ESCAPE FROM MONSTER MANOR by Electronic Arts
Reviewed 1993 by Matt Brown for Game Bytes Magazine.
First a bit of background that you can skip if you just don't care. I have played Wolf 3D reasonably extensively, and I have played several levels of Doom on a 33MHz 486 with a decent video card. I have a reasonable affinity for this type of game, so if you don't like reasonably mindless action games, you won't agree with much of what I say below.
(horribly paraphrased) A magical amulet has been broken into several (13- 15) pieces, and scattered throughout this huge mansion and the graveyard beyond. You must search through the entire place from the attic, through the house, and out into the graveyard collecting the pieces of the amulet. 'Nuff said.
First, the similarity to Wolf 3D, and Doom is immediately evident, so let's compare the three a bit. Like Wolf3D, MM does not have texture mapped floors or ceilings, and all walls are at 90 degree angles. Unlike Wolf3D however, (if my memory serves), MM does sport animated wall tiles and obstacles, as well as "light sourcing" (i.e. things appear darker farther away and get lighter as you approach).
Compared to Doom, you might be a little less impressed with MM, but don't give up hope. Doom has a much more sophisticated environment, irregular walls, stairways, texture mapped floors and ceilings, etc. However, MM uses higher resolution bitmaps than either Doom or Wolf3D. The consensus of myself and a handful of my friends is that the "tiles" are at least four times the size of those used in Doom. This means that you have to get your nose right up against something for the illusion to break down. The overall difference is surprisingly noticeable. Also, (and I just tried Doom a minute or two ago to double check) the frame rate in MM seems higher than Doom (and Wolf3D). There isn't as much going on, so I wouldn't claim this as a "technical" superiority, but it definitely improves the overall feel of the game. Maybe Doom is just trying to move me around too fast (too many pixels per frame), but the bottom line is that MM seems more fluid.
Bottom line as far as such a comparison goes, MM is better than Wolf3D by quite a bit, but other than being slightly smoother, it can't compare to Doom. On the other hand, I didn't have to buy a $3000 PC to play it .
Wolf3D/Doom comparison aside, how much fun is Monster Manor? I was pleasantly surprised. The game does an excellent job of setting the mood, with both the style of the sound effects, as well as the graphical style used in the walls and monsters. Watching my friends play this game in a dark room late at night is entertaining in itself. Both the background music and some of the monsters have amazing "shock potential". One particular sample in the background track would make one of my friends physically jump each time it came around (the track loops after a couple of minutes of course).
Levels are quite long (sometimes too long), but the automapping feature keeps you from getting annoyed. Monsters do follow you even when you go around a corner and they can no longer see you. One of the creepiest things is finding a room full of enemies, running back three or four rooms to find that ammunition stash you were saving for later, and then heading back to the monster ladden room. Most of the time, the monsters will have followed you out of the room, and you will encounter them several rooms closer than expected. Depending on the layout of the level, this can be extremely effective.
After the first level or two, things start to get difficult, but not to the point of annoyance. Ammunition, health power-ups, and prizes are often guarded by appropriate quantities of monsters, so you feel that you earn the things you find. A nice change from similar games.
I have yet to find any truly "secret" areas akin to those games where you walk through what appears to be a wall and find a whole new level back there, but the levels themselves are more than adequately designed so far.
Even if you suck at these sorts of games, there is an option to practice what looks like every level "type". You can't save your game, and after you finish a level you go back to the option screen, but it is nice for people who don't want to or can't finish each level in order. I did not check to see if the practice levels are the same levels that you play during the normal game, but the manual implies that they are not.
Lastly, the game supports saving of high scores and up to 5 games in progress. You can even name your saved games. You can only save a game at the end of a level, some of which are quite long, but it's more than adequate.
Pretty good. The are a couple of objects that I wish had more colors, but the walls and enemies are very nicely rendered. Apparently the monsters are digitized from clay figures (according to the manual if I remember correctly), and they each have a reasonable number of frames. I felt the graphics for the background objects were inconsistent. Some of the objects look like digitized photos (not good ones), but some of them are extremely nice. Check out the fireplace with the flickering flames on the third level (wow!). Graphics seem to change completely at least every two levels, although new things are scattered around each level I believe.
