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Surviving Horror: Illbleed

Surviving Horror

This series of articles will look throughout videogame history at those that inspired, were inspired by, or part of, the survival horror genre. We will stare deep into the abyss until it stares back at us.

“You will shit yourself with fear,” proclaimed the now-infamous trailer. Illbleed’s an irreverent genre piece from Japan, renowned for its bizarre mechanical approach to survival horror and founded on the classic tradition of the B-movie. It comes from Climax Graphics, who’ve previously made waves with Dreamcast launch title Blue Stinger, by swapping antiquated Survival Horror cameras for a less cinematic behind-the-back perspective for the game’s Western release. Illbleed is equally unconventional and remains the most peculiar entry into survival horror since its debut.

The story goes that the members of the Horror Film Research Club become enamored with the titular theme park and the offered prize of one-hundred-million for the first person to exit alive. The group’s leader says it’s probably all gimmicks and cheap scares anyway but everyone else is already gone when she finishes. After everyone’s missing for a while, Eriko follows.

The park is split into theaters of horror, each representing a scenario informed by a presiding boss. At the entrance, there are shops with items which will help keep Eriko’s wits about her in each section, a photo booth for saving, and a hospital to genetically engineer body parts. A diverging path leads up to the theaters. Each pays homage to cinematic inspirations, spanning a range of tropes: campground horror; a toy house filled with evil puppets; the department store; and so on. Environments are genuinely unique and surprising for a genre that too often pigeonholes its surroundings into one type of setting for the sake of thematic consistency.

Illbleed’s central mechanic is a horror monitor used to defuse traps that is triggered by the character’s senses. There isn’t so much here that might terrify much of anyone but it’s about keeping the character’s faculties in order. The thing is all of the traps are randomized apart from enemy encounters, so it’s always necessary to tread lightly and pay attention to the wavering senses – sight, hearing, smell, and sixth sense – as all manner of spring-loaded and animatronic horror novelties otherwise await. By tagging obstacles with the horror monitor, adrenaline’s used, and with a racing heartbeat, the monitor is made unusable. There are plenty of ways to die and some slight concepts of risk/reward informing the design.

Once Eriko rescues her friends they’ll be added to the playable cast. Each one specializes in their own abilities and is better utilized in a specific way. It’s difficult to get much of a sense for it and it’s all right not to save them. First play through it just gives you the bad ending but on the second, Eriko sheds clothing for each friend she’s unable to track down. It’s peculiar and there are insidious undertones about the character’s story throughout. Play it and see.

The story is somewhat schizophrenic and part of the enjoyment is in the simplistic joy of seeing out the campy scenarios and pivots Illbleed conjures. They reach new heights of absurdity quickly without any true regard for how this reflects overall concept. It’s a shame there are so many good ideas flourishing within Illbleed and not one holds any weight as an anchor. And the larger regret is that we may never see the fullness of the concepts come to fruition as the game’s creator has sadly passed on. We are left to sort out this relic.

Illbleed is in on the joke. It sets out to be that bizarre, irreverent genre piece that is championed within the right circles. This contributes a sense of manufactured cult classic status and it is so exactly that, that it almost feels contrived to call it such.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @Calvin_Kemph.

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