Illbleed Hands-On

Where Resident Evil's (and its many clones') parcel of gore is delivered in a deadpan style, Illbleed takes a decidedly more lighthearted approach, resembling Tromaville more than Amityville.

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Climax Graphics' upcoming Illbleed is shaping up to be a most unique entry into the realm of survival-horror. Aside from its several inventive gameplay elements, Illbleed brings the genre something it's long been lacking - a twisted sense of humor. Where Resident Evil's (and its many clones') parcel of gore is delivered in a deadpan style, Illbleed takes a decidedly more lighthearted approach, resembling Tromaville more than Amityville.

The game's premise is amusing - Michael Reynolds, a well-known but eccentric entertainment mogul, is offering 1 million dollars to anyone who's able to make it out of Illbleed, his latest horror theme park, alive. Thus far, no one has. As the premise goes, Reynolds has designed Illbleed in manner that makes surviving most difficult. Either the park's patrons get scared to death by the innumerable obstacles littering the grounds, or they're murdered by the park's employees. As you'd expect, Illbleed is staffed by all manner of zombies, horror-movie slashers, demons, and the like. Enter Eiko, Illbleed's main protagonist and the president of the Castle Park School's horror club. Aside from the hefty monetary prize, Eiko is drawn to Illbleed because three of her fellow club members accepted Reynolds' challenge and have been missing ever since. Eiko must ultimately make her way through Illbleed's six deadly worlds, rescue her friends, and live long enough to collect the cool million.

In order to safely traverse the many perils of Illbleed, the developers have given you access to all of Eiko's (and, eventually, her friends') faculties. Gauges for every relevant sense are prominently displayed onscreen at all times - sight, hearing, and smell. There's also a gauge for a "sixth sense," which apparently represents your character's otherworldly intuition. Whenever you're in close proximity to a threat, the respective gauge will spike, alerting you that something is amiss. If an ax-wielding slasher is hiding behind a bush, for example, with his ax blade barely perceptible, your sight gauge will register the threat, forcing you to examine your surroundings more closely. On the other hand, if you approach a creaky swinging gate that's rigged to slam onto and injure you, you'll be alerted by a blip on your hearing gauge. The gameplay encouraged by this system is very stop and go. Since potential hazards are everywhere, you'll constantly mind your senses, which are very keen. You'll respond to blips by using the game's free-look feature to examine your surroundings and determine how best to circumvent the present obstacle.

If a hazard does get the better of you, Illbleed is equipped with a detailed system that determines just how badly you'll suffer for it. Aside from the traditional health meter, Illbleed registers shock to your brain and heart. Frequent and prolonged exposure to life-threatening situations will adversely affect your mental stability and heart rate, which - on top of your bodily health - are both factors you'll have to keep track of if you want to live. In short, aside from the fact that the ax-wielding slasher can cut you to ribbons, the sheer shock of seeing him can cripple your brain or cause your heart to explode. What's more, after your damage passes a certain threshold, you're also in danger of slowly bleeding to death.

The build of Illbleed we recently received seems to be in full working order. The game primarily unfolds via a third-person perspective, though the camera view can be shifted and is overall markedly less static than what you'd normally find in a survival-horror game. In terms of gameplay, Illbleed seems to take the combat-avoidance theme common to the genre to a whole new level. Rather that it being simply prudent to avoid combat, it's essential in the game's early stages - you're simply not armed, your only attack being Eiko's dainty slap attack. While you do eventually get your hands on weaponry, the faculties at your disposal lend the game a more avoidance-focused feel, truly rewarding you for use of your wits. Combat does, and will, occur - but it can be often be avoided altogether or escaped from when it arises unexpectedly.

Graphically, Illbleed is significantly brighter than other games in its genre. In lieu of drab prerendered backdrops, Illbleed puts you in a real-time world, where doom most vividly lurks behind every corner. Worth mentioning is the game's gratuitous use of blood - the smallest prick will summon forth geysers of comically rendered and constantly gushing red fluid. As the sassily clad Eiko will often bleed gallons from her head without so much as a scratch rendered visually, Illbleed's use of blood borders on slapstick. The game's lighthearted visual themes do much to concretize its B-movie atmosphere.

Illbleed's tongue-in-cheek execution is what will most likely make it a memorable addition to the survival-horror genre. Fortunately, its play mechanics seem to be robust enough for it to warrant a look from even the most humorless aficionados of horror. The game is set for release in February.

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