Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Night Trap

Platform: Sega CD
Developer: Digital Pictures
Released: 1992
Genre: Interactive Movie

The Game
Something strange is going on at the Martins' residence. There have been reports of people going missing, including five young girls who were staying at the Martins' overnight. In response to the disappearances, the - oh, brother - Sega Control Attack Team, or - aw, come on - "SCAT" for short, has been sent in to figure out what's going on. And what's going on is that there's these weird ass blood-drinking mutant things called "augers" that are kidnapping people and draining their blood with these devices that look kind of like pesticide sprayers hooked up to the crappy (if amusing) robot claw toys moms buy their kids to shut 'em up. As a member of - ugh - SCAT, your job is to monitor the house through hidden cameras and activate traps to capture augers and save the latest batch of girly girls the Martins have lured.

Night Trap is one of the earliest games in a very short-lived genre sometimes known as "trap 'em up", as well as one of the first console games to include live-action video footage. It's main claim to fame, however, was its involvement in the series of congressional hearings at the time regarding video game violence that led to the creation of the ESRB. Like most such hearings, the jabs against Night Trap were largely overreactions, misinterpretations, taken out of context, or simply invented from whole cloth.

Though I didn't remember the name of the game itself, the big "damning" scene where a girl wearing a nighty is dragged away by augers as their hook thing drains her blood was one that I saw on the news when they were reporting the hearings, and it was the big reason I decided to try the game out. I'm a sucker for controversy.

And for girls in short night gowns getting dragged off by bloodthirsty monsters. Hubba hubba.

The Characters
You are the main character of the game, the voiceless, faceless member of SCAT who gets to stare at video feeds all night in the vain hope of catching some augers off guard so you can pummel them into submission with the many booby traps littering the Martin homestead. Rather than give you a name or any kind of characterization, all of the characters in the game just call you "Control".

The leader of SCAT is Lieutenant Simms, a mean man who yelled at me a lot and broke my controller on multiple occasions. He said it had something to do with me not being up for the job, but I think he was really just disappointed that I wasn't an omniscient and omnipresent god among mortals, capable of seeing the future and thus living up to his impossibly high standards of what a real man is supposed to be.

Kelly (or Kelli, or Keli, depending on which version of the game you're playing, apparently) is an undercover agent of SCAT played by the late Diff'rent Strokes actress Dana Plato. She infiltrates the Martins' residence by posing as one of the girls that were invited to stay for the weekend (or night, or whatever . . . honestly, I'm not sure how long they were supposed to be there or even why) and runs around the house looking for clues while you get to do all the real work.

There's the Martins themselves, a pack of vampires who deliver blood to the local community of augers as part of their "charity work", getting said blood from locals and transients they lure into their home. It was they who set up all the traps in the house in order to catch those unwary victims more easily. To give you the short rundown of each family member, there's the father Victor (wannabe French/Italian/whatever douchebag), mother Sheila (MILF straight out of a daytime soap opera), daughter Sarah (creepy bad actress with enormous gums), son Jeff (whiny teeth brusher), and cousin Tony (wooden lump).

All of the Martins are bad actors with poorly written lines and motivations, but Tony really takes the blood cake. He has the exact personality of a fence post, which I guess is his attempt to seem like a "bad dude" with a "rude 'tude", but all he really manages is to come off looking like he forgot his lines but he doesn't want anybody to know. He just sort of stands there with the same expression through the whole game no matter what he's doing, from talking about how they should change the security code on the traps to talking about how he's going to zap the shit out of Kelly with his vampiric lightning powers (I'm not making this up) and then suck all her blood.

He's the only member of the Martin family that seems to have a character arc, but it doesn't make any damn sense whatsoever. He's just as ready as the rest of the bunch to suck and/or drain the blood out of every last college-aged girl that comes into the house, but he starts to have doubts because one of the girls just happens to look 100% exactly like some other girl. Who this other girl is exactly is never clearly defined. Or even muddily defined. His long-dead girlfriend? His long-dead sister? His long-dead hairstylist? You got me.

