Fun Thing to Remember: This article was written early December 2017 and is based on the state of the game at that point… also Hello ‘future people’! How are those hover cars working out for you?
I find Raccoon City a comforting place, which might say something about me as a person given how zombie infested it is on a typical day, but I largely square it away to being due to the huge influence that Resident Evil 2 has on my tastes as a gamer. I’ve written before about how much I miss the level of detail conveyed in the visual presentation of those early PS1 era survival horror games, but that’s just one part of their unique blend of obtuse puzzles, cheesy take on Romeroesque horror, bizarre locations, and skewed take on reality that I enjoy. It’s unsurprising that my interest was therefore piqued when I first heard about “Prototype Mansion” from indie team “Jupiter Lighthouse“. Described by the developers as a “Love Letter” to those early 90’s survival horror games, ‘Prototype Mansion’ currently exists as the first episode of a title clearly heavily influenced by and parodying that era.
I decided to take the boat out to that sinister island with our heroes Cass and Hank last weekend to see how the game was currently taking shape and was pleasantly surprised by what I discovered. The player slips into the coastguard’s uniform of the aforementioned Cass, currently the main protagonist of the piece (take one part Jill Valentine, add one part Claire Redfield and mix liberally), to investigate a ‘light’ coming from the mansion on the island. The game immediately jumped in by sending up the stereotypes of the genre with a discussion about the possible nightmare that could be awaiting them swiftly followed by the decision to split-up whilst they investigate… and continued to do that to my delight until a little over an hour later when the chapter drew to a close. From chowing down on potted plants to developing mystery film, there was barely a moment I wasn’t smiling to myself at the many ways the game gently, yet lovingly, mocked the absurdities of the genre.
The game visuals are also fitting for the era; the player models are distinctly lacking in number of polygons and pixels which does a satisfying job of recreating the jagged feel of early 3D games on the 32-bit consoles, there is even the option to add a CRT style filter to the entire experience for those really dedicated to soaking up the atmosphere. Sadly (for me at least) those beloved pre-rendered backgrounds arn’t present, but the simple blocky interiors evoke memories of the original Silent Hill and the semi-fixed cameras often provide suitably bizarre and off-axis views which faithfully capture and convey that unique skewed sense of reality. ‘Prototype Mansion’ also features a fair attempt at spoken dialogue with lines delivered in a convincing, yet characteristically unconvincing, way. Voice recording is often a challenge for a small indie team, so I tip my hat to Jupiter Lighthouse for taking a crack at it, although they may have wanted to roll out that old home-recording trick of hanging up a towel or two to dampen some of the echo.
The gameplay is also heavily lifted from the game’s sources of inspiration including obscure puzzle solving items and the option to play using Tank controls for anyone truly committed to the cause; although the default movement system was reminiscent enough of the REmake for me to be satisfied. Likewise, mansion exploration, the character’s gradual development of that telltale limp as they are injured, and awkward combat with off-screen enemies, are all there for fans of those early Capcom titles. There’s also a familiar scarcity of ammo & health to the extent that I almost had to restart at one point being effectively stuck with a near impossible path ahead of me; I even lamented the lack of typewriter saving as I would normally have ‘leap-frogged’ my files giving me an earlier point to escape to… I did eventually make it through.
So far, so good, but I wouldn’t be giving an even-handed review if I didn’t highlight some of the current weaknesses of the game, albeit with a huge dose of “this is currently clearly an early playable version of a single episode so hopefully much of this will change“. I would have liked to see the inclusion of a suitably stylised status screen or inventory and in general the menu and options felt placeholder compared to the effort put in to the rest of the game to get the visuals ‘right’ for the genre. At least one of the camera views made it necessary to open a door without being able to see it and several others were more ‘frustrating-frustrating’ than ‘nostalgic-frustrating’. Despite being mostly solid in the gameplay department, the reach of the enemies should probably be dialled back a little as they are able to grab the player remarkably easily at distance, limiting the extent to which my honed juking skills are of use, and have a grip that only the most frantic of controller mashing seems to escape.
Aside from those few minor annoyances and the current short length, both of which are aspects I’m hopeful will be fixed as/if development continues (and if you’re reading this then please do continue development!), ‘Prototype Mansion’ is a worthy hour of entertainment for anyone with fond memories of those early survival Horror games and $1.99 to spare. If you’re curious to see it in action, you can check out the trailer here!
Prototype Mansion is currently available for PC through itch.io – you can buy it here! Have you played it? any thoughts about this type of parodying? Feel free to jump into the comments below!