Reviewed: April 28, 2003
Reviewed by: Mark Smith
Released: April 8, 2003
I hadnít even heard of Interplayís Run Like Hell prior to the 2002 E3 show, but the rolling demo that I saw at the developerís booth was more than enough to have me keeping a close watch on this exciting new title. Developed by Digital Mayhem, a subsidiary of Interplay, Run Like Hell promised some intense sci-fi horror that gamers have been looking for since the last Aliens vs. Predator game.
The story is set in the future when the human race has expanded into the stars and established relations with many alien races. Our adventure follows Nick Conner and his fiancťe stationed on a remote space station, home to a large deep space mining community. Itís business as usual until one day after returning from work Nick finds that aliens have invaded the space station and killed most of the population.
Itís up to you and Nick to wipe out the alien infestation, rescue any survivors, and perhaps even uncover the sinister plot behind the alien invasion and their plans for your home. The intense storyline will keep you glued to your PS2 for hours, and is enhanced with some amazing voice talent including stars like Lance Henricksen (Millennium, Aliens), Kate Mulgrew (Star Trek Voyager), Michael Ironside (Total Recall, SeaQuest, Splinter Cell), and more.
With a great setting and story in place the only thing left to make this a great game is the actual gameplay. RLH is a third-person action-adventure game that never pretends to be anything else. Controlling Nick is simple and intuitive and you will be exterminating aliens like a pro after a minimal learning curve. There is even some training offered in the guise of a holographic simulator that is actually pretty cool.
As you wander the space station you can interact with just about every item in some way or another. Vending machines offer a variety of snacks and beverages that can be used to replenish your health. There are plenty of weapons to be found throughout the game, but you start only with your basic rifle, and while it offers unlimited ammo you are still forced to reload between clips. This is a nice realistic touch in an otherwise unrealistic weapon model, and it wonít take you long to remember to keep that weapon fully loaded.
Other weapons are obviously more powerful, and you will need to temper your desire to use them in casual combat with the knowledge that their ammo is quite limited and even harder to find. You will want to save these weapons for the larger more intimidating encounters, but itís not always easy to know when these are so you end up sticking with your basic rifle for much of the game.
Weapons can be modified further through the use of mod chips. These rare chips allow you to modify your weapons to increase their ammo capacity, fire rate, and even the damage they inflict. Some chips will work with only certain weapons while others are interchangeable.
The core of RLH is a mix of exploration and combat as you try to find any survivors and rid the station of the alien menace. Along the way you will gather clues, both written and verbal, learn pass codes to access locked areas, and waste a seemingly endless supply of creepy aliens. The game is heavily story-driven but truth be told, the path you take with Nick actually drives the story.
As with any game of this time you are expected to thoroughly explore the levels to find every last item that isnít nailed down. Collecting items and often combining them to make new ones is crucial to completing many of the puzzles and challenges presented to you during the course of the game.
There is an abundance of cutscenes to further the story and explain critical plot elements or give you clues to solving the numerous puzzles. These become increasing in number as you near the second half of the game, but they never approach the insane quantity of those found in a game like Metal Gear Solid 2. Even though the movies appear to interrupt the gameplay, they were always a welcome diversion. The movies all seem to flow at a natural pace and there is nothing there that isnít crucial to the unfolding story or gameplay, plus they are all of excellent quality.
The potential monotony of exploring and fighting is broken up with the occasional puzzle or even an arcade-like challenge. These can be as easy as entering in a sequence of Dual Shock button presses to unlock a door to something more challenging like controlling a robot by remote or performing a complication button sequence within a strict time limit.
While the gameplay manages to mix things up, the overall feel of the game starts to get all-too familiar after the first few hours. Considering this game will take most gamers upwards of 20 hours to finish, gameplay starts to drag near the end and you wonít see anything new or even remotely exciting. There isnít a huge variety of aliens and even the scarier creatures arenít so scary after youíve killed a few dozen. In the beginning of the game the aliens will often scare you with unexpected entrances, but even these are limited and become repetitive near the end.
What starts off as a tension-filled and gripping story quickly becomes a game that is a chore to finish. Combined with the fact that it is nearly impossible to die due to the overabundance of health items, this game loses much of its edge and potential fear factor. If you die in this game it will only be because you forgot to heal yourself Ė not because of a lack of healing items.
Designed around the traditional third-person action view that is quickly becoming the standard for these types of games, you can move Nick around his futuristic surroundings and interact with a surprising amount of objects and items in the various levels with few camera or control issues. There is the occasional fixed camera angle thrown in for dramatic effect; however, these are used sparingly and only to maximize the tension.