Anyway, he tries to warn the girls away toward the end of the game, and then almost just as quickly tries the zap-and-snack on Kelly I mentioned. As he's slowly coming after her up the stairs, Kelly yells at control to trap him, and inexplicably Tony smirks (the only other facial expression he has, it seems) and says something to the effect of, "You really think they're gonna do it?" I'm pretty sure that the people who made Night Trap fully expected the player at this point to actually yell out, "HELL YAH I'M GONNA DO IT! YOU'RE TRAPPED, SUCKAH!" I didn't say that, however. I said, "Uh . . . why wouldn't I do it?" I dunno, did Tony try to bribe me in some deleted scene that I didn't see? I hate the guy. Not because he's an evil vampire or whatever, but because he's a horrible actor, and it would have given me nothing but the greatest pleasure to have sent him spiraling into each and every trap in that house over and over and over again.

Anyway, there's some other characters running around, but frankly, just thinking about them is depressing me. The short version is there's an extremely strange neighbor appropriately named Weird Eddie who built ray guns and inexplicably disappears about halfway through the game, a bunch of idiotic, ineffectual, and borderline offensive members of SCAT who all bungle things to almost epic proportions, the five girls who are staying at the house, and Danny, younger brother to one of the girls. He's the first to spot the augers, and he gets a ray gun from Eddie and his final scene is just a copy/paste job of one of his earlier scenes in which he screams and runs out the back door while being chased by augers.

The only one of these mostly-forgettable people that held my interest even momentarily was Megan, played by Christy Ford in apparently her only acting role ever. She was one of the few actors in the game that didn't seem to be taking the whole thing seriously in the slightest, which really worked. Her performance was over the top crazy and I felt she brought more personality to the show than all the rest of the actors combined.

It's just a shame that she couldn't also make up for all the rest of the actors combined. That much outpouring of over-the-topness would have caused even the sturdiest individual to explode.

The Writing



Night Trap is by no means an A-list movie. It's not a B movie. Nor a C, a D, or any other letter. The script for this terrible, rotten, no-good piece of crap shot straight past Z grade and just kept on tunneling. I don't know if I can even talk about it. I'm starting to dry heave just thinking of the tortured dialogue, the unfunny "jokes", the nonsensical storyline, and the gaping plotholes.

But I'll try to pick out a few especially horrific parts.

Sega Control Attack what the fuck ever. I've read that they changed this first word to "Special" for ports to other systems, but that doesn't change the fact that for this version it was SEGA CONTROL ATTAAARRRGH. That damn Lt. Simms even held up a Sega Genesis controller from time to time! And it said "Sega Genesis" right on it, just like a real controller! Why would they do something so completely and utterly stupid?! What happened here, Sega?! I used to think you were cool!

And as bad as that is, regardless of what the S stood for, the abbreviation is "SCAT" either way. I mean look, guys, I understand that you probably meant it as the "shoo, go on, get out of here" kind of "scat" and as a wordplay on SWAT, but if you're going to be making a shitty game, then you probably don't want to have an organization with a name that is also another word for "shit".

The vampires have lightning powers.

Tony wears sunglasses throughout the entire thing. This, I think we're led to believe, is because his eyes glow. But the thing is, all of the vampires have glowing eyes. And just like them, Tony's eyes don't glow all the time. So why does he continuously wear the sunglasses and act like it's important that he keeps them on?

The vampires have teleporting powers, yet somehow the traps are able to hold them and they aren't able to catch up with a normal bunch of girls running away from them. They also have lightning powers.

After characters have served their purpose, they just seem to run off into the wilderness and disappear forever. While in some cases that's not such a big deal, in at least three it makes even less sense: Lisa (who shimmies out a window, completely deserting her little brother), Danny (who ditches out in the aforementioned copy/past of an earlier scene, despite the fact that as far as he knows he's deserting his big sister, and even though before that he was totally gung ho about taking on the augers), and Weird Eddie (who goes downstairs with a ray gun and an auger disguise, but then is never heard from again).

