Reviewed: November 19, 2010
Released: October 7, 2010
Haunted House first came out on the Atari 2600 in 1982. A contender for the very first survival horror game, the original was an early experiment in what games could be. Its recent remake, however, brings very little to the table. With repetitive sound effects, tedious gameplay, and little in the way of challenge, the new version of Haunted House is a spectral echo of the original, which should have stayed undisturbed in its grave.|
In Haunted House, you play as Jacob or Silvia Silverspring, a brother and sister team investigating the Graves Mansion where their grandfather was last seen. In terms of gameplay, this boils down to walking through dark rooms, checking every piece of furniture for keys to open up the way, documents that shed light on the backstory, coins, and light sources while enduring the assaults of ghosts and monsters.
The stakes are low, however, as the fireplaces, one of many additions to the original game, will save your progress, destroy enemies that approach them, and restore your health. While Iím far from the worldís biggest advocate of difficult games, the fireplaces in Haunted House reduce the challenge entirely to how well you can remember the route back to your fireplace when you start getting hit by ghosts. Everything else is simply a matter of time and persistence, with effectively infinite health and no other way to react to the presence of monsters.
As in the original, the goal is to find three pieces of a broken urn. Pretty much the entire game is spent collecting items and wandering aimlessly through a house, sliding along walls to try and find lootable objects that you might have missed. However, the extra objects donít add depth so much as distraction. The diary pages you find donít interact with the gameplay in any meaningful way, and the need to find keys is a speed bump thatíll have you rummaging through bookcases and couches to find the key you need to progress. While searching for keys has been a part of gaming since time out of memory, never before has it been so starkly reminiscent of actually trying to find where you put down a set of lost keys, which would be an accomplishment on the part of Haunted House if that was anything to aim for at all.
Haunted Houseís graphics are charming, if repetitive, with a cartoonish design that does its job well, though the environmental graphics and monsters are used throughout, and neither are particularly creative. For a topic thatís shown some real creativity in design over the years, Haunted House phones in its ghosts with bog-standard chain-rattling specters. One of the most solid callbacks to the Atari 2600 original, your character appearing as a pair of floating eyes staring at the camera when you donít have a light source active, is likely to be somewhat jarring to players unaware of the gameís roots. The sound design wears thin even faster than the visuals, with well-recorded sound effects being weighed down by the fact that there arenít nearly enough of them to go around. When you hear the same scream for the fiftieth time, youíll start to wonder why they couldnít have mixed it up a little more.
An offline multiplayer mode might do a little to extend the life of the game, especially for young children with its kid-friendly spooks. Still, a lack of variety in gameplay, banal ghosts, and the sheer grinding repetition donít do much to serve the memory of the original, smothered under layers of unnecessary new ideas and additions that take away from the purity of its parent game.
For everything new that it tries to do, Haunted House bears the marks of coming from the Atari 2600 poorly, teetering between adding half-hearted new features and trying in vain to do justice to the memory of the original. Itís sort of appropriate that Haunted House is a game stuck between two worlds, but it should have been put to rest instead of sent to haunt the game collections of the unsuspecting and nostalgic.