By Morpheus Kitami
Ah, Halloween, my second favorite time of the year. The temperature is just right after months of boiling hot weather, the trees are multi-colored spectacles, and there's a convenient excuse to watch films centered around skinny-dipping camp counselors getting murdered in horrible ways. I guess you only get one of those if you live in the southern hemisphere, but you're probably used to smug northerners talk about their weather anyway. Whether it's hot or cold, it's time to talk about horror video games.
Last...December, I played Zombi, an unlicensed adaptation of Dawn of the Dead, published by Ubi Soft. That was, oh, what's the word I'm looking for? Awful, but with potential. Dawn of the Dead is an interesting film from a sequel perspective. There's Day of the Dead, which is questionable, and I don't know how you'd make a good video game out of it. There are earlier scripts which are different than the finished product, but I don't know if they were available back then, but they could make good adventure games. There are a million films that are sequels to Dawn simply because some distributor owned both films. In short, there's a lot of places you could go. You could even make Emanuelle Meets the Living Dead, which isn't as insane as it sounds.
|You can't really make holodeck jokes about this film|
So what did Ubi Soft's crack team of horror buff potheads do? The sky's the limit, not like you need to pay extras to shamble around, or to smear them in some undoubtedly bizarre liquid made to look like blood. Or you could do something else. Enter Hurlements, translated into English, The Howling. I shall refer to it by its untranslated title throughout this, as I like that word. Have ever since I heard it used for Metal Hurlement magazine. Its another unlicensed adaptation, this time, of The Howling. If you've never seen it, is a werewolf film, directed by Joe Dante, who is better known for directing Gremlins and Looney Tunes: Back in Action. Made in 1981, starring Dee Wallace as Chewbacca, Patrick Macnee as a therapist, and Robert Picardo as a sleezy serial killer. Its actually really hard to tell its Picardo, so if you watch this Star Trek: Voyager won't be ruined for you.
It's actually strange how you'd adapt this into a video game like Zombi. The Howling would make a pretty good adventure game, like a traditional one. It's got the right sort of temperment and plot for it. Like a worse Gabriel Knight. It's got a surprisingly deep story, with the sort of event chain that just feels like an adventure game. Not one where you just blow away some werewolves. Not this, not this though. The Howling is much deeper than it seems as a simple horror film, you can't just make an action-adventure game out of it and pretend its an adaptation. Ubisoft never pretended, but other people have implied it, and I don't think that's true.
|The two that correspond closest to the leads in Hurlements|
It does follow the same basic story beats as Dawn though. Starts with a news broadcast, then we see something bad happen in the city, and then the cast heads off to the central location of the film. It's kind of weird in that regard, how the developers picked two films that involve TV journalism in some way. Though the city setting here is more at place in Taxi Driver or Leisure Suit Larry. Grim, grimey, and corrupt. But beyond being set in a secluded forest spot and having two characters, they're not really related in any way. The buildings are all wrong, and by the time there are two human characters against a horde of werewolves, one character just came in from out of town, and the other is trying not to have a panic attack.
And the story of Hurlements doesn't really relate. Set in the deep south of Arkansas, four people rob a truck containing 20 gold bars, killing it's drivers. We are given descriptions of the drivers, one is a redhead, the other a married man. Possible foreshadowing? Those four malefeasents also rob a US Federal Bank later, and when the cops arrive. The robbers decide that since they're not getting away, they might as well kill their hostages. Three of these people are sent to the electric chair, the fourth, an old man, since he was only the driver, is sent to prison.
Where he meets Kane, who is described as feline-like. The driver lets something slip and Kane decides to beat it out of him. He decides to take that gold whenever he gets out of prison. Once out, he meets his girlfriend, Lorry. I want to be a fly on the wall when Yannick and Thunderson chose this name. I wonder if it went like this?
Thunderson: "What were American women called in the '30s?"
Yannick: "Lorry, like they say camionnete." (Translator's Note: Camionnete means a van or pick-up truck)
Thunderson: "Yannick, are you sure?"
Yannick: "Yes. I went to America once."