Sheila gets knocked over onto a bed by one of the traps and then has time to have a conversation with Victor about it before the bed lifts up and catapults her out of the house or wherever. Thank goodness she couldn't have just, I don't know, stood up from the bed she was merely sitting on or anything in the five or six seconds in between!

THE VAMPIRES HAVE LIGHTNING POWERS. And they don't even use them! Tony and Jeff just kinda shoot lightning out of their hands a couple of times. Why? Just because they can, I guess, because they never actually hit anything, and most of the time they aren't even aiming it at anyone!

And I'm really wondering whether Victor's line of "THE WALL TRAP! AAAAAAAAAH!!!" was actually scripted, or just an imaginative ad lib on the part of the actor. Either way, it was terrible and both he and the writers should be ashamed of themselves.

Oh yah, and the vampires have lightning powers.

The Gameplay
You, as Control, have access to the series of hidden cameras and traps strewn throughout the house. You can switch the camera feed between the various rooms, but you can only look in on one room at a time. When nothing is going on in that room, the feed is a static picture display. When something is going on, the something is typically split into two different types: plot relevant scenes and auger capturing scenes. In the plot scenes, the various people in the house are moving around, going about their business, giving exposition, or just having some fun or doing work. Sometimes these are just transitive scenes as people walk from one room to the other on their way somewhere specific.

The other scene type is the meat of the game. The augers occasionally get into the house and lurk around, looking for tender morsels to capture and drain, and from time to time one or two of these monsters will step in the range of a trap. A trap meter resides on your control console, running from green to yellow to red, telling you when to strike. If you hit the trap button when the meter is in the red, then you've caught yourself an auger and are treated to a quick scene of them getting sucked into the trap. If you don't, they continue on their despicable way.

On rare occasion, you can capture good guys in the traps. Doing this gets you an immediate game over as Lt. Simms appears, bitches you out, and breaks your controller. He'll also snap it like a Slim Jim if too many augers get away from you.

Some few scenes close to the midpoint of the game and more often toward the end are combination plot and capture scenes in which one of the girls is threatened by augers. If you don't manage to capture one or two of the augers, allowing the girl to escape, then the girl is instead captured and drilled for precious, delicious blood, and then Simms pops up to tear into your shit again.

To operate any of these traps, you have to have the proper security code, which is one of a set of colors. The game always starts set at Blue, and then during preset times the code is changed to a different randomly selected color. If you don't switch your access to the new color, then none of the traps will work no matter how hard or often you press that button.

The changing color code is the first problem I'll be addressing in the cavalcade of horrors that is Night Trap's system. The code change happens during specific plot scenes, and if you don't get to the right room at the right time to listen in on the conversation regarding which color it's been set to, you're just shit out of luck. You have to randomly change your access code, try to find some augers, and try it out. If it works, hooray, you guessed right! If it doesn't, oh well, better luck with the next color. And you better hope you get it figured out before they change the code again, too many augers slip through your grasp, or one of the girls gets dragged off by the foul beasties.

So how do you know when the code is being changed? Well, that's the thing . . . unless you've happened across the scene in a previous playthrough and written down the time and place it was changed, you don't. It's entirely trial and error, restarting the game every time you learn of a new change time. And since the code change is randomly determined, you have to be sure you get to the scene in time, because you can't just write down a list of specific color changes.

This problem is endemic of the entire game, unfortunately. You never know exactly when a plot scene is going to be popping up unless you happened across it in an earlier playthrough and made a note of it. The only indication that an auger is near a trap is a popping noise accompanied by the count of possible captures on your console bumping up a notch or two. This does not, however, tell you where the augers are, so once again unless you already know from a previous playthrough, you have to search through all the rooms and hope you luck upon the correct one before the augers can slink away. And since your window of opportunity to capture them is mere seconds at most after you hear the pops, slinking away unharmed is usually what they do.

