a mansion that looks cobbled together from a first-year AutoCAD project. Again, I respect the effort that went in to creating this place but it fails to resemble an actual, physical place, with stark white rooms attached directly to wood-planked chambers full of misaligned textures. Cutscenes will grab you and transport you across unseen distances, shattering any concept of space or setting here. And when you can explore, you’ll find troughs of coiled poop and sexy zombies beating on the bars of their cages. It’s a jumbled fever dream of a place, and one I was getting a genuine kick out of exploring until I triggered some monster that would instantly kill me without apparent recourse.

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House of Evil is one of those games that seems so bad it’s good, but ultimately just ends up being bad. I feel a little bad myself saying that, because I really was getting into the unbridled madness of the whole thing. But the further I got, the more the shoddy mechanics impinged on the fun until I got to that one zombie that ruined everything. At that point I didn’t really have the will to push on, because it’s not like the story or the graphics or the gameplay were amazing. It was a big, goofy joke until it stopped being funny, and that was that. I hope the developer can take some important lessons from this for their next game, because I’d hate to see this kind of passion die without getting a proper shot. It just needs to be way, way better and more polished than this.

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