Last year, Puppet Combo blessed the Nintendo Switch with Jordan King’s Bloodwash. A fantastic PSX style horror game that offered a far more linear experience than Puppet Combo’s own fair, but also offered far more narrative making it feel familiar for fans of the publisher whilst also being noticeably different too.
The Jordan Star / Puppet Combo – erm – combo is back, and this time they’re bringing zombies!
Many thanks to the PuppetCombo for the review code
RISE FROM YOUR GRAVE
When a game starts with a heavily polygonal woman taking her top off and then having her boobs ripped out by ravenous zombies, you know it isn’t fucking around. This ‘date-gone-wrong’ prologue sets the scene well for a title jam-packed full of campy gore across its three hour runtime. Whether it’s mutated sharks chomping someone in half, abominations in a room of flesh, or just a plain old member of the undead dismembering everyone in sight, the gore factor is set to maximum.
Once the real story kicks in, you’ll find yourself in the shoes of David, a guy stuck in his apartment right as the undead start roaming free. There’s some suspicious goings on with some of the inhabitants, but he’s more concerned about getting out and heading to the coast where he, and a few other survivors that he meets along the way, plan to set sail in order to escape the never-ending hell.
Of course, things don’t quite go to plan.
As was the case with Bloodwash, Night at the Gates of Hell also takes a far more linear approach to storytelling. Taking place over seven chapters, you’ll make your way across various environments collecting various key items in order to progress. Usually it’s an actual key of some sort, but sometimes it will involve acquiring some other arbitrary item in order to progress. It seems a stretch to label these as puzzles, but the game’s primary focus is more about accumulating ammunition for your guns and blowing zombie heads clean off.
This more action oriented approach is a rather refreshing take for the genre, even if it does seem relatively basic. You aim, you shoot, you reload. There are a couple of factors that do add an extra level of pressure to this, however; namely that zombies only go down with a shot to the head (something that’s not always easy to pull off), and also that you are unable to interact with objects if you have a weapon out. It’s a neat risk vs reward system that helps add a sense of horror to the game that would otherwise be lacking – especially as ammunition is surprisingly quite plentiful, assuming that your aim isn’t too bad.
A further addition to your armoury are the defensive knives, and these should be very familiar to anyone who has played the Resident Evil remakes. Should a zombie get a little bit too close for comfort, David will quickly jab them to their head and send them to their second (and hopefully final) death. These are very useful to acquire as creatures can kill you with a single hit, and they also have a nasty habit of bursting out of nowhere leaving you with almost no time to react. It does feel a little bit cheap at times, but providing that you keep a decent supply of knives it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Whether or not you appreciate this combat oriented approach will largely determine your enjoyment with the game. For the most part, the game has the same charming PSX quality as all the other Puppet Combo titles, complete with that optional VHS filter for those who really want that video-nasty look; it has a great soundtrack and corny, but still rather charming, writing – yet I still found that the gameplay didn’t fully click with me. Maybe it was the omission of any real puzzles to solve, maybe it was the doors that sometimes have a tendency to be a little bit too hard to push, or maybe it was the knife death animation that goes on for slightly too long, but I never found myself totally invested with the game like with all the others. I ended up wanting the game to take a slight step back from the action in favour of something else.
Luckily, this package also provides that too! When you’ve beaten the game, you’ll be awarded with two further full games to play: an extra story called The House of Dr Fleshenstein and one of Jordan King’s previous titles Booty Creek Cheek Freak. Whilst the prior game is more of a survival title that uses the combat system from the main game, Booty Creek Cheek Freak is a downright silly horror title that pastiches the likes of Slender Man as you try and collect a bunch of bones while avoiding a killer with an ass for a face. It’s a much shorter experience than the main game as it only takes an hour or so to get through, but the fast pacing as you try and escape the ridiculous killer also makes it a really fun diversion that gave me that buzz that I found missing from the main game.
Night at the Gates of Hell is quite the diversion from the norm with its more action-oriented gameplay. Whilst there are some questionable elements that take away from the experience, and I do prefer the other titles from the publisher, there’s still a decent amount of fun to be had as you take out goofy-looking zombies, mutated zombies, and unspeakable abominations.