Also problematic is that plot relevant scenes will often play simultaneously not only with the auger capture scenes but with each other as well. This starts from the very beginning and continues virtually unabated throughout the entire game. A plot scene involving Sarah Martin starts playing right from time 00:00, starting in the bedroom and ending in the bathroom at time 00:24. At 00:02, two freaking seconds after the plot starts, an auger capture sequence starts in another room. And another one starts at 00:20 in the bedroom just as Sarah leaves. So if you try to pay attention to the capture scenes, you miss the plot scenes. If you try to pay attention to the plot scenes, you miss the capture scenes.

Now in this case, the plot scene isn't really all that important. It shows there's something not quite right with Sarah and that there are secret doors and passages in the house, but both of those points are shown many times over throughout the game, so you can catch onto it pretty quick. But it does the same thing over and over and over again after that during plot scenes that are important if you're to follow exactly what's going on. And capturing augers is definitely the more important of the two scene types since you get a game over if you don't capture enough of them, leading the player to miss tons of exposition and action elsewhere in the house.

Now given what I've already said about the story being just absolutely putrid, this might seem like a good thing. But really, even though they totally sucked at writing the story and acting it out, they did still take the time to write it and film it. One of the big boasts on the box art itself was that the game contained around one and a half hours worth of video. We the players might be glad to be spared all the lifeless acting, terrible dialogue, and weak action/horror, but why in the world would the people who made the damn game go to lengths to make sure almost all of their hard work would slide by unseen? What sort of sadistic bastards would make it virtually impossible to sort out their already nearly incomprehensible plot in even multiple playthroughs? It's like they're standing there going, "Ooooh, you want to watch this movie, don't you? But oh, dear, I'm sorry, we're only going to let you have a few glimpses now again because right now you need to sort out all of these rusty, handle-less knives right over here without any hand protection. Maybe when you've finished doing that, we'll let you have a peek!" And then when you do get your peek, what little you do understand about what's going on is complete shit!

So, in order to play the game, you're more or less forced to sit down and write up a list of all the different things that are happening around the house and when they occur. You then use this list to progress through the game until you get to a new section, then start listing the events that happen there as well. You have to play through the same beginning sections over and over and over again, watching each room one by one and writing down what happens until you finally get shut down by Lt. Sucks. In other games, your continued progression is generally based on getting better at the game, becoming more skilled at controlling your character and directing your attacks. In this game, skill has nothing to do with it whatsoever, unless you count "pressing a button when the game tells you to" as a skill. Instead, your character is pretty much just using a time machine to go back to the past with the knowledge they have gained in the future to proceed.

And even when you've got all the events listed, you still have to do multiple playthroughs in order to see all the different plot scenes that are happening simultaneously, then even further, in order to see the actual ending of the game, you have to do a perfect game, capturing every auger and vampire in the game and saving every girl without fail. This means that in order to see the real end of the story, you have to ignore almost all the other story scenes before it!

Who does this sort of thing?! Who?! And why would they do it?! Do they just hate us?! Did the people at Digital Pictures simply decide they hated video game players and then created the most awkward, idiotic, counter-intuitive gameplay mechanics ever devised just to make us suffer?!


The Challenge
I eventually decided to pull up a walkthrough for Night Trap so I could play through a perfect game. Even with the list telling me exactly where to be and when, I got a game over because my nose started to itch just as the second girl-threatened-by-augers scene popped up and I thought, "Surely I'm fast enough to scratch and be back at the trap button in time to save this hot, nubile young lady!"

No, I wasn't, and all the work I'd put into the perfect game was gone in a flash.

Even if the gameplay section above doesn't tell you everything you need to know about the bullshit challenge presented by Night Trap, just remember that I had a walkthrough for the perfect game, and I still utterly failed just because I wasn't fast enough to press the trap button in the half-second window provided by the game. All because my nose started itching.

The Sights
I vaguely remember hearing that Sega CD games had a reputation for being a little on the ugly side, and I really should have been prepared from the choppy graphics I'd already seen on the Saturn years back, but dah-yumn this game is uuuuuuh-glee!!! In order to compress the game down to where all the video would fit on the CD, it looks like they just beat it with an ugly stick until enough pieces were smashed off, allowing them to crowbar in what was left. So on top of having a story that starts off barely coherent and gameplay that ensures you barely get to see anything of relevance to the plot, you've got an impenetrable fog of video that would make Zapruder blush with shame.

