Horror games don’t come around very often, so I approached Dollhouse with a sense of excited anticipation. First impressions were good as I booted up the game and was faced with a noir infused tone, with nods to Bioshock. Sounds great doesn’t it?! Let’s just say playing Dollhouse was a nightmarish experience, and not in a good way!
Dollhouse is set in the 1950’s and is apparently based on a true story. It’s fair to say the music, setting and story initially intrigued me, but this unfortunately didn’t last very long.
Dollhouse is a first-person game and you start in a room unable to properly see. You are prompted to pick up a radio, and this is where you meet Rose who is your guide. This is where the Bioshock references start. The radio is like the audio logs which were found as you explored Rapture. Rose tells you what to do, and gives you hints throughout the story. At one point in the game she even says, “would you kindly pick this up?” For anyone who has played Bioshock, you will know that is a pivotal part of the story. You have to wonder whether the makers of Dollhouse were paying homage to Bioshock, or simply ripping it off! I’m not entirely sure if I’m honest.
As you start to get used to the slightly dodgy controls and unintuitive menus, you are asked to add two skills and abilities using the points available to you. As I started to look at each skill I got more and more confused. For example, wearing high heels makes you run faster, and wearing tights increases your stamina!
Good (or even half decent) games slowly introduce new gameplay mechanics, or pathways to levelling up your character. This is so you can a.) learn new techniques and their usefulness and b.) determine which one you want to level up to suit your playstyle. Dollhouse throws this concept out of the window and presents everything from the start using slightly confusing references.
As you exit the room, you begin to walk around a dark maze filled with mannequins and items to collect. You have a torch to light the way, but to be honest it’s a bit crap, as it barely illuminates anything. Plus, it only lasts for a few seconds before you have to recharge it. To add insult to injury, the game inexplicably gets darker in places, to a point where you are virtually blind!
As if you didn’t already know, the mannequins are there to cause the vast majority of cheap jump scares in the game. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t jump out of my chair when I turned around to be faced with a mannequin that wasn’t there a second ago. But this happens so frequently, it loses its effectiveness very quickly. The only way to get rid of them is to find flashes which make them disappear, but within seconds they are back again.
Although the mannequins can hurt you, they seem largely ineffective other than to put you on edge. The main threat comes from a pursuer who can kill you in one hit. There are sections in the game where you get to look through their eyes to discover where they are. You are vulnerable when you do this, and it was often the case that they would kill me as I returned to my own vision. If you die, you can go back to find your items, but get killed on the way and you lose everything and start again. It’s at this point when I started to think “fuck this game!”
On top of that the controls are so imprecise you wonder if any testing was done before the game was released. You would think picking up an item would be a simple process of looking at it and clicking a button. For some reason I found myself looking below the item before I was able to pick it up.
The graphics are substandard for a PS4 game, but that doesn’t really matter anyway because everything is so dark you won’t be able to see anything!
If I was being extremely kind and play devil’s advocate for a few seconds, I could say Dollhouse reminded me of dungeon crawlers I used to play on the Amiga, such as The Dark Queen of Krynn, or Treasures of the Savage Frontier. But those games were released nearly 30 years ago and had story and charm, which meant you didn’t mind walking around a maze for hours trying to find the exit.
There is a multiplayer section of Dollhouse, but as I demonstrated in the video below, there is nobody playing this game, so I can’t really tell you much about it.
There is potentially a good game hidden deep within Dollhouse. The ideas and theme are interesting, but quite frankly it is overshadowed by boring gameplay, rough controls and poor graphics. If this game was in early access, I could understand a large number of its flaws. If I’m being totally honest, I’m surprised this is getting a full-blown release. I couldn’t in good conscience recommend this, even if it was on sale. However, if walking around a dark maze whilst being pursued by an enemy which kills you in one hit is your idea of fun, then you’ll love Dollhouse.
Dollhouse is available now for PlayStation 4 and PC.
Review by Chris from a code kindly supplied by Soedesco.