Run Like Hell (Xbox) Review

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Publisher: Interplay/Vivendi Universal Games
Developer: Digital Mayhem

Platform: Xbox, PlayStation 2
Reviewed on Xbox

Nick Conner is a former pilot turned deep space miner stationed on the Forseti Space Station with his fiancée, Dr. Samantha Reilly. Set in the near future, Nick returns from a routine mining expedition to find that the day's supply ship brought some unwanted guests, and after witnessing his assistant's slaughter at the hands (and teeth) of a savage alien beast, he is forced into a tense battle, requiring wits and a whole heck of a lot of fire-power.

Kyle Ackerman

In Run Like Hell (RLH), the plot and backstory easily outshine the gameplay itself. Many titles shortchange important plot and character development to focus on blazing guns or platform jumping. RLH does the reverse. Plenty of time is spent in cut-scenes, to let you grow attached to the characters that are often gruesomely slain. As a stunning example, RLH devotes two full pages of the manual to a character that is killed in the opening cinematic.

At times, the focus on plot is the game's strength. RLH has one of the better introductions or tutorials. The prologue is optional, but introduces you to nearly every important character, giving you a sense of their lives before the crippling alien assault. Simultaneously, it introduces the player to basic game controls, combat, and even gives you a chance to collect a few extra items to help Nick Conner, the game's protagonist. Unfortunately, the plot often gets in the way, in that cut-scenes are constantly interrupting the action. This gives RLH a stop-and-start feel that makes it difficult to maintain the horror for which the game strives.

Cut-scenes aren't the only thing that break up the tension. While you can watch Nick build an attachment to folks like the alien security officer Dag'rek, the engineer Niles or the hacker teen Jinx, there are lots of things to pull you out of the action. For one, the game is too dark. Horror games are often dark, but RLH is so dark that playing during the daytime is difficult. A little more contrast or color, particularly in areas of Forseti Station covered in alien growth would place the horrific emphasis on rampaging alien hordes and ubiquitous death, rather than the irritation of navigation.

There are some moments where tense action is reduced to an arbitrary choice between four buttons. In once sequence near the game's end, you run down a long corridor filled with poison gas and scorpion-like aliens that you must defeat, to ultimately reach a generator. Once you activate the generator, you enter a scripted sequence in which you run back down the same hallway dodging aliens and crates. At the end of the hallway you discover a massive brute-like alien and the screen flashes: "Choose YXBA" – the four buttons on the controller. If you choose poorly, the game ends and a message splays telling you that you died. There is no indication of which button to press, so you have to repeat the sequence until you guess the correct button, sending Nick sliding under the outstretched arms of the Brute. There is also a checkpoint save system. While you can save the last checkpoint to the Xbox hard drive, you always restart at a checkpoint. The combination of arbitrary choices like the one above and a checkpoint save system can conspire to irritate the player.

There are plenty of weapons to choose from, and an inventory system that allows you to use scrounged upgrade chips to improve your armaments. This is the incentive to explore, rather than running like Hell for the next objective, since weapon upgrades and medical kits are critical for survival. Unfortunately, while some of the weapons, such as the basic rifle and the pulse rifle are Nick's best tools, many others are useless. The shotgun and the stunner, for example, merely take up inventory space and pale in comparison to a slightly upgraded starting rifle. If you do check out side alcoves, you'll find parts to construct a lightning gun superior to everything else in the game.

Despite these problems, the game is engaging. A small, but thoughtfully crafted selection of aliens, evocative of The Thing or The Many (of System Shock 2) grow ever stronger, eliminating and assimilating humanity and its allies on the way, ultimately developing cloaking abilities that can even foil Nick's weapon auto-lock, making them challenging to kill. The characters are ably voiced, by folks such as Lance Henriksen (Aliens), Clancy Brown (Highlander, Starship Troopers), Kate Mulgrew (Star Trek Voyager), Michael Ironside (Starship Troopers, Splinter Cell) and more. Overall, the story of RLH is enough to keep you pushing through to the end, to learn if Nick escapes the terror of The Race. (There's more than enough death to leave you wondering if even the lead character will survive the final cut scene.)

Players will either laugh or be distracted by the frequent insertion of game and product references. The beverage Bawls even had a joint marketing campaign with RLH's original PlayStation 2 release. Bawls vending machines are scattered around Forseti Station, dispensing an "Energy drink that supplies minimal healing power, but taste [sic] great." Other references are sillier. One arcade machine refers to the expensive failure of one branch of developer Ion Storm, and Fallout fans are rewarded with Pip Boy energy bars, and are even sent on a search for the VaultTec3000 Water Recycling Chip.

The Xbox version of RLH joins the emerging legion of games that have downloadable content for Xbox Live! subscribers. You can download a variety of skins to supplant Nick's usual appearance, including a zombie and a skin of Samantha (Nick's fiancée) in tiny black underwear. During cut-scenes however, the game always uses Nick's original appearance, so there are some disconcerting flips. Of greater interest are two downloadable levels accessible from the new game menu. The first, called "Shooting Gallery," has Nick manning a zoomable turret as aliens run down a hall. You basically shoot lesser aliens, adding to your score, until a super brute runs down the hallway and smashes you. The level called "Arena Death" is more fun: you run around a room killing increasingly difficult wave after wave of aliens. Every few waves, your gun is upgraded (to one of the useful weapons), and you can run to crates that occasionally refill with weapon upgrade and health kits. This is actually fun, and lets you test your combat mettle.

RLH's plot is engrossing enough that the approximately ten hours of play easily merit a rental. The game can be completed in a weekend (preferably after dark), and provides enough tense fun to be easily worth the time.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on May 27, 2003 7:32 PM.

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