Things That Get Dull in the Night.
Hide and Shriek on PC
Well I did shriek. I definitely did shriek. It was more of a sort of confused all-purpose noise that covered all my bases: a bit mystified as to what I was doing, not really understanding the mechanics, and then I suppose the floating dog head was a genuine panic. My time with Hide and Shriek, the online multiplayer game from developer/publisher Funcom, did involve both hiding and the occasional shriek. I sort of have to say a bit more than that, don’t I?
Well, after the first couple of games you do get the hang of what it is you should be after. The “how to play” option on the main menu doesn’t mince words, but in its brevity it glazes over a lot of the finer points. You’ll experiment and lose a few matches until things click. So, each match takes place in a school at night time (suitably creepy in a Sunnydale sort of way) and both players are invisible to each other, but leave telltale signs of passage – a floating object here, an opening door there. Scare your opponent three times, or collect enough runes to cast spells and outscore them. These spells can be pretty handy, trapping your opponent on the spot, sending them flying, or ensnaring them in a maze-like parallel dimension.
The moments where you’re innocently scrabbling around in a classroom for a rune, (good old high school eh?) only to be interrupted by a floating demonic skull, or the aforementioned dog head are actually pretty scary. If you do spot your adversary via some telltale sign like a floating chair, you can hit the space bar to unleash your own jump scare. In a nice touch, these can actually be customized on the main menu. I went for a horned skull with glowing eyes – it reminded me of one of my old teachers.
The trouble with Hide and Shriek is the omnipresence of the countdown clock. I don’t mean the clock that times the matches. I mean the clock that starts ticking in your brain before you’ve had enough. It wont tick for long. Aside from the occasional glitch – some doors get anxious and flappy when you approach – the game is pretty solid. Funcom has opted for Unreal Engine 4 and there’s a nice layer of polish to the school setting: reflections, rain on windows, the light and shadow is very nice, and objects feel tactile and pleasing. While there isn’t all that much wrong with the game, what’s right with it is, in the end, pretty throwaway. After a good five matches there isn’t much incentive to carry on.
The nugget at the core of the idea is the simple pleasure of giving your space bar a triumphant whacking, smug in the knowledge that you’ve just made some poor sap jump out their seat. You’ll take all the more pleasure in inflicting this pain because you’ll know precisely what it’s like, having had your fair share too. It’s always fun when games allow us to indulge our wicked sides, and scaring people is fun; it’s all in the spirit of the holiday after all. The trouble is that this nugget is buried in a thick layer of mediocre gameplay, of scrabbling around for runes, of fumbling around doors and getting snagged on the odd bit of scenery. It’s worth noting that occasionally I would simply teleport to the other side of a room; I’m still not sure if that was a glitch or if my opponent was fiendishly toying with me.
In fact, speaking of the spirit of the holiday: there’s another countdown timer right there. It does seem unlikely anyone will still be playing Hide and Shriek after October 31st. There’s nothing wrong with that either: it’s a seasonal release and it bears a seasonal release price tag, clocking in at just under five dollars. It’s adequate; it has compelling moments; it passes the time, until enough time passes and you’ve had your fill. To say that it’s repetitive would be akin to calling an online shooter or a sports game repetitive: whilst it absolutely is, it all comes down to whether or not the fun can sustain the repetition. I can’t say it did, really, though being reminded of my old history teacher was scary enough I suppose.
Score: 2/5 – Poor