Thunderson: "How do they say she's his girlfriend in English?"
Yannick: "They say she's his cat." (Translator's Note: He did not say cat.)
Kane is not a nice person judging by the story. This would be more obvious if there was a story to this game beyond that. We're sort of just in a place with werewolves. I mean, there's a reason in The Howling, the heroine got amnesia and got sent to a werewolf colony. Its not like the plot to that film is a secret. The sequel opens up with Christopher Lee telling Reb Brown that his sister is a werewolf, and that they have to kill her again. And then they have to go to Romania to kill Striba, werewolf bitch. The sister being the lead of the first film, which is spoiled if you decide to get The Howling double feature DVD. I would like to point out that the only bit I made up was the conversation between Yannick and Thunderson. This is all stuff that is true, you can look it up if you think I'm funning you.
The in-game objective is to repair a car, and presumably find the gold. Where is the gold? The manual doesn't say. Why are there werewolves in Arkansas? 5 CAPs to anyone who can find werewolves in Arkansas and bring back photographic evidence. 1 CAP if its not from Arkansas. The problem here is the film has a rather involved story that doesn't really boil down to someone blowing away werewolves. There's a lot of subtext tied into the American landscape in the '70s.
I'm playing the patched DOS version. There seem to exist about six versions of this game. Two on the Amstrad CPC, which has superior music, but crashes when combat happens, just like Zombi. Three on DOS, one the standard CGA, one allegedly existing EGA version, and a patched version, which looks like the CPC version, and has various quality of life features. There's also a fan remake released in 2014 or so. We're probably not going to see that on this blog. Probably. Also, according to the back of the box this is set near Seattle...which is not near Arkansas. I suppose it is possible, but its inconvenient to transport gold, after having murdered some dudes, that far. You're talking easily over 1,000 miles. 5 CAPs if someone can explain what I'm missing, assuming it is something I'm missing and not Thunderson failing geography.
The control scheme is the same as the DOS and CPC versions of Zombi. About twenty actions, cycled through with the keyboard. You have three move commands. One that goes through some directions, roughly corresponding to NESW, plus up and down, if you assume forward is north. You have in and out of vehicle, just vehicles. The vehicle part are their own commands, but everything else you cycle through a movement cube. Select item, use item, pick up and drop item. That last one is very useful since inventory space is limited. Use object in environment. Sleep, eat, alarm clock, (!?) save, load, pause and quit. Most of these tasks are unnecessary, since I think sleeping just instakills you and eating isn't really necessary.
|I actually made my own map, but checking for a box later revealed this|
There are three important locations in the game, a deserted store, a well and a deserted house. There's a sort of one tile safety space around all those, mostly so you can get around, and after that it's either blocked off, or straight into a werewolf horde. Scared me the first time it happened, because I was still randomly walking around. The house is where most of the stuff happens, it's where the game ends too. At least I think so, I technically haven't won. You'll see why in a few moments.
|Our heroic duo, starting off|
The game is basically the same as Zombi. Werewolves wander around, you can shoot them with a gun or engage in a fist fight. Kane and Lorry can take down multiple werewolves with their fists, which is amusing to think about. Areas require lighting, which you'd think would end up a repeat of the basement section from last time, but it doesn't work like that at all. At no point do you have the need and the ability to do that, either it's inconvenient to do, or it's impossible.
|Our hero, in combat. Yes, this is exactly how it appears in-game|
Combat is simple, you see a werewolf's portrait on-screen, and you have two choices. Watch your health meter go down and the werewolf's portrait disappear, or shoot the werewolf, which means holding down a button until a meter goes a certain distance, and then watch the werewolf disappear. Neither situation is exactly riveting, and neither are strictly necessary. Strictly, you'll probably fight a couple of times no matter what, but you could theoretically speed past it, if you were precise. Werewolves leave corpses, but you can't pick them up.
|Check out those wheels|
One of two objectives in the game is repairing an old-fashioned car. It is 1938 after all. In order to do that you need to collect, gasoline, a tire, a wrench for that tire, the key and a hose. The hose isn't clear as an item, looking more like a weird wire. Also a starter lever, the kind you might be more familiar with in starting an airplane back then. But that's half the fun of it, you won't win if you just do that. You also need the gold.
|The real enemy in this game, a well|
If you remember, an issue with Zombie was that the four player characters didn't really matter much, they were just some spare meat in case you screw up. You could leave the one dude outside and there would be no consequences whatsoever. Here it seems you can't win unless both characters are alive and in the car. And more importantly, you can't get the gasoline or the gold without using the two characters together.
|The werewolves in the well have different portraits, no doubt a relic of Zombi's thugs|
The gasoline and the gold are buried in the well, there's no way in or out except via that well. One character can go in just fine, assuming they have the rope. If they just walk in they die. But once they're in, the rope remains upstairs. There are a lot of werewolves down there, like two per room. It's dark and you can't use the gun against them. You also need to force open a door down there, and make sure to cut the power first. Both the gold and the gasoline are down there, guarded by werewolves. You can usually avoid fighting the ones guarding the items, but the door takes too long. Also you need a backpack to safely bring the gold up, I guess an attempt at treating seriously the weight of 20 gold bars. Not sure that much gold is going to be any easier to transport in that state, but what do I know?
|Do you think this picture implies a hallway behind you?|
That's about it for the game itself. It's not really hard when you know where everything is. One thing that's a bit tricky is cutting the power on that door. In order to do that you need to find a secret switch in the fireplace to reveal a power switch. How do you find that switch? You need to use a magnifying glass on everything. You get that glass in the attic of the house, which is in a chest guarded by a werewolf...in the dark. You just need to figure it out once, because you can always just use the button anyway. It's just as tricky figuring out the first time that there's more to the upstairs of the house. You have to walk through everything, which is why you need that map.
|This would be okay if it was morse code though|
Part of the issue is that once you're in the game you get nothing in terms of text. No item descriptions, so you have to figure it out on your own. You get a few descriptions from the car, like out of gas, and one line from a book. This is terrible design for putting down text. Anyway "The majority of people believe that the bogeyman belongs to a legend, but..." But...? What does that mean? Is there a bogeyman around here or is this supposed to be a hint for Yannick and co., who by now I'm assuming is some evil mastermind, and their next work, something about the bogeyman. Or was Ubisoft about to translate Zork into French and "grue" is getting translated into "bogeyman"? Eh...
|Boy I sure hope no werewolf hordes are here|
For the most part, this game feels better to play than the previous game. The plot isn't beholden to the whims of a 8 year old film, so you actually have objectives that are either explained to you or easily understood. While there are some obtuse elements, they're not that out there. There very few accidentally hidden rooms. There's a time limit, but I never hit that time, and indeed you probably won't be in the game for more than a in-game day. However, this one is more obviously broken, even in the patched version I played.
|The original DOS version|
The objective of the game, as I partially explained, is to go through the area, get the car parts, put the car back together, then go upstairs in the house and get a rope. There one character goes down to get the gold and gas, then the other character uses the rope to get them back up. However I never really completed this step. In the patched version, after going upstairs I can't switch characters. Which means I can set everything up, but I can't actually win. There's no way to do this. And while the original CGA DOS version isn't as buggy as advertised, indeed, outside of the text issue it isn't that bad, I still ended up screwing myself. At some point the gold completely disappeared and as a result I couldn't use the vehicle. Everything was fixed, but I couldn't leave.
|If I took this screen out of context, would you even know this is a victory screen?|
Not that the ending is too special. The patched version comes with a nearly completed save, I just need to pull the gear lever. Everything needs to be just perfect too, so if you think there's going to be an ending with one PC dead, you've got another thing coming.
Puzzles and Solvability:
Most puzzles are simple item on object puzzles that you can figure out even without item descriptions. A few are slightly more complex, and one is even a trap. They're simple, but not too bad.
Interface and Inventory:
The twenty or so commands the game offers are a bit much. For instance I have commands to enter and exit a vehicle, which wasn't needed in Zombi when I had to use that command maybe 6 times, instead when just allowing me to move forward, like everything else. Here you're only going to be using the exit command if you miss something. The eat and sleep commands could just be fused into the use item and use environment object commands quite simply.
An issue with every command, thanks to the game using keyboard controls, is that you have to move over everything you want. If you want to move in a specific direction, you have to cycle through the directions. (one way only in the original, two ways in the patched version) Same with items. With anything in the actual screen, you get a square cursor of a subsection of the screen, and you have to move it over whatever you want to interact with. While the game pauses when you do this, it is tedious, and a good sign of why this sort of thing went out of favor.
Using inventory items depends on what they're supposed to do. In some cases you actually drop them on a location to use them, other times there's obvious effects, like a sound effect. However, the rope into the well doesn't give any indications that you used it. Until either your character is in the well or your character is dead.
Story and Setting:
Your characters are typical '90s anti-heroes, heroes by virtue of fighting against something far worse. It's also very clear that less effort was put into this game's backstory than the last one. For one, it doesn't have a comic, and the wall of text doesn't really explain how the gold got from Arkansas to Washington. It's almost like the Frenchmen who did this game were poor at geography, and if the internet's taught me anything, that's impossible!
At the same time, the setting is a very moody dark forest. There's a definite creepy feeling to this game, even if it only pays off once or twice. The dark sections are a real highlight, as is the lonely street in front of the shop. What happened here, why are there werewolves? It doesn't feel like a great tragedy happened here, but there are signs that something seriously wrong happened. Puddles of an unknown liquid by the store, and a booby-trapped cabinet.
Sound and Graphics:
Sound is basic PC Speaker. The opening theme is neat for DOSbox's emulated sound, but I foresee that it could be annoying if I was actually listening to PC Speaker sound. The Amstrad version has better-sounding music, but its still just intro music.
|Trees. Trees. Trees.|
There are two sides to the graphics. The imagery is amazing for the era, even the CGA version. With almost everything as a different color than the 1-bit background graphics, there's a distinct, cool visual style to the game. On the other hand, trees. Trees, trees, trees. And graphic reuse. Certainly, the first image of trees looks cool, but then you look at them more, and more. You start noticing issues that you wouldn't notice. Some images, like on the sides of buildings, are reused with minor differences between spots. Other images, like the ones in random trees, could be reused and it's not like anyone would notice. If there were I didn't.
Environment and Atmosphere:
You just can't do much to the environment. Every action you take usually has something to do with actually winning the game. There's no descriptions and everything is obvious, which is a blessing and a curse. Not to mention there's something strange about the obviously unique locations that mean absolutely nothing, like two signs and an outhouse.
Dialog and Acting:
There is none.
The total is 18, divided by 0.6 is 30.
That's better than Zombi's 27. I can see the reasoning in why someone might have enjoyed this in their youth and remade it. I suspect if had played the game as a child and was, you know, French, I'd probably have loved this game as well. As it stands, it's flawed, but if you can get past it's issues and glitches, it's fun.
Ubi Soft, as previously mentioned, has a great deal more games they've published, both worldwide, and in France. Meanwhile the Zombi team is dwindling like a horror movie. The writer of Zombi, Alexandre Bonan only had the action driving game Asphalt as another known title. He had nothing to do with this game. Yannick Cadin had a hand in the very not horror Le Maitre Des Ames series, which is a pre-Quest for Glory adventure/RPG that I believe the CRPGAddict covered the first of. If I cover that, you can pretty much tell that I'm running out of games to play. Thunderson, just Thunderson, is only credited on one other title, Manhattan 95. Which is an unlicensed adaptation of Escape from New York apparently. Patrick Daher is credited on two more adventure games, one for Ubi Soft and one not.
This is actually it for Ubi Soft games in English, at least for the time period. I mentioned Final Command last time, which is an Amiga and Atari ST game, but that has a length intro and outro that wasn't translated in the English release. Once Ubi Soft ditches the space in their name and focuses more on an international market, we'll see their name return.