Dollhouse is a throwback in more ways than one. Creazn Studio‘s noir horror experience hearkens back to the Hollywood of the 1950s, evoking the dread of horror PC games like Slenderman, Amnesia, and even a little Five Nights at Freddy’s for good measure.
Dollhouse attempts to remind fans why they love these games so much. But is this reminder of the past enough to capture the attention of gamers today? Is it a timeless classic, a washed up has-been, or something in between?
The Postman Always Rings Twice — The Premise
In Dollhouse, you play as Marie, a detective with a robot eye and a bit of a memory problem. She must navigate maze-like levels with narrow passageways and varying themes, like a hedge maze or a ransacked apartment, among other locales. Your goal is to retrieve her “memories”, found in the form of film canisters. For every roll of film you find, you experience an out-of-context scene from an old movie that act as memories.
The premise sounds simple enough, until you realize there’s something in these mazes that doesn’t want Marie to remember anything. A ghostly apparition only known as “It” will stop at nothing to make sure you don’t remember. Even if it means killing you. Again and again.
Much of the game’s enjoyment comes from uncovering what dark secrets lie hidden, and learning what you can from the seven suspects.
Touch of Evil — Enemies & Obstacles
“It” isn’t the only thing stopping Marie from remembering. As you make your way around the winding hallways, there are traps made of spikes and saws that can kill you. They’re difficult to miss, but can be deadly if you’re being chased.
But worst of all are the faceless mannequins. At first glance, they appear to be lifeless, as a mannequin should be. But you’ll quickly learn that they don’t want you to retrieve your memories either. On dozens of occasions, I was startled by the sudden presence of a group of these faceless creatures in places that were empty just moments before.
I found myself enjoying dealing with these enemies at first, but after a couple hours of gameplay, I found myself feeling aggravated rather than scared.
For those having trouble with the game, Dollhouse offers varying difficulty levels and even a Voyeur mode, where all of the enemies and traps are gone. Creazn Studio was kind enough to make sure that anyone could solve the game’s mystery. This gesture is rather nice, considering that the noir aesthetic and the intriguing mystery is enticing for both gamers and non-gamers alike.
Double Indemnity — The Gameplay Loop
The game doesn’t finish once you find your memories, however. Recovering all your memories unlocks a room in which you must “play ‘It’s’ game” to get the key to the dressing room. In one level, you must light up specific paintings. In another, you’ll have to switch all of the televisions to the same channel. From there, you edit a script, turning your memories into a movie.
The problem is that the gameplay loop gets old, even with purchasable upgrades like the ability to carry more camera flashes to stun monsters or the ability to make a copy of yourself. Find film canisters. Play the monster’s game. Edit the script and film. Repeat. An upside, however, is that the game actually controls and performs quite well when there’s not too much slowdown from a lot of enemies on screen at once.
The parts where you cut movie clips together, while an interesting premise for a portion of gameplay, seems to ultimately build up to nothing. At the end of a chapter, either the critics like your movie and you get some bonus experience points or they don’t like it and you don’t receive any. While, I never actively messed up my movie clips, I never felt like my upgrades were building to anything.
(Note: There is also a competitive multiplayer mode, but unfortunately I was not able to try it.)
Mulholland Drive — The Environment
Dollhouse can get old fast. Though I praised the story, I also think it would’ve been better spread out throughout the game, rather than crammed into the script-editing segment. I can’t help but wish that these mazes used better environmental storytelling.
Occasionally, you’ll find mannequins posing like they are characters from the story. For example, in the hotel level, you find them posed like they are having sex. But besides collectible pictures you find, the environments themselves are empty and boring. It doesn’t help that the graphics look straight out of the PlayStation 2 era.
The Big Sleep — The Verdict
The feeling of tension and anxiety and fear of what might lurk around the corner are hallmarks of the horror genre. But eventually those feelings will fade when you realize the monster is usually behind you, and it’s the story that needs to do the heavy lifting. Dollhouse hits that point early and often because of its repetitive gameplay.
The true enjoyment from Dollhouse is found not in its empty environments or repetitive tasks, but in slowly piecing together the history of the characters in the story. But it doesn’t change the fact that by the end, I just wanted it to be over. This is one movie that you shouldn’t rush to the theater to see.
Dollhouse is available on PC, PS4, Linux and Mac. If you want more reviews from me and the rest of the awesome people here at Culture of Gaming, you can find more at OpenCritic.com!
- THE GOOD
- Interesting story
- Cool noir motif
- Multiple levels of difficulty so anyone can play
- THE BAD
- Repetitive gameplay
- PS2 era graphics
- Sparse environments
Dollhouse is a game that seems like a lot of thought went in for some aspects but not others. Its aesthetic and story are intriguing. Its barren environments and repetitive gameplay loop leave you quickly wanting to get to the end. Only recommended for those that absolutely devour the genre.