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Illbleed (Dreamcast) artwork

Illbleed (Dreamcast) review


"Illbleed drives me nuts. It offers 1000 ideas from 1000 different sources. Some of them are good. Most feel out of place. All of these ideas combine to give Illbleed a unique feel when compared to other games within the survival horror genre, as well as on the Dreamcast. It’s like the developers threw everything they could think of at a wall and hoped that only the best would stick. Problem is, everything stuck and nothing was cut out, causing Illbleed to become lumbering and illogical. It offers tempting false promises of horror, only to delve into a permanent foray of senseless depravity. It’s a combination of kitsch horror, B-movie camp, and the taboo. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but Illbleed misses the point by emphasizing that it has not point. If ever there was a game with ADHD, this would be it."



Say it out loud with me: Illbleed. Ill-bleed. Not “I’ll bleed” but “ill bleed.” It’s just one of those game titles that causes the hair on the back of your neck to stand up. The possessed doll on the cover tantalizes offerings of gory horror and psychological unnerving, while the title itself conjures up imagery of blood waves crashing against once spotless white walls. Or something. I guess. Perhaps.

Illbleed drives me nuts. It offers 1000 ideas from 1000 different sources. Some of them are good. Most feel out of place. All of these ideas combine to give Illbleed a unique feel when compared to other games within the survival horror genre, as well as on the Dreamcast. It’s like the developers threw everything they could think of at a wall and hoped that only the best would stick. Problem is, everything stuck and nothing was cut out, causing Illbleed to become lumbering and illogical. It offers tempting false promises of horror, only to delve into a permanent foray of senseless depravity. It’s a combination of kitsch horror, B-movie camp, and the taboo. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but Illbleed misses the point by emphasizing that it has not point. If ever there was a game with ADHD, this would be it.

Illbleed’s story begins with Eriko Christy. As a small child, her father was fixated on trying to frighten her. It got so bad that Eriko’s mother divorced the creep and cast him out of her beleaguered daughter’s life. Eriko isn’t bitter at Daddy, though, and likens her experience to a test of will. He made her stronger, she reasons, and she’s all the better off because the abuse he directed her way. Coincidentally, Eriko’s friends – Kevin, Randy, and Michel – receive special invitations to an unwholesome theme park called Illbleed. The carnival’s proprietor, a certain Michael Reynolds, offers a cash prize of $100 million to anyone who can survive its horrific traps. Eriko’s friends are intent on going to the site. Eriko is more hesitant in spite of her upbringing. But after her friends wind up missing, she decides she’d best go looking for them.

And so Illbleed officially begins with Eriko finding herself at the Illbleed theme park in search of her vacuous friends. She enters the only open attraction, a movie theater playing an unscrupulous-sounding flick called “The Homerun of Death.” She’s treated to a prologue about a crazy old man named Mr. Banballow and how he ran a hotel for teens. The hotel clients killed his son, who he adored. In a fit of rage, Banballow torched his son’s murderers to a crisp. Now it’s time for Banballow to meet a similar fate in order to ease his pain.

So maybe it’s not an award-winning plot, but Illbleed’s first level at least offers some intrigue and entices the player to go through the trouble of actually figuring out what’s going on, both within the “Homerun of Death” scenario as well as within the plotline of Eriko’s missing friends. As Eriko explores the unkempt grounds that make up the hotel where Banballow lies in wait, she quickly learns that there is more to fear than the grisly meat men hiding in the shadows.

Illbleed’s best offer to the table comes in the form of traps strewn throughout most areas of the game. These traps are psychological in nature, causing Eriko to freak out in a brief spurt of anxiety whenever one is set off. Traps are numerous in design and placement, and they range from all types of shock moments such as faces coagulating in a pool of blood to a toilet spraying liquid poo into Eriko’s face. Something called a “horror monitor” will set off any traps that are tagged, provided that Eriko has the appropriate amount of adrenaline to consume. No adrenaline means traps cannot be disarmed, and that means that getting through Illbleed will probably be a lot tougher. Eriko can die in more ways than just from losing all available health. She can also succumb to bleeding to death or by experiencing too high of a heart rate and suffering from shock.

Monitoring these different attributes makes Illbleed unlike most survival horror games, just as the traps offer something different as well. Unfortunately, to experience the traps, you have to take damage, as disarming traps means you won’t get to experience the surprise from seeing what they have to offer. This double-edged sword means you’ll miss a lot of the interesting ideas that reside within the game. But there is still tons of other weird stuff going on to partially make up for it.

Eriko isn’t the only playable character, as her friends can also be controlled once they are rescued. They all play nearly identical, with minor attribute redistributions applied here and there. Eriko is still the best character to go with, though, because unlike her scaredy cat friends, she won’t spend 20 seconds crawling around on the ground every time she gets ambushed during battle. Also dissimilar to most survival horror games, enemy encounters are staged within arena-like confines. If you find Eriko bleeding heavily and on the verge of death, it might be best to just call for the escape helicopter to throw down its ladder so she can get out of dodge.

