So I picked up a copy of Michigan: Report from Hell not too long back and started playing it at a fairly piecemeal rate and having completed it I wanted to put down a few thoughts on paper (ok, on screen). Granted, it's not the sort of game many people will be playing now (kinda a bit late considering it came out 7 years ago) but what with my throbbing urge to find new things to add to my survival horror collection it felt appropriate a time as any to give it a try.
First of all for those who don't know Michigan focuses on a small American news crew as they react to their city being overrun by strange monsters; it's pretty much your standard horror film/game premise. What Michigan does differently is to make you play as the cameraman, rather than the lead, and have him film everything that goes on, deciding what he wants to film - whether to save people or watch them die just for better footage, or whether to sneak a peak at female characters undressing: - despite being the 'watcher' though the player is more often than not the one who has to respond first if something happens, for example, telling the reporter to shoot if they see a monster, moving through doors first or pointing out items of interest for the reporter so they can progress.
I guess I have something of a soft spot when it comes to Michigan's style of gameplay, though I was never really a huge fan of them at the time I do remember with some fondness the full cinematic videogames of the early nineties (Ground Zero Texas and Night Trap spring to mind), so the fact that Michigan emulates this style of voyeuristic gameplay, in which you're the watcher who's 'forced to act', does strike something of a chord with me.
The main things about the game that strike me as a little off are the 'points' system and the voice acting/translation.
The game has a simple three category system for determining the value of what you're filming, and if you can focus on something to film then it'll be one of the three:
'Suspense' is pretty much just anything you film anything of important; I'm kind of assuming the names for these categories are poorly translated, since they kinda get the gist of what they mean but don't always make sense in the context of the game. You never really film any 'suspense' as such, and usually when you do film something and it comes under suspense it's just a point of interest (I fail to see how me investigating a photocopier could ever involve any 'suspense').
Immoral is more obvious, it's basically just any sort of underhanded or negative act you do in game. Watching a girl get chomped on by a monster or letting your reporter fall over a log because it would make good TV both fall into this category. Calling it 'Immoral' kinda gets to the point of what it is but still isn't a perfect description. It's basically anything which involves you ignoring your humanity just to get a good scoop, and characters will react to you differently dependent on whether or not you're underhanded about the way you film these things.
Erotic is, well, it's just basically being a perv. Looking in the women's locker room, checking out a lady in the shower, etc. Again, 'Erotic' kinda gets to the point but probably isn't the best description. 'Lurid' might be a better label.
As far as morality systems go I think it's interesting, morality systems are pretty standard in most modern games but weren't when Michigan came out, and I do like the idea that my choices in a game affect how characters see me, and I like the idea that the kind of journalism I go for affects how I'm viewed. That said, I do feel as though none of the categories have that much to do with realistic journalism. None of the categories really fit into a particular style of journalism, as Suspense or Immoral could both easily be spun for Tabloid or Broadsheet stories, and Erotic seems more like soft porn content than sleazy journalism.
I feel like a better approach would have been to have 'forthright journalism' – where you try to save everybody, do the right thing, and be honest with the story (like a videogame Anderson Cooper, and you better be ready to cry on camera!); 'underhanded journalism' – where you're willing to let people die for good footage, film fellow reports crying and generally emoting for the sake of footage, and be willing to spin pretty much anything to sell a story; and 'sleazy journalism' – where you basically just perv on female characters, collect gossip and any salacious information you find as you go along on fellow reporters and other characters and basically just ignore the main story.
I feel like maybe some of this was in the original Japanese version and it's just been washed away by the bad translation but I'm not sure; there is some pretty bad Engrish in this game, so it's a distinct possibility.
Speaking of which!
...the voice acting is terrible in this game -_-
Very, very bad.
Imagine a world in which horrific monsters stalk alleyways and backstreets, taking innocent victims under the cover of the night and devouring them whole! Into this put a band of heroes, forced to cope with the terrifying monstrosities that confront them as they desperately try to make their escape.
Enter the world of!
Err, I mean, Michigan: Report from Hell.
It's hard to tell the voice-acting apart in these two sometimes.
Joking aside, the parallel is apt, though kind of sad. Given the number of years between the two games you would have thought translation and voice-acting standards would have improved, Michigan's actors are slightly better than RE's but they're just as wooden and incapable of expressing proper emotion, and this coupled with the pretty poor script makes a lot of the dialogue pretty unbearable at times.
We get lines like: “Art is Expression! Expression, I say.”
Which probably doesn't sound too bad really, then you realise it's said by the most annoying character in the entirety of games.
He permanently sounds like an annoying 7 yr old throughout the game:
Seriously, I will pay for quality voice-acting, aslong as I never have to hear anything that bad coming from a character's mouth ever again. Hell, even half-decent acting can't be that bad, I'd spring for that!
Anything is better than that ^^^
I guess in Michigan's case it's more a case of it being a small title, like Siren, that the publisher just shoved out the door to get a little extra cash and didn't really expect a huge amount of revenue from, so they didn't really bother to invest that much, but still, it detracts from the game. Something's lost with the lack of a proper translation.
One pretty cool aspect (though pretty much the norm for horror games these days) is the disturbing, thing-like monsters that inhabit the game, maybe it's more a personal thing that I think they're so cool but some of the designs are particularly horrifying. Being able to look at a monster and see a man's face on it's body or a twisted stub of an arm... *shudders*
It strikes me as good body horror anyway, even if the rest of the game falters somewhat.
The only other thing I can think to comment on is probably the linearity of the game. I can't really make the reporter go where I went or check out rooms I want, I just follow them and then point out the obvious clue or tell them there's a face-eating monster stood behind them. Seems a shame. A little more control over which doors the reporter opens, where things go, would have been nice. It is very linear in that sense, which on top of the fact your crew sound about 5 years old makes finding clues seem a bit like spotting the obvious at times.
Finishing the game gives you a little more depth to the story, though the European version doesn't make it obvious, reading up on the game has shown me that there's a lot of replay value (if you can stand the voice acting), as each level has a range of different cinematics to get with various characters, aswell as objects of interest to go back and look for. There's also multiple costumes to select and some sort of Dance Club extra... yeah, it's sort of typical Japanese survival horror really.
The ending, or atleast the lead upto the ending, gives you some idea of what's going on before everything hits the fan but not enough to explain everything away. I think the main thing that sticks with me about the game is just the terrible voice-acting …which is kind of sad really.
An interesting idea though, if poorly executed at times.