Everything is FAST. The graphics are extremely smooth (see gripe below) and are always full screen. You can't shrink the window, and there is no reason to. I don't see how things could move much more smoothly.
Sure, all of these "technical bits" like number of frames and color depth are nice, but how effective are the graphics? Very nice. My friends who have played consistently jump out of their seats and fire 6 or 7 shots into thin air the first time they see the apparition appear on the first couple of levels. Coming around a corner and spotting one of the morphing, floating, spitting heads rapidly begins to terrify every one who has played the thing.
Really couldn't be much better, particularly for this type of game. The sound effects may be a bit sparse, but I have never played with the "music" turned off (there's an option). The jewel in this game (in my twisted opinion) may be the well layed out background tracks. Each level has a completely different background track that loops every few minutes. The looping is extremely well done in that unlike other CD based music, it does not fade out at the end and fade back in at the beginning. It sounds like one continuous track. Most of the background tracks consist of assorted "horror noises" like screams, moans, growls, crunching, screeches, etc. All of these sounds, which have immense potential for sounding silly, are surprisingly well done. With the exception of the one level where the background track keeps telling me to "Tread carefully!", The sounds are extremely effective at instilling fear into anyone in the room. One particular gasp and scream consistently made everyone playing and watching flinch and/or shout. Very nice.
Although it is a relative small part of the game, the music between levels is nicely done, and a cheesey guy's voice comes in between levels to make "B" horror movie host style comments about previous visitors. All of the sound is extremely crisp, and all of the speaking parts, while climbing pretty high on the cheese meter occasionally, are better acted than most CD titles I have seen on the 3DO as well as other platforms.
While I like this game more than I expected to, I do have a few minor gripes. The nature of the background tracks sometimes makes it difficult to hear the monsters. Certain bits of the tracks sound like they should be coming from ghastly things around the corner, but they aren't.
I wish there were more monsters. At best I'm 1/4 of the way through it, but given the media, I was hoping there would be more types of monsters. The ones that are there are extremely effective and well rendered, but I'm hoping there are more of them at the later levels. I guess I have seen at least one additional type for each level, so maybe this is really a nit instead of a gripe .
Sometimes when spinning around in place, the graphics "jerk". Someone already acurately described this as slowing down from really-really-fast to really-fast. I wouldn't call it slow-down, because even when I noticed it, the frame rate is still higher than Wolf3D or Doom, and it in no way detracts from the game play. As side note, I do normally find slow-down in games more than annoying, but none of my friends even noticed until I pointed it out and they were looking for it. My guess is that it is a one or two frame per second difference, but things are normally so amazingly smooth that you notice it occasionally.
Lastly, it sometimes makes me motion sick. It almost always has this effect on my wife, particularly when she's watching me play and not playing herself. I never had the problem in Wolf3D or Doom, but I think the increased fluidness of the motion is the problem. None of my friends had the problem though, so most likely I'm just strange .
If you like first person action games, Escape from Monster Manor is a respectable implementation. If you're into horror movies and being scared, buy this game; I don't think you'll be disappointed. If you're really into Doom, this might seem like a step backwords at first, but keep playing and it will probably redeem itself.
Nice graphics, nice sound, great atmosphere. I can't wait for another game or two like this that has irregular walls, and texture mapped floors and ceilings.
GOOFY TRIVIA BITS
The developers of this game include Leo Schwab (sp?) who did many of the early Amiga demos and animations (wasn't "The Dream Goes Berserk" one of his?) and some assorted Amiga titles (Animation Studio?) as well as R.J. Michal (sp?). I personally had never seen a picture of RJM before the group photo inside the cover of Monster Manor. Even if I almost never use my Amiga 3000 any more, it is comforting in a way to see such apparently cool guys working on software for our new toys. (not to mention Dave Needle and Stephen Landrum). Warm fuzzies all around .
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