Vein Hotel (PC) review
"No, this isn't a porn. You might wish it was, though..."
I have a lot of respect for Vein Hotel. Obscure horror games frequently send you into overly familiar situations, with each title indistinguishable from the next. It's as if hundreds of would-be developers all suddenly became inspired to create the exact same haunted house piece and spammed multiple marketplaces with identical offerings. Developer PP314, however, had some other ideas in store for us. They stuck us in an apparently ghosted space, but tormented us with something other than mere specters of the living or demons inadvertently summoned by careless practitioners of the dark arts.
That said, the game isn't quite up to the genre's par regardless...
Though I praise the game for getting away from your average ghostly content, it still sports its share of hackneyed scares. The affair starts with you in a nearly empty hotel room, blood staining the walls, disembodied noises emanating from unknown places. You know, another day at the scary office. Its early use of cliches somewhat dulls the surrealism that eventually ensues, taking you out of the experience just for a bit.
Eventually, you locate a flashlight and the campaign begins in earnest. Sadly, you might notice right away the the beam from your torch doesn't quite play off walls correctly. At times, it only partially illuminates your surroundings. Other occasions, it's completely obscured by apparently nothing at all, as if the protagonist doesn't know how to hold a flashlight properly. As you might guess, this eventually poses a problem...
There is no intuitive flow to the campaign here. You mosey about, look for open doors, sneak into rooms, and then watch maddening scenes unfold. Sometimes you encounter phenomena intended to frighten that instead fall flat, such as one meeting with poltergeist activity that blocks your exit by covering the door with floating chairs. Furniture also flies all over the room, harmlessly passing by you for a few minutes before subsiding without fanfare. At that point, you exit unharmed and unafraid.
That's pretty much the first portion of this adventure summed up. You access a hotel room, you watch a brief segment from your past, things get weird or eerie for a few minutes, and then you return to the hallway unscathed. However, you can tell this realm has one sinister plan for you: to taunt the protagonist with memories from his sordid high school years. That's when the hotel slowly morphs, its corridors that were initially reminiscent of "The Shining" slowly transforming into the long hallways of a school, complete with bullying notes written on the walls.
And hell, unnecessary references to "Ju-On," because why not? While we're dispensing cliches, we might as well include long, dark hair randomly appearing in places and that awful throaty noise series antagonist Kayako produces...
I'll level a bit here, though: some of the surreal imagery utilized is actually pretty effective. One segment shows mannequins of the protagonist being a right bastard to someone. Before you leave this room, the scenery transforms into a hellish display where you're the one being tormented. This happens numerous times, including one section where you navigate a room full of arbitrarily placed lockers while trying to avoid a demonic bully who keeps taking jabs at you.
Eventually you reach the final stretches, things immediately take a harsh turn south. The first portion of the finale sticks you in a dark labyrinth, where you attempt to follow phantasmal candles that lead you to numbered pictures on the wall. You must locate all eight drawings in order to advance, which doesn't sound difficult at all. However, bear a couple things in mind: 1) the candles become tricky to follow, as they leave you in the shadows to stumble around the drunken, convoluted corridors for seemingly hours before you chance upon the next objective, and 2) your crappy flashlight beam refuses to hit walls just right, often stranding you in such absolute darkness that you sometimes can't spot the next hallway to take. Oh, and when you locate a picture, more areas open up to you, so don't even bother trying to memorize this maze because its design is fleeting...
Thankfully, nothing in this region of the school/hotel/schotel can kill you except boredom or despair. If you make it out of the maze in once piece, then you advance to something even worse: ill-fitting platforming. Yes, platforming, in a horror-adventure title. At this point, you cruise down a hall decked out with floating tables, among which you must leap from one to the next. If you miss and hit the floor, you've got to start the gauntlet over again. As you take damage, you'll notice the something in your HUD that says "days to graduation" steadily increasing, as it did during the bully locker room scene any time you took a punch.
Persevere and it's on to the last shebang, where you stand in a fascinating mixture of a school yard and one of the layers of Hell. The closing objective sees you outrunning bullies yet again while collecting school lunch trays that constantly spawn all over the grounds to refill your hit points, as well as blue canisters that provide a speed and stamina boost. Meanwhile, your "days to graduation" slowly descend, handing you the victory if you remain alive until zero. Honestly, this portion constitutes a messy, anticlimactic way to cap off this unconventional game.
As I said, I take my hat off to this gallant effort from PP314 to step outside of the usual horror experience and try to create something with an identity of its own, even if it does lean on some tropes that don't quite fit. Unfortunately, Vein Hotel doesn't offer anything more than tiresome content with the occasional spot of brilliance. There's a lot of wandering, running away from things, and unnecessary platforming on offer here, and that's really about it.
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (May 06, 2022)
Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.
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