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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Game Profile
PlayStation 2
505 Games
Grasshopper Manufacture
GENRE: Horror
Not Rated
 Written by Byron Tsang  on December 19, 2006

Import Review: We have a little saying around here?let Michigan handle it.

When most people hear ?Grasshopper Manufacture? and ?Suda 51? (aka Goichi Suda), the infamous Killer7 will come to mind. But they've made quite a few games before Killer7; however, none of which have been localized for America. One actually made it to Europe via 505 Games, one that goes by the name of Michigan: Report From Hell. It seems to be one of those rare times where North America misses out on a release; naturally the question now is ?Are tears worth shedding for Michigan??

The ?Michigan? part of the title is somewhat misleading. Specifically, the game takes place in Chicago and ?Michigan? refers to the lake. How does this relate? A strange fog has blanketed the entire city, causing a bit of panic, a bit of hysteria, and mass evacuations. What does this all equate to? A damn good story, at least to the editor-in-chief of ZaKa TV. Multiple news crews are sent in to cover the situation and you happen to be the cameraman for one of them. You're given the basics of Michigan by Briscoe, the sound operator, and Pamela, a reporter. After that happens?let's just say that the ?Report From Hell? aspect rings true.

In a peculiar move of storytelling, the amount of the plot you'll discover depends entirely on whether or not you're able to keep your reporters alive. There are a total of eighteen levels (plus the tutorial) and it's possible to skip past the majority of them. For example, say the reporter Ann is killed in the first ?level'. The game would instantly skip ahead to the next reporter, who may be four levels ahead; meaning three levels of plot just disappeared. Keep killing off reporters and you'll reach the end quickly along with having the baggage of not knowing what's going on and possibly the guilt of losing so many people.

Sadly, the actual plot is nothing spectacular. Yes, things start off suitably creepy and unsettling, but this is likely due to the feeling of disorientation. Once the initial rush wears out, being merely creepy is as high as Michigan gets. What's the most common survival horror setting and plot? If you can answer that, congratulations, you've figured out Michigan. Or, to relate this to movies, how about this: people in dangerous places doing predictably stupid things. Granted, some of the reporters want to help the poor citizens still trapped in Chicago, but they're all more or less interchangeable stock characters. For example, I was half-expecting dumb blonde jokes every time Paula spoke. Then there's Briscoe, who constantly flip flops between pining for the unfortunate Pamela and wanting to bail out of the city. Unlike the reporters, you're stuck with him throughout the game so if you hate his guts, too bad. You'd think after finding out Chicago was transformed into a death trap, leaving would be first priority. Sure, this is on Briscoe's mind, but first he wants to go all the way to ZaKa TV's office to yell at the editor-in-chief for sending everyone in. Hm, you don't think that could wait until after? Yes, there are gaping plot holes and instances where logic seems to have been crushed by a grand chandelier. This sort of thing comes with the territory but that doesn't mean gamers have to accept it. If cheap horror films are blasted for this, Michigan should be too. So if you play this expecting something stylistic like Killer 7 or tongue-in-cheek like Contact, you'll rarely find the Grasshopper touch. There are moments of cleverness but moments aren't enough to carry the game completely.

It's a good thing Grasshopper tried to do play around with the genre, considering how derivative the story is. As mