It’s been said that in space, no one can hear you scream. Theoretically, this is because there is no air in the perfect vacuum that is space -- ergo, no possibility for sound to travel and therefore, no scream. However, as far as science fiction TV shows, movies and video games are concerned, everyone can hear you scream, especially if there are large, bloodthirsty aliens tearing after you and everyone you know. Throw in tightly confined spaces, multiple high-risk rescue missions and grizzled veterans, and you’ve got the makings for a movie script or a game concept. One where you’d have to Run Like Hell to survive, just like the new title from Interplay and Digital Mayhem.
Run Like Hell (or RLH as it’s abbreviated), like any self-respecting science fiction story, is set far in the future in deep space on a mining platform called Forseti. With a galactically diverse crew primarily divided amongst military, security, and scientific crews, the Forseti’s primary purpose is that of scientific exploration, excavation, and mineral retrieval. Players assume the role of Nick Conner, a battle-hardened combat pilot. He and his fiancé, a xenobiologist, are having a customary day when Nick receives orders to accompany another scientist to a dig site. Upon their return, Nick is stunned to find the station practically abandoned. Worse yet, aliens have infested almost every inch of Forseti, endangering any survivors. Determined to discover whether or not his fiancé is amongst the fallen, as well as the cause of the invasion, Nick sets out on a level-by-level search.
While the odds may seem insurmountable, Nick is not alone in this desperate hunt for answers. Along the way, he’ll stumble, rescue, or literally run into allies that provide helpful information, items or weapons. Dag, the security chief, is the first one that Nick meets…or should I say is shot by during a fast-paced action sequence involving a massive alien attacker. He provides Nick with his first weapon, and even will team up with you to increase your firepower at specific moments. Niles and Jessie, both technical workers on the craft, provide items, information, and assistance with the mission, such as additional firepower or directions. Finally, the enigmatic Dr. Mek, an alien that few people aboard have seen, assists Nick with research on the alien creatures, bioorganic growth, and observation of the changing situations on the ship.
It’s a good thing also, because Nick needs all the help he can get. These invading aliens seem to be a very nasty mix of zerglings, the aliens from the “Aliens” film franchise, and the creatures from “The Thing”. Almost immediately, you’re introduced to the two main kinds of creature you’ll face continually: Brutes and Cutters. These two simplistic names given to the beasts by Dag fit surprisingly well. Brutes are massive, hulking walls of muscle that love trampling anything in their way. One punch from them is usually enough to send you down for the count. Cutters, on the other hand, are full of sharp edges, points and claws. They also have a sick fascination with slicing and dicing everything, turning them into walking Cuisinarts. Other variations of these monsters do pop up, including disturbing half-head/half-spider scouts and explosive crawling pods.
There are tons of cinematics strewn throughout Run Like Hell, most of which capture the tension and drama of the situation Nick and his friends are in. Whether it’s the in-game cinematics, or the movies that punctuate the beginning and ending of each stage, the player is ushered along with a clear understanding of what the next task is they need to accomplish. Graphically, they’re appealing and well rendered, with large, detailed 3D models packing expressive faces and smooth physical movement.
There are only two problems the movies manage to point out for the rest of the game. The first one is that there are so many movies, that the amount of gameplay sometimes seems to fall by the wayside. Don’t get me wrong. I agree that with this kind of title, you may want to throw a ton of additional movies to explain what’s going on. Not only does it decrease your audience’s dependency on reading, but it’s also a much more expressive way of developing the story. However, each level that you’ll go through is packed with at least two to three movies, each one lasting at least 30 seconds. While you can skip over some movies, you can’t do so with most of the in-game cinematics, forcing you to sit through a lot of exposition before you actually see action. Plus, the movies aren’t fully synched up with the voices, splitting believability. If your mouth isn’t moving, sound shouldn’t be heard from you unless it’s an inner monologue.
Secondly, the highly detailed 3D models almost dwarf the 2D backgrounds, which have a tendency to sometimes fade into blurry, amorphous textures. As you maneuver your way through the hallways of Forseti Station, you’ll notice that only a few things can truly be manipulated, such as the Bawls vending machines, doors, or specific panels. If you ever manage to go past them with a camera close-up, what you’ll notice is that the clean lines will give way to basic textures, which detracts from the luster of the game. It also has an odd way of making the 3D characters seem like their in the wrong game…for example, moments when you run over the bio-organic growth doesn’t seem scary or intense, but blasé and customary.
The sound quality of RLH is excellent. From the pulsing sound of energy weapons being fired to the clicks and rattles of pulse rifle fire, the sound effects really manage to bring you into the environment of Forseti Station. This is a definite contrast to the silence that you’ll hear. Aside from the falling of your footsteps, the deafening quiet adds an eerie, ominous tone to what could be just around the next corner. This is also supported by the vocal acting, which is delivered nicely by Lance Henriksen, Clancy Brown and Kate Mulgrew, amongst others. Henriksen’s dry, often gravelly delivery fits quite nicely with the world-weary Conner, and is nuanced enough to convey even the subtlest shift in Connor’s emotional state. Watching him wallow in pity in Chapter 4, for example, is surprising, upsetting, and understanding at the same time. Orchestral music seems to accompany certain sections of the title as well, with nice underscoring to the furious fire occurring onscreen.
There are only two problems with the sound, one that might seem minor and one that is jarring. The first is the initial setting for the game, which is placed so low that you’ll find yourself cranking the volume up on your TV to hear what people are saying. Even maxing out the sound necessitates the lowering of your volume level by only a few notches. The other problem is the out of place, seemingly arbitrary placement of rock music during boss battles, which feels a little odd considering the rest of the game. Tonally, I understand that having a fast paced piece of music should match with the action on screen, but considering that there are no other rock songs, soundtrack pieces, or lyrics in the game with the exception of these fights, it seems extraneous and unnecessary to the title.
Gameplay within RLH is a bit of a misnomer; as a matter of fact, there are only a few times within the game that you’ll actually find yourself running for your life. The rest of the time, you’ll find yourself furiously pumping away at the trigger button to blow aliens away. Expect to be doing this for quite a bit, because there are a ton of levels to go through, and each stage gets progressively harder. It is not surprising to find yourself restarting a level often because of some enemy you’ve inadvertently missed. The auto-targeting feature provided is a lifesaver for taking out the multitudes of swarming aliens that will sometimes come (literally) out of the walls. However, there are two big issues with combat. One is that you cannot kill an enemy without switching on auto-targeting, and switching between enemies is not very intuitive. Often, you’ll find yourself hitting the switch button a few times before you’ve highlighted the enemy you want, at which time you’re already under attack. The other one is that only one weapon seems to be truly effective, and that’s the pulse rifle. Aside from the fact that you have unlimited ammunition with that rifle, it seems to consistently provide damage. The other weapons either provide heavy damage but are light on ammunition, or are ineffective against certain creatures and bosses.
Additionally, while not fully solving some of the survival horror pitfalls that RLH inevitably subscribes to, it does nevertheless address them sufficiently according to the tone of the game. For example, in Resident Evil and other titles like it, one of the biggest problems is the nonsensical nature of the items required for puzzles. (Why would scientists place shields, keys, and keycards in statues, behind bookshelves, etc., especially if those items were the only means of escape in an emergency!?) In RLH, you still have to worry about the puzzle elements, but these are in the form of pass codes, many of which you’ll discover have been changed because of the alien invasion. It may not seem like a massive change, but it’s a logical one, and it’s also something that doesn’t break the believability of the puzzle itself. Plus, all the codes you’ll need are reasonably found nearby, so you don’t have to go trekking all over to get back to a specific point once you have the codes you need.
Run Like Hell might not be the cleanest survival horror title out there. In a way, this can be expected with the number of delays, postponements and redesigns the game went through. So graphics, sound, and gameplay can be expected to take a certain hit. However, the tone, the foreboding mood, and the massive amounts of action that you’ll undergo can make up for its shortcomings. Science fiction fans will probably eat this one up; for other people in the mood for an action fix, you may want to do a quick rental to see if entering Hell is for you.