There are not many settings more mysterious than that of Noir. In the world of Dollhouse, not only will you be tasked with deciphering fact from fiction, but you also must do it in the utmost secrecy as you see yourself as a Detective tasked with solving a mystery. At at the same time, you are also playing Cat and Mouse with something that wants to see you as dead as the air that hangs over a dark Hollywood morning before a storm.
Creazn Studio has crafted a game that will keep you on your toes, but do they keep you there, or will Dollhouse be lost in Hollywood, only to be remembered within old stills?
Within the main campaign of Dollhouse, you play as Marie, who could easily be mistaken for a Dollar Store rendition of the world greatest thief, Carmen Sandiego. The game takes place entirely inside of her head due to living through a tragedy at one point in her life, involving her daughter. In this psychological state, she is tasked with uncovering her memories that have been lost to amnesia. Each map is randomly generated so that each time you play you’re presented with a unique experience with each chapter set within a visually different location. However, the maps feel very much the same, there’s just a different skin placed upon the environment. By the time I’d reached the third chapter, Dollhouse was beginning to feel very repetitive due to this, I would have loved it if there were more gameplay changes with each chapter.
In each Chapter, as you are trying to uncover your memories, you are also being hunted by different enemies. First and foremost, there are the mannequins which can be scary as hell the first time you meet them, similar to what we saw in Layers of Fear 2. Fans of Doctor Who will know EXACTLY what I mean when I say that the mannequins operate exactly as the Weeping Angels do. If you’re looking at the mannequins, they cannot move or attack you as you, however, if you turn your back, they’ll attack you swiftly and without warning.
There is a way to attack them via ‘Flashing’ them – with a torch, not by opening your long, red trench coat… Thankfully, once you do that, they are gone permanently. The same cannot be said about the creature that hunts you in each level though. For context sake, we will call the creature ‘IT’.
‘IT’ cannot die, and if ‘IT’ gets to you, your life will end immediately as it has a 1-hit kill attack. You can flash this creature in order to stun it, which gives you a chance to run away, but if you don’t get away quick enough then you’ll certainly meet your demise. Marie does not have infinite stamina and so you only have about 8 seconds that you can run away quickly as her walking pace is insanely slow. You have the ability to purchase abilities that will help you with fighting the creatures as well as carry more items, but at no point will you have infinite stamina.
You also have a unique ability called ‘Focus’ in which you can see through the eyes of ‘IT’ in order to search for more memories laying around whilst also seeing if ‘IT’ is anywhere close to Marie. This can be useful, however, the more you use the Focus, the more likely it is that ‘IT’ can detect where you are, so you always need to be careful and use the ability as lightly as possible – Just like Frodo and his legendary ring.
In each chapter, the whole focus is to reclaim Marie’s memories, these are spread throughout the level as old film canisters. After collecting enough of the canisters, you are allowed to go to a secret lost room in which you are given a special task to do in each level, such as changing each TV station to the same channel or stopping a carousel on a specific spot. After that, you’re given a master key to open your dressing room and advance the story.
Each level is randomly generated, so no two playthroughs will be the same. At the end of each level, all of the memories you have gathered, as well as other collectables, are brought to an editing room where you will edit a script as well as piece together a film trailer. It’s in this editorial section of the game where you can shape a different story each time, resulting in multiple endings to the main game, as well as opt for specific small ‘boosts’ in your next chapter such as a 1% chance some doors will be open.
If the idea of getting to play the game in a calm manner is more your thing, there is a special game mode called ‘Voyeur” in which ‘IT’ cannot harm you, nor the mannequins. However, certain trophies will be impossible to earn via using this easy mode.
There is a multiplayer option in the game in which you play as a sizeable cast of different characters with unique abilities. I will fully admit that I was unable to play the multiplayer in the game as each time I have tried to play in this mode, there were no other players online. This does include multiple attempts post game release. Maybe a cross-platform option so that the PS4 players can play with the Steam owners would be a possible solution to this?
Dollhouse had me from the get-go with its fascinating ‘Noir’ design and interesting story of mystery. Creazn Studio went into this game with amazing ideas, and where some of them paid off well, others seemed to have fallen on their face. I felt that by the time I was up to the third chapter, everything felt very repetitive, the visuals may be different but the core gameplay mechanics of what to do in each level was very much the same. I do feel the game could be salvaged with updates but it would take quite a bit to turn this into a game which is solid from start to finish.
Outside of it being repetitive though, it was fun to play! The voice acting was very well done and the atmosphere always felt very tense and surprising. It took very little time for me to start making comparisons to Bioshock and Close to the Sun, with its visual art direction. All in all, it’s not a bad game, it just needs a bit more love in terms of making the content a bit more varied.