Review - Escape From Monster Manor

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FrumpleOrz
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Review - Escape From Monster Manor

Post by FrumpleOrz » Wed Feb 15, 2012 4:02 am

My first official review! Don't be too cruel!

So I just got this game in the mail yesterday and so far, I really really really like it. It's simple, sure, but it seems more like Alone in the Dark than Doom to me. You have twenty shots and you better make them count, as I've found out in that STUPID SPIDER LEVEL. GAAHAHHAHA.

I remember thinking at first that it seems like a fairly easy game and the first few levels are fairly laid back. The ammo flows like wine and none of the monsters would take cheap hits at you. If you got too close, it was your own damned fault.

Then I started shooting wildly at the spiders and missing. A lot. Then I went looking for ammo and found more spiders and the ballerina ghosts with the knives. Bad situation. That's when the game shows what it is. It's not DOOM. It's not run and gun. It's "ohmanohmanohmanineedammonow." I think it does its job swimmingly in this regard.

They also made the importance of keys very noticeable in the first level as well. The long hallway towards the end of the first level. Lots of doors. A single key. Of course, there are extra keys in each door. It's the first level after all, but right away, it made you think about what you wanted to do with the key and which door would be the best route. I think that is really highly commendable. It doesn't tell you directly to think about which to use but if you're actually paying attention, you get it. I love that kind of stuff. So much better than a tutorial. I actually LEARNED from it instead of rote memory.

I dig the Gumby on PCP look of the monsters. They have some depth to their look compared to the enemies of, say, Wolfenstein. It's just a nice touch. That stupid ghost that kept popping into the board in the first level caused me to jump a couple times too. I'm not gonna pretend I'm not a coward!

The textures of the walls and such are a little bland, but it's pretty much par for the course at the time. It reminds me of a lot of the old shareware games I had on my computer as a kid, so it's a tinge of nostalgia in its favor. The sound is a bit mixed for me though.

I've been totally converted into using the headphone jack in the bottom of my controller when I'm playing by myself. The immersion with a pair of headphones is pretty sweet. It doesn't seem like much at first but after you play it like that, I feel like I'm missing something when I don't use them. It also makes some things way more prominent than would be noticeable otherwise. Like the annoying screams and cat hisses out of nowhere in the soundtrack of Monster Manor. At first, I thought "Heh, those sounds are kinda cool." After the 300th time I heard the cat hiss, I got a little upset.

The music also started getting on my nerves. The first couple levels were okay. Nothing great nor nothing upsetting. Then level 3 came on. Awful circus music with the remixed voice of the annoying narrator. It was like a 12-year-old kid's first attempt at making a remix of a song from Monkey Island after recording it on an 8-track from his PC speaker. Unbearable.

The sound issues aside, the game controls really well. I was shocked at how quickly I was able to adapt to the controls. Sure, it's super simple, but I've become so used to twin stick controls that I have a hard time nowadays on some of these older ones. Either way, I was able to get to it immediately and had no issues. The actual scrolling of the game is fantastic, looking smooth with few jitters in the movement. Not to bring up Demolition Man again, but this puts the DM FPS levels to shame. It should, since it's entirely a FPS game but still. Fantastic.

I really like how easy the map is to use as well. It's just two buttons and POP! There it is! No loading, no waiting, it's there. It's easy to read and it tells you what you need to know. What else is there to say about it? It works!

I think I come off a little harsh in the above review but honestly, I really enjoy this game. It's simple and it's fun. I'm actually pretty easy to please with this stuff. If I like the first bit of the game and they keep the rest of the game like that, I'm satisfied. That's what this game does. It starts out and stays the same with a bit more challenge as you go. It's exactly what it presents to you from the beginning and totally worth picking up.

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Post by Trev » Wed Feb 15, 2012 4:12 am

Always nice to see more reviews here on the forum. Looking forward to your next one. :)
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Re: Review - Escape From Monster Manor

Post by 3DO Experience » Thu Feb 16, 2012 12:07 am

FrumpleOrz wrote:that STUPID SPIDER LEVEL. GAAHAHHAHA.
I feel your pain.

LOL I really love this game myself.
"Wait. You don't have a bag of charcoal in your gaming room???"

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Re: Review - Escape From Monster Manor

Post by goldenband » Fri Jun 21, 2013 7:12 am

I started playing Escape from Monster Manor earlier this week, put quite a bit of time into it, and ended up beating it today. Overall I enjoyed it, which is unusual for me when it comes to FPS titles (I'm not normally a fan). But the controls are responsive, the framerate is smooth, the graphic design and "look" of the game are appealing, and the gameplay itself is intuitive and rewarding.

On the other hand, there was some disappointments. I think this reviewer nails a lot of the main issues: many of the levels were overlong, almost nothing new was introduced as the game progresses (which is a letdown in a CD-based title), and though some of the music was effective, some of it was quite grating. (BTW I chuckled at one of the stage tunes, which is exactly the same as the main theme from Gremlins for Atari 5200! I should know this, but is it a pre-existing classical melody?)

Like the reviewer, I felt motion sickness at certain points in the game. It wasn't too bad (I've felt far worse in games like Forsaken and Monster Truck Madness for N64), and after a while it abated almost completely, so I either got used to it or simply got past the offending sections. Not the game's fault, but worth noting if you're prone to that sort of thing, and I think it's the first 3DO game that's made me feel that way.

