ELVIRA 2 / Accolade / PC

Elvira 2 fundamentally has the same engine that the prequel did - a Shadowgate-inspired first-person horror/adventure with RPG elements. There's been a number of significant tweaks for the better, however, and for at least the first 1/2 of the game or so, it seems like they've really stepped it up and made the game much more enjoyable. Unfortunately, the game eventually finds its own special way to fail, and aggravate you into quitting unless you're of a masochistic bent.

This time out we're playing as Elvira's boyfriend, and have our choice of occupation -- stuntman, private eye, computer programmer or knife thrower - which doesn't seem to affect puzzle solutions in any way, simply determines your starting statistics.The action takes place at Elvira's Black Widow Studios, which it turns out was built on an Indian burial ground. Now Cerberus seems to have somehow got loose from the underworld, and has kidnapped Elvira so as to sacrifice her at the stroke of midnight and fully revive her or whatever generic plot device they decided to go with. Elvira contacts you with a psychic message to inform you of her situation, but gets cut off before she can reveal which studio she is in ... in a lulzy oversight by the writers, she continues to send you psychic messages throughout the game, yet never seems to remember to finish telling you where she's located.

Anyway, it turns out you'll need to explore the breadth of Black Widow Studios regardless, as a random Native American shaman who is chillin' in the basement needs his scattered artifacts to summon up a spell to deal with Cerberus. These items are conveniently distributed throughout each of Black Widow's three studio sets, each of which has a particular horror movie setting -- a haunted house, an underground cavern maze and a creepy old church.

The writing is obviously an amateur hodge-podge (Pet Sematary revives Cerberus?) and for bonus fun, the dialogue is somewhat ineptly translated from French. I suppose it suits the Elvira B-movie theme, though, and the horror aspect still ends up working due to the same sort of lurid, detailed visuals that made the first game appealing.

Probably the biggest problem with the first Elvira game was the constant and aggravating combat, and Horror Soft has done a decent job in addressing that here. First off, combat is much less frequent, with the exception of one area (which I'll address later - the frequency of combat isn't even the real problem there.) Most combat events are fixed, and the "respond in a split second to block swings" combat style is gone in this one, replaced basically by an endurance test where you just try to find the weak point on the enemy and click away at it while they hack away at you. If your levels are high enough, possibly bolstered by one of the various buff spells, you'll out-hack them and win. If not, you'll be butchered. In that sense, combat in this one is more like just another puzzle than an actual RPG battle requiring strategy or reflexes. It's still not exactly the ideal combat system but I think it comes off a lot better (read: a lot less annoying) than the first game.

The problem Horror Soft didn't solve here was the way the game kills you just for exploring it. There's many areas -- particularly in the Haunted House set -- where you are simply killed automatically if you walk into an otherwise unmarked room without the proper item on hand or the proper spell cast beforehand. You're basically forced to save constantly and die a whole lot, in fact there's no other way to get enough information to solve a lot of these puzzles other than getting killed by them at least once to see what happens. This would be less of a problem if it did something like the Manhunter games where you can "rewind" a few steps after death, unfortunately it just forces you to load up a game, and if you didn't save oh well.

There's also a few irrevocable hang-up points if you click the wrong item or enter the wrong area without a particular item or spell in your inventory. You also mix spells from objects you find around the game, which is great, except when you use an item you unknowingly will need much later on in the game for a spell, and later can't get a replacement for it or even have any idea that you need it to solve a puzzle. The layout is still player-unfriendly and full of cheapness.

The straw that broke the camel's back for me was the Underground Cavern studio. Aside from being a huge and annoying maze, this is an area absolutely jam-packed with enemies that you can't survive in until you've gained enough EXP solving most of the other two studios. The killer is that it's the only area with randomly generated enemies, spawning giant mosquitos to attack you every 10 or 15 seconds or so. The mosquitos aren't too strong, but do linger around to take a few hits from you at the point that you really need to go through the cavern to proceed. The main problem with them is that their hits frequently poison you, and the only cure for poison is mushrooms that grow even deeper in the cavern. It takes literal minutes of wading through combat after combat to get to these things, and poison ticks off your health really quickly, which basically means if you get poisoned in the caverns you've been handed a death sentence. It makes no goddamn sense at all that a mosquito is poisoning you, and if the poison status had just been removed, it would have made the game infinitely more playable. Horror Soft decided to spam the hell out of it, though, turning the whole caverns portion into a constant dice roll akin to the most frustrating of hardcore dungeon crawl games. This was the point at which I quit, feeling my time was now just being wasted.

Ultimately the game's appeal is the same as that of the prequel - it looks and sounds really nice, but you have to overlook a lot of gameplay jank and frustration to make your way through it. Some people feel it's worth it, personally, I can't say that I do. I wish Horror Soft had just put a little more elbow grease into the gameplay and had been a little more thoughtful in the layout and planning, it could have been a true classic if they had. As is it's pretty much just a forgotten obscurity.

Videos :

* Amiga version with the much cooler music

Links :

* cool code wheel emulating program


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