Horror is actually one of the genres I enjoy the most. When given a chance to review Dollhouse, I jumped on it. There’s something so exhilarating about a good horror game. It can get your heart racing even when you know you’re perfectly safe. A good horror game will make you dread going forward while also wanting nothing more than to turn that corner. It’s a difficult balance to strike but when done well there’s nothing quite like it.
Dollhouse isn’t all about the spooks though, one of the main hooks of the game is its story. I wouldn’t classify it as a pure horror because you spend a lot of time trying to unravel a mystery, searching for memories in order to piece them together to uncover the truth. There’s a lot of very good ideas behind Dollhouse, the real problem lies in its execution of those ideas. It’s a frustrating juxtaposition that often left me feeling frustrated. Whenever I found something to like about the game it was usually, immediately, ruined by something that wasn’t quite so good. The clashing mechanics leave the game without an identity of its own. It’s too bad because with a little more polish I really think Dollhouse could have been a diamond in the rough.
I wouldn’t fully dismiss it though, there was still some enjoyment to be found even if it was offset by a few complications.
Welcome To The Dollhouse
In Dollhouse you explore the mind of Marie, a detective who has to scour her own mind in order to piece together memories in order to understand her past. The game, on its default settings, is in black and white and pays homage to 1950’s film noir. The levels are generated at random and there are multiple endings. Dollhouse advertises itself as a game with a strong story and I have to admit, this is one of the things that the game does very well. The premise is interesting enough on its own, the idea of exploring someone’s fractured psyche to uncover secrets unknown to them is great. The resolution leaves a little to be desired but all-in-all I have to admit the game kept me invested in its story, it is when we start dealing with the rest of it that things become a little messy.
I love horror. I love being scared. Dollhouse is pretty good at that. The levels are never the same, so I was always left wondering where to go. The mannequins are creepy and wandering around the mazes often left me in a state of anxiety as I could turn around and see the mannequins creeping up and the music is excellent, always excelling at setting the spooky atmosphere. I never jumped but that never bothered me because instead of jumping here and there I was left with a general sense of unease, which is far scarier. The artistic design is pretty awesome too it’s just such a shame that the graphics on a whole are kind of low quality.
They aren’t super awful or anything, and I think that artistic design will always win out over incredibly realistic graphics but I wish there was a little more variety. The levels might be generated at random but the sameness of each hallway eventually becomes nauseating and confusing. Textures are blurry and the lightning is overly dark, leaving me wondering if maybe they were trying to hide some of those textures. It was actually kind of immersive at first but by the time I was done it was definitely a little jarring.
A little polish would have gone a long way to making the world of Dollhouse reach its true potential. It’s all there, the brilliant atmosphere, creepy enemies and dreary music combine to give a truly chilling experience… but only until you catch on.
At least it lives up to the noir styling.
Run And Hide
So, you’re probably wondering what you actually do in Dollhouse. The answer to that is a little complicated because Dollhouse throws so many mechanics at you that they start to clash. If only one or two had been taken out to polish and focus on the main ones, I honestly think it could have worked really well. The way the game is now, however, is a mess of good mechanics that contradict each other.
For starters, the controls are a little clunky. I played on PS4, so of course there aren’t as many options as there would be on a PC game but I was shocked by the lack of options. It’s pretty bare, which works against this game because the sensitivity is wacky from the get-go. It wouldn’t such an issue except that instead of a slider there are several preset sensitivities you can choose from. Some were better than others but none ever felt… right. Sprinting felt very stop and go too.
Going beyond the controls though you’ll be walking down very similar-looking corridors over and over again, searching for items. That’s a simplified way to put it, to be sure, but that’s what it boils down to. You’re going to walk down corridors while avoiding enemies and pick stuff up. That stuff leads to puzzles, which leads to uncovering mysteries which leads to doing it all over again.
Dollhouse has some great ideas thrown in there though, including something I’ve, personally, never seen in a game before. The enemies in Dollhouse are these mannequins and they’re literally all over the place. They can only get closer when you’re not looking at them though, which is stressful in and of itself. Turning a corner to see a mannequin so close can leave you frozen, not wanting to move at all. Especially when you turn around and BAM! There’s another one too. You’re not defenseless though, you can burn them away with your flashlight.
The best and most horrifying mechanic, however, is Marie’s ability to look through the eyes of her other pursuer. It. That’s not a rip on the Stephen King novel, that’s what the other entity pursuing Marie is called. If this thing catches you, you’re dead. End of discussion. Looking through its eyes will reveal the location of key items but will also alert it to your own location. It’s tense, it’s terrifying and it’s awesome.
There’s also some RPG like mechanics where you can level up and equip skills. Some are more useful than others but I never felt like these mechanics meshed well with the rest of the game. I have to admit I didn’t explore them as much as I could have but that’s because I never felt motivated to. I don’t mind them; I just feel like they weren’t necessary.
There’s some fun to be had here for the first few hours, it only turns sour when you’ve been playing what feels like the exact same segment for the sixth hour. That same, tense atmosphere fades to dull repetition by the end which is such a shame because the bones of an incredible game are right there!
There’s also a multiplayer mode, but I was never able to find a match, thus I can’t comment on it.
Not Spooky Enough
I don’t regret my time with Dollhouse at all. It’s rough around the edges but the game is saved from being completely awful with some strong fundamentals and design. The spooky atmosphere and music are really well done, the monsters chasing you can be genuinely terrifying and the game even brings a cool mechanic that works as a double-edged sword.
It’s a shame then that the sub-par graphics and clashing mechanics leave the game in a weird limbo state. The repetition kills any momentum this game has so I can only recommend it for the most die-hard of horror fans. The repetition might be staved off by playing in shorter bursts.
Dollhouse is far from the worse horror game I’ve ever played though, and will undoubtedly be a good way to kill some time for fans of noir horror.
Dollhouse is available now for PC and Playstation 4. A review code was provided by Sodesco for the purpose of this review.