If that last sentence makes no sense, well, I don’t blame you for feeling perplexed. It’s never given an explanation, but there is an escape helicopter ladder that can be activated during many regular enemy fights. What’s even stranger, this ladder can be used when inside a building. I find it very impressive that Eriko can call for the escape helicopter to toss its ladder down through a thick slab of concrete without actually requiring the concrete to form a hole or anything.

And if that sounds dumb, then know that it’s really only the tip of the iceberg for all of the silliness that Illbleed has in store. The second level focuses on killing a giant worm (think of the movie “Tremors” here). This once normal worm mutated into a giant grotesque worm when it came into contact with gasoline (makes you wonder what would happen if in real life gasoline had mutating qualities). Then it had babies, and those babies were used to make meat patties for foodstuffs. The man behind the worm-processing plant adores the mutated mama worm. It’s not just his cash cow (er . . . worm), but also his inter-species lover. When the worm’s owner takes his life from a bad business venture, the owner’s anguished spirit compels Eriko to send the monster worm to Hell to be with him. Some might call that love?

The game only gets more irrational as it goes along. The fifth level is a whodunit murder mystery. Eriko joins forces with a member of the press to help solve the cold-blooded murder cases of unanswered Illbleed theme park employee deaths. This chapter scenario, called “Killerman”, offers a reward of $1 million if you can successfully answer who Killerman really is. Before you can name a culprit, the game throws five suspects your way. You must select from these five potentially guilty parties which one is the real Killerman.

One of the options is Killerman.

Wait, Killerman is Killerman? Another option for who the culprit behind the Killerman persona may be is “The Player.” How could you, the player, be Killerman? The game offers this reasoning:

“You. Abnormality must have led you to buy this game.”

So Illbleed is entirely self-aware and doesn’t seem to care if you’re enjoying the joke or not. The game is fun, if only because it is so campy; but I feel that most people who would have purchased this initially upon release would have wondered what the hell they had just placed into their Dreamcast. If scenario five was strange, then the last one is just plain out of place, as Eriko gets transformed into a toy cowboy not too unlike Woody from Toy Story so he (she?) can ultimately die and go to Toy Hell to be with his girlfriend, the curvaceously postured Sexy Doll. Along the way, Cork, as this cowboy character is named, must find a new owner, bust out of prison with the help of a talking rocket, and then fight Toy Satan in a pit of fiery brimstone. The designers must have really been grasping at straws by this point.

At least that leads to unpredictability. That’s the only real reason to ever continue playing Illbleed just to see what inane scenario is waiting next. The game itself isn’t necessarily doing a good job in any other aspect, as Illbleed fails to be above average in any other particular category. It has a few glitches and is replete with bad voice acting and spelling errors. Worse, the continuity is just plain confusing, and that affects the pacing. If you get the Killerman bonus question correct and win an extra million bucks, Illbleed’s difficulty evaporates since all the extra coin can be used to upgrade characters and stock up on health items to the point of being pointless. I guess, however, that that still wasn’t enough to prevent me from going through the game twice to experience the true ending.

After saving all of Eriko’s friends and fighting one of three final bosses, Michael Reynolds stays true to his promise and offers the $100 million cash prize with no further strings attached. Eriko and her friends – Michel, Kevin, and Randy (assuming they survive) – sail off to a white sandy beach where they’re found sipping tropical beverages and wondering what they’ll spend all their money on since they’re young and can’t comprehend esoteric concepts such as “saving.” Eriko doesn’t sharein their enthusiasm, however, because she feels that there was more to Michael Reynolds than their brief encounter may have hinted at.

I really, really would like to go into more detail regarding Eriko’s second run through Illbleed, as it definitely ranks right up there with Link’s second quest and the four endings of Drakengard (except that it doesn’t), but take comfort in knowing that I’m not about to spill the beans on an 11 year-old game that exactly six people bothered to play through from start to finish.

Instead, I’ll just make a few allusions and call it a day: Eriko encounters Michael Reynolds a second time, some words are said, some deeds are done, and during the whole encounter, Eriko is bare-ass naked.

Why is she naked and what results from her selfless mission are for you to find out if you so desire. If not, that’s understandable, too, as Illbleed is probably not worth the frustration of playing through the game twice just to find out. It may not even be worth turning on because if there is one thing I’ve come to realize from experiencing this game firsthand, it’s that it’s a whole hell of a lot more fun to write about that to actually play. To me, that’s worth more than $100 million.

Rating: 5/10

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Community review by Fiddlesticks (August 19, 2012)

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pickhut posted August 20, 2012:

This was a great read that filled me in on the game's odd premise, giving me solid examples of its weirdness while having a sense of humor about it. I was actually contemplating doing Illbleed after finishing Blue Stinger (since they were by the same developers), but you did a much better job at writing a review of the game than I probably ever will.

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