Visually, the levels are quite nice and realistically designed and rendered. The high-tech space station seems to be designed with some thought of actual use. There are living quarters, a rec center, control rooms, and functional living spaces to create an environment that is true to the design and donít exist to only serve the story. This means you will wander through areas that have no bearing on the story or the game, which simply adds to the realism. As the game progresses the space station begins to show the battles scars of the alien infestation. Slime covers the walls and bodies are strung up in horrific displays, perhaps to intimidate our hero. Itís a pretty nice effect at first but becomes all-too repetitive and overused just as quickly.
Character design is quite good with excellent character models and nice textures that hold up at a distance and in the close-up views during conversations and cutscenes. When the characters start to move there are some noticeable glitches in the movement including several missing transitional frames. This creates some awkward moments as you change stride or perform various movements that just donít seem to be connected.
Other glitches rear their ugly head at random intervals and a few bugs seem to be the result of oversight or perhaps intentional omission due to time constraints on a project that was in development for way too long and already long overdue. These include cutscenes where characters are interacting with invisible objects that simply werenít ďdrawn inĒ, troublesome textures that become blurry or horribly pixilated, and even a few instances of slowdown where the game become nearly unplayable.
In the grand scheme of things these glitches and bugs are few and far between, but they certainly take the shine off what would otherwise have been a quite stunning presentation. The fact that I complained about these same issues in the PS2 version (as did just about every other game reviewer) and they were not addressed in the several extra months of developement just shows a total lack of effort on the designers' part.
As previously mentioned, the voice acting doesnít get much better with some really top talent recruited to do the dialog. Granted, Lance Henricksenís voice is an ďacquired tasteĒ and if you donít like his deep raspy almost monotone delivery of his lines then you had better steer clear of this title entirely. The rest of the cast does an excellent job of bringing life to the varied cast of characters, although there is a noticeably lack of variety considering all of the various aliens Nick will interact with. Perhaps we are being given the courtesy of a universal translation device that makes everyone sound like they are speaking perfect English.
Sound effects are all in place for weapons and gadgets, and the ambient sounds of space station life are all around you, but like much of the rest of this game it all become annoying repetitive long before the game is over. Weapons fire is unique between the various weapons but since you end up using the basic rifle for 90% of the game you will learn to hate the sound of rapid fire.
Every Star Trek fan can probably imitate the sound of those swooshing doors to the turbo lift, and after one or two hours you will be able to do the same with the hundreds of doors you pass through as you explore the space station. Even the frightening noises of the aliens become commonplace and more annoying than scary after youíve dispatched a few dozen of the creatures.
The music is great when you are listening to the fear-inspiring ambient tunes that play during most of the game, then all of the sudden you are jarred totally out of the moment by some radical licensed music that kicks in during the larger battles. Itís very disorienting and makes you realize you are playing a game rather than taking place in an interactive piece of fiction. The Xbox version does support custom soundtracks, so if you have that Aliens soundtrack lying around you can rip it and play to that or any other frightening music you might have. The Dolby Digital surround mix is a huge improvement of the poorly mixed PS2 version that drowned out dialog with music and effects.
Run Like Hell will keep you occupied for upwards of 20 hours. You will probably enjoy yourself for about half of that time and whether you decide to finish the game will be probably rely on your commitment to finish the game out of sheer obligation to get your moneyís worth whether it be your rental or purchase dollar.
Itís really a shame that a game with so much potential, great voice cast, and ambitious design concepts fell so short of the mark. RLH was clearly rushed out the door before it was finished as is evident by the glaring graphical glitches and less-than-stellar sound mix. In the end, you have an average game with some above-average game time that may appeal to the less discriminating gamer.
The Xbox version tosses in an extra level with support for addtional downloadable content via Xbox Live. I'm guessing you will be sick of this title long before you need to go online in search of new content.
I can say plenty of good things about Run Like Hell, but each of them seems to have a corresponding negative that cancels, or at least averages things out. You have a potentially scary story set in the isolation of space, but the aliens cease to become scary long before the story concludes. Everything becomes predictable and downright boring near the end, as the game spirals into mediocrity.
If you need a good scare then the Xbox is the wrong system to look for it on. There is just a total lack of horror games currently available with the obvious exception of Silent Hill. Run Like Hell has potential but trips long before the finish line. Rent if you must, but only the most desperate gamer should even consider buying this game.