I also found myself questioning some of the design decisions: why have extra lives (or points) when they're basically meaningless, since there's no benefit to continuing after you lose a life? Did all the monsters have to be silent (until one of us gets hit) -- isn't that a wasted opportunity for audio immersion? Why can't my character point his gun downward to shoot the spiders, so I don't have to wait 10+ seconds for them to jump?

Speaking of which...Level 10, aka "the spider stage", was not only far too much of a hassle -- backtracking for five minutes to retrieve ammo isn't really that fun -- but was also, no pun intended, the buggiest level by far. In that level alone, I was unexpectedly "warped" on two occasions, one of which crashed the game when I ended up in an empty, featureless area outside the game world. And I believe the stage layout data got corrupted midway through one of my other attempts (see attached image), as I ended up trapped in a set of several rooms with no way out, and no open route through which to retrace my steps, suggesting that one of the passageways must've been corrupted into solid rock:
escape_from_monster_manor_bug.jpg
escape_from_monster_manor_bug.jpg (60.53 KiB) Viewed 2927 times
(In the picture, the path to the south, which seems open, is blocked by a floor-mounted candle holder.)

I also noticed the framerate wasn't as good in Level 10, making me wonder why the Grim Reaper bodies were preserved after death -- couldn't it have saved some CPU power to have them disappear, like all the others?

However, the game's last two levels were much better, and had a much smoother and more organic flow. The ending, though, was somewhat of a letdown, with no final boss fight or other new content at the end, and only a very quick cutscene with a sarcastic comment from the narrator. Is there any way to get a better ending sequence, or is that it? (I hope there isn't a better ending, since I don't plan to replay the game anytime soon -- and please don't tell me we're supposed to collect every coin/jewel to get a "best" ending, I hate that nonsense.)

For me, the key to enjoying Escape from Monster Manor was to accept that, after the first few stages, I'd seen just about everything it has to offer. If you can be OK with that, then most of the game is reasonably fun. I didn't mind the lack of secrets (which sometimes annoy me, actually) or extra weapons, though a melee weapon would've been nice. And if there was ever a debate on the production team about whether to include automap, the person who won gets a beer from me, as this game would be unplayable without it and it's implemented very well, using line-of-sight rather than squares-visited (which would've been infinitely worse).

I'm looking forward to watching the Let's Play videos in the other thread, which will no doubt answer some of my questions and raise new ones!

Oh, another review I read was more negative (not entirely unjustly so), but had a great one-liner:
...the biggest failing is that most of the screens are too empty of things for you to interact with. And the occasional 3D gems and coins that you pick up seem to have almost no effect on the game - they're just money in the bank. Still, that's something that's probably a pretty unfamiliar concept to the 3DO company right now.
Ouch! :D

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Re: Review - Escape From Monster Manor

Post by Martin III » Fri Jun 21, 2013 1:39 pm

goldenband wrote:I also found myself questioning some of the design decisions: why have extra lives (or points) when they're basically meaningless, since there's no benefit to continuing after you lose a life?
Well, Wolfenstein 3D was the only first person shooter out when the game was in development, and it does the exact same thing. (For that matter, so does Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold, which came out within a few weeks of Escape From Monster Manor.)
goldenband wrote:I'm looking forward to watching the Let's Play videos in the other thread, which will no doubt answer some of my questions and raise new ones!
Yes, it will. I'll leave which questions it answers as a surprise. :wink:

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Re: Review - Escape From Monster Manor

Post by ewhac » Fri Jun 21, 2013 8:23 pm

Hope you don't mind if I crib notes from the comments here as a basis for commentary in future Let's Play installments...

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Re: Review - Escape From Monster Manor

Post by goldenband » Fri Jun 21, 2013 11:02 pm

^Please feel free! I've been watching those today -- I'm currently partway through Levels 4-5 -- and have hugely enjoyed what I've heard so far.

I've actually been keeping a list of questions I wanted to ask, e.g. what the name of the canceled project was (that you stopped working on before starting EFMM), or whether any copies of the 3DO version of Disruptor survive (I have the PS1 version but haven't played it yet). As Martin III noted, some of my other questions have been answered -- I'm really glad you "lost" the automap debate :D -- and I'm guessing others will be soon, e.g. the Gremlins music question since the same guy worked on both projects.

The information about the head's vomit-projectile attack is fascinating, no wonder it's so devastating -- I got point-blanked by it at least once, and was instadeathed on a full or nearly-full health bar! I also chuckled at the discussion of monster closets and floor triggers, partly because it was funny but also because both things actually do show up in the last pair of levels (maybe you'd forgotten?). On my playthrough, there were even a few knife-wielding spectres that appeared to be embedded between gravestones, whirling there for all eternity...

BTW I hope the critical comments in my earlier post didn't seem (for want of a better word) ungracious. I really did enjoy the game! More to the point, I understand that the circumstances of its creation were pretty challenging, both in terms of development tools & time; I actually had written something like that in my post, but removed it as I hadn't watched the videos yet and didn't want to presume.

(And I was just being rhetorically grumpy about the spiders, since I understand that the movement pattern is part of the challenge. :) )

Anyway, looking forward to the next video, and thanks again for these. They really are like a director's commentary for the game!

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