Poor developers. If their design documents don't say "just like Resident Evil," "reminiscent of Diablo," or "in the spirit of Tomb Raider," they already have a strike against them - at least in the minds of publishers who have one eye locked on their bottom line. Innovation in the industry is often shelved in favor of the "sure bet," which (in the case of video games) means creating the umpteenth Tomb Raider clone to cash in on an established formula. The latest game like this to come out "in the spirit" of another is Digital Mayhem's Run Like Hell. Described as "Resident Evil meets MacGyver," Run Like Hell borrows its plot from the sci-fi B movie, casting you as one person against a seemingly insurmountable alien horde.
You are Captain Nick Conner, a former military pilot. Currently stationed on Space Station Foresti and assigned to study Centauri II for the government, you travel back and forth between the planet on various mundane assignments quite often. While it's a boring line of work, nothing is out of the ordinary - until you return from an uneventful away mission to the planet, only to find that the station is in shambles and that much of the crew has been slaughtered. An alien race, unsurprisingly, is the culprit of the massacre. There's no time to grieve or count the dead, though; those same aliens that murdered your crew are after you now, and you must quickly determine a way to stop them.
With the introduction out of the way, the game begins. The plot is divided into seven chapters, and each encompasses almost a full day of Captain Connor's attempts at exterminating the alien menace and saving the surviving members of the station. Connor quickly discovers that this isn't an easy job. The aliens were able to effortlessly decimate Space Station Foresti's crew for a reason. Your alien adversaries take on diverse and unpredictable forms that complement each other's abilities. You'll encounter the smaller, weakly armored scouts, as well as typical grunts, and you'll soon be tackling bipedal hulking behemoths and a creature that decapitates crewmembers in a single slice and then implants their severed heads on its body to learn what they knew.
The most unique element of Run Like Hell is the totally frantic nature of the gameplay. Characteristics of previous survival-horror games include lots of contemplative puzzles punctuated by moments of intense action; however, Run Like Hell is different. The aliens on board the Space Station are intelligent and relentless. When you see one, it will chase after you until you have blocked its progress or killed it. While you're able to run a good bit faster than most of the creatures, you'll nonetheless spend a great amount of time simply trying to escape the alien hordes that ruthlessly pursue you. Clearly, Run Like Hell's intent is to terrify and horrify, just as any good survival-horror title should.
As is the case with many Interplay productions, Run Like Hell features a top-notch voice-over cast, which is headed by Lance Henrikson of Millennium and Aliens fame. While the game is still pretty far from completion, Digital Mayhem intends for both the graphics and music to also reflect the attention to cinematic detail that survival-horror games are known for. Run Like Hell uses static camera angles and a dynamic music engine to rack nerves at every obstructed corner. Cued by actions onscreen, the music will rise and fall at the appropriate moments. For example, when you stumble into a hive of activity, the music spikes the moment with a fast-paced chatter of instruments. On the other hand, when you walk down a dimly lit hallway, it will descend to the background and end up sounding moody and atmospheric.
If Run Like Hell is as scary as it's cracked up to be, then we can forgive Digital Mayhem's lack of imagination. Unfortunately, the Interplay developer's entry into the survival-horror genre so far smacks of uninspired gameplay and a recycled plot. Two cups of Resident Evil and a dash of the typical sci-fi horror movies that pit hero against alien horde isn't all that it takes to make a good game. Nonetheless, Digital Mayhem seems to have taken this formula to heart in its design. We'll see if the approach pays off when Run Like Hell is released for the PlayStation 2 this April.