Night Trap's big claim to fame is the controversy started over a scene where a girl in a somewhat revealing nighty gets attacked by some augers before getting dragged off to be drained of her blood good and proper. To be honest, this was the only reason that I decided to give this game a chance, 'cause if there's anyone willing and ready to watch a scantily clad girl get dragged off by monsters, it's me. But when I finally got to the scene, it was not only compressed down to the point where I had trouble figuring out which unsightly blob of color was supposed to be the hot chick, it was also plumb damn ridiculous.

The nightgown isn't really all that revealing, and was even slightly less so than some of the regular outfits the other girls were wearing. And not to hurt the poor actress' feelings or anything, but she was the one that I would have least wanted to see in a nighty. Not to say she wasn't attractive (she was, in an 80's richy bitch sort of way), but still, comparatively.

Also, the augers are just guys wearing black full-body clothing, their blood draining devices look like toys, and the most menacing thing they do is kind of hop around like idiot monkeys. Further, there's the Z-grade acting and shoestring budget "traps" that wouldn't be able to capture a . . . well, an anything, much less those weirdo vampire wannabes. All put together, it was like trying to watch a scrambled porn channel, and it isn't even good porn.

It's an awful looking game with stupid looking traps and moronic looking bad guys in idiotic looking costumes with pathetic looking equipment.

The Sounds
Fortunately the audio isn't quite as compressed as the video, but it still ain't really pretty. The popping noise that warns of auger incursion is repetitive and annoying. And having to listen to the "acting" is enough to make anyone's ears bleed.

The Night Trap song played during the party scene is kinda catchy, however.

The Bottom Line
Since I didn't actually finish the game (not even with the walkthrough) and had almost nothing positive to say about Night Trap, I had originally planned to relegate it to a spot in one of my Short 'n' Sour triple reviews. But as I started to write, I found that while everything I had to say was sour, it was in no way short. So I did some more research, started compiling my thoughts on the game more thoroughly, and decided to go with the full hate-a-thon you just read. This is hands down the worst game that I've reviewed so far, I honestly think it may be the worst game I've ever played, and I earnestly believe it may be the worst game ever devised by anyone anywhere ever, and I just had to share my pain with the rest of the world.

But strangely, one of the reasons it's so bad is because I want it to be good. I think that there may have been a real possibility for a good game here, it's just that Digital Pictures went about making it in the most ham-fisted and wrong-headed way possible. The fixes for their broken system would mostly be quite simple to implement, even on the primitive Sega CD system. Having already played Double Switch, which is another, later Digital Pictures game with the same setup, I've seen that they'd come up with one or two of those fixes on their own (such as alerting you to what rooms exactly are being broken into), but it still left a lot of other stuff broken. And that's one of the most infuriating things about all of this . . . DP just seemed to have absolutely no idea what to do with the very genre of games that they helped create and mold.

Sadly, whatever good ideas Night Trap may have contained were all buried under huge piles of manure, never again to see the light of day. And then the Senate hearings regarding video game violence as well as the awful, horrible quality of the games in the trap 'em up genre overall pretty much made sure those ideas would remain buried forever, only cropping up every once in a while as crappy DVD games in the extras section of kid's movies.

If you ever get the chance to play this game, don't take it. Just drop the disks, smash them if you can, and then run far, far away. You may think you want to play it just to see how bad it could possibly be, but I assure you, you don't want to do that. If you've just gotta see how bad the acting, writing, and traps are at least, then I'd suggest just checking it out on YouTube. Besides the obvious upside of not having to actually play the game, it's also composited from the PC version and the second edition of the Sega CD version, both of which looked way better than the original. But be warned, I wouldn't recommend watching that, either. The picture quality might be better, but the quality of everything else is just as terrible. It's not even worth watching to make fun of, and I love making fun of bad movies.

Seriously, this game is the devil. I find it offensive on almost all levels except the ones the US Senate was up in arms about. Avoid at all costs.

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