Interplay and Digital Mayhem's long-awaited "survival horror in space" title Run Like Hell has finally arrived on the PS2. You are the captain of a ship that's been over-run by aliens intent on killing you and everyone else on board. The in-depth control system is excellent, and the main object of the game is to hold the invading hordes at bay long enough to save the crewmembers who survived the initial assault. With a mixture of puzzles and combat, RLH has a nice balance of action and strategy, and the story is interesting enough to hold your interest for an extended time. We examine RLH and find out if its just another Resident Evil clone or whether it offers something different.
Run Like Hell's plot is somewhat reminiscent of the classic Alien science-fiction movies in that it involves a lonely space station that's been over-run by a horde of demonic extraterrestrial attackers. In the opening sequence, all is quiet as you land on the space ship. The protagonist and his shipmate exchange some pleasantries when suddenly, an alien comes out of nowhere and your companion meets a violent end. This is quite effective and frightening because it's so unexpected, and gives RLH's plot a tension. The opening sets the desperate tone of the gameplay perfectly, but unfortunately, the rest of the game doesn't quite live up to this initial burst of excitement.
While most of the ship's crew were massacred in the initial invasion, some have survived the assault. This is important because you can interact with them, and they'll tell you information and give you tips. Some of these characters will even fight alongside you at certain points in the game. You'll face three types of aliens in the game, and their appearance on the screen can be quite frightening. They'll drop down from air-ducts or hide behind doors to jump from out of nowhere. The aliens almost always attack in groups, which is more dangerous than it sounds because you can usually only fire at one at a time. The aliens are quite aggressive and they won't wait while you reload your guns. Even when you think you've cleared an area, more are spawned, meaning that their relentless attacks never stop. The aliens have infiltrated everywhere onboard, and they attack in groups, shield themselves and can jump around which increases their lethality. They can also learn from your moves and change their tactics, making them much harder to kill.
To help you defeat them, you'll find a variety of weapons on the ship including flame-throwers, missile-launchers, machine guns and rifles. Each of these is powerful, but the aliens can develop a resistance to them if you use them too much. Additionally, the weapons ammo is limited, so you have to pick your battles carefully and run when you can. As the levels progress, you face more aliens but the ammo becomes much more limited, so you'll need to be much more strategic as you move on. This makes the later levels much harder than the initial stages would have you believe, which extends RLH's gameplay but also makes it a bit more frustrating than you would like it to be.
Run Like Hell's other main element are the puzzles which seem large and elaborate but are actually rather simple. These mainly involve flipping switches or finding the right key to unlock the next door. Most of the time, an icon will appear where you need to interact with an object. These are intersting, but they become a bit predictable after awhile. These puzzles are too simplistic, and it drags the game's flow because you spend a lot of time running around looking for switches and other items. These puzzles require you to spend a lot of time running from one area to the next as one action needs to follow another. This trial and error gets old in a hurry and makes for some dull and predictable gaming with alien battles thrown in to break up the tedium. What's even worse is that your battles with them quickly become boring as well.
The controls are decent and fighting the aliens is made easier thanks to the lock-on control that auto-targets your shots at the aliens. Unfortunately, the lock-on doesn't always choose the closest alien, and can leave you vulnerable to attack. However, you can hit and throw them away from you when they get too close, though using your weapons is always preferable. As you explore the ship, you'll find keys, additional weapons, health-power-ups and more scattered around the ship or in the persons of dead crew-members you run across. When you reach one of these points, you press the X button and the action takes place automatically. Additionally, players can adjust the camera angle by pressing the shift buttons, though this is effective during slow points, fumbling with these controls is too awkward to be effective during battle.
Run Like Hell's production values are higher than the norm. The developers have hired some top-notch voice talent including such well-known actors as Lars Eirlich, who plays the heroic captain. In a nice touch, he's been scanned into the game so he resembles the protagonist. Other well known actors such as Star Trek's Kate Mulgrew also make appearances during the game. RLH also features a well-done orchestral soundtrack makes a nice counterpoint and increases the tension of the game. From a visual standpoint, the game looks good with cool alien designs and decent graphics that give the space ship an appropriately foreboding look. From a technical standpoint, the graphics look sharp with nicely designed levels. Unfortunately, some of the textures could have used more detail because the environments become a bit bland after awhile. The action is interspersed by cinematic cut-scenes that help to immerse you in the storyline. Overall, the production values are very good and give Run Like Hell a great cinematic feel.
The fixed camera angles lend RLH a cinematic flair, but this is a mixed blessing. They allow for a more cinematic feel but the implementation could have been better. There are many instances where it's difficult to figure out from which direction the enemies are coming in. Many of the camera angles are awkward, with the alien or your character disappearing off the side of the screen. This is frustrating to no end, and makes battling the aliens much harder than it should be, especially when you're under attack from several enemies at once. While RLH is fun at first, another major problem is the lack of variety. Level designs are decent with tight-corridors leading to more open areas. This is cool but the progression gets somewhat predictable after awhile and these areas seem rather unimaginative once you've seen them. The levels become longer after the first few missions, but save-points are frequent enough that you won't end up doing a lot of backtracking.
Unfortunately, significant problems make the game much less impressive in implementation than it could have been. The limited number of alien types is a major drawback. This lack of variety means that the initial excitement quickly becomes monotonous, with the aliens' predictable reactions and moves taking away the element of surprise. You can only see the same alien burst through the same door so many times before it loses its impact. The production values are decent, but in some areas with some impressive cinematics and above average acting. However, the level designs and enemy AI becomes far too predictable, though the aliens get a tad smarter as you progress. While the game gets much harder, by that point, you've already stopped caring making it very difficult to stay motivated. The visuals are decent but the game lacks an essential spark because you stop caring about the character early on, and the biggest challenge becomes more one of endurance than skill. In the end, this is a disappointment. The ideas and alien designs are excellent but Run Like Hell really doesn't live up to its initial promise because it's plot is too derivative and the below average play mechanics offer little that hasn't been done much better in other survival horror titles.