Escape from Monster Manor proclaims to be a 3DO experience from Electronic Arts. It’s a factual statement, I‘ll give it that, but the use of the word experience? A bold assertion, certainly. Hyperbole, almost definitely. Sign of a good game? Well…
Escape from Monster Manor was a very early release for the 3DO, coming out just three weeks after the console’s North American launch. As such, it would have been a much needed boost to early adopters of the 32-bit powerhouse (ok, ok, just lay off the cynicism for a minute, it was a powerful machine back then) who weren’t exactly deluged with quality titles during that period. Then again, a cynic could also suggest that the machine was never blessed with quality titles over its entire lifespan, but I am not one such cynic, at least in that respect.
“Inspired” by Wolfenstein 3D, Escape from Monster Manor is a first person shooter tasking you with collecting twelve pieces of a talisman over twelve levels to prevent evil spirits and unholy enemies (their words, not mine) from taking over the world. That’s the plot out of the way.
When you first load up the game, you get a 3D animation showing the exterior of the house whilst an Am-Dram quality voice over details said plot. You can replay this intro from the main menu but, let’s be honest here, after more than a couple of times, you’re going to skip straight past it to the options screen. Once there, you can decide whether you want to switch the music and sound effects on or off, view high scores and the credits, load a game, start a game or, in a unique feature compared to similar titles, select a level. You see, whilst you can “PLAY FOR KEEPS”, which is playing the game linearly from start to finish, you can play each level in any particular order you want. The downsides are that no score is recorded, you can’t save your game, and after each level you’re returned to the menu screen. If you do decide to “PLAY FOR KEEPS” then you’ll get a high score (with associated extra lives) and the ability to save at the end of each level – but not mid level.
Starting a level then and you immediately get the style of the graphics – they’re functional at best. There’s no floor or ceiling texturing and objects and enemies are sprites. This does mean that the game moves at a fair lick which is always a good thing for shooters. It also helps the game put several enemies on screen at any one time which amps up the challenge. However, it also means that the individual levels can be quite bare and there is a lack of variety. The presence of a map is a godsend here, as in some of the later levels, you will get lost due to the repetition of wall textures and the layout of the levels. Another downside is the resolution of the objects which can get close enough to take up the whole screen and look a bit naff. At a distance, though, they are an ill-defined mess. The same goes for the enemies, which also suffer from a distinct lack of frames where it comes to their animation.
Speaking of objects, there are haunted rocking chairs, rotating hanging corpses, gems and coins to collect for both high score and extra life purposes, and keys to open doors. You’ll also need to find an illusive talisman piece in order to finish each level.
So far, so meh, but there are some additional niggles. There is no on-screen HUD, so they depict your health via your hand and wrist holding your gun. This lacks specificity so you’ll need to constantly check the status screen to see how you’re doing. At least there is an ammo counter on your gun. And when I say gun, I mean just that. One gun. I can’t recall another first person shooter with just one weapon. That says a lot. However, there is at least a little variation in enemies, though not by much, with just four main types. Even so, there’s not much to see here.
Throughout my playthrough, I found there to be just enough health and ammunition to keep going, though there were points where even one or two wasted shots felt enough to cause concern about finishing that particular level.
Where Escape from Monster Manor scores highly is the music, with the right level of eeriness to ramp up the atmosphere. You do get several tracks split between the levels so boredom doesn’t set in and the addition of groans and screams really set up the haunted house vibe. Sound effects are more functional, through comment must be made about the effect of picking up health – this sounds like something out of a late night Channel 5 movie, if you know what I mean…
As for how long you’ll keep playing this game, well that depends on which pathway you choose on the menu screen. Whilst some may take the practice option to begin with, if you opt to take on all of the levels in turn then once you’ve finished the game, that’s it. No secrets, no additional challenges, nothing. And, it must be said, that if the basic shooter gameplay doesn’t appeal, this game will bore you senseless.
In a sense, it’s a shame as Escape from Monster Manor was a much needed title in the 3DO’s launch window. It suffers from imitating an already old title in Wolfenstein 3D, with all of the quality of a very poor photocopy. With the exception of the music, you’re getting less of a game here, and when the Wolfenstein 3D port arrived on the 3DO, the comparison was even more stark. As such, this is a one for completists and collectors only. There are better first person shooters on the 3DO, and lord knows that genre wasn’t exactly well catered for on the format. Looking at it as a first generation 3DO title though and it’s not that bad. Certainly, you can see where some of the advertised power of the console lay, especially compared to the 16-bit generation.
Escape from Monster Manor, then, comes across as decidedly average launch title that lives up to the billing of being an experience, just not a terribly good one.
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Despite decent audio and a good turn of speed, there is little in Escape from Monster Manor to attract players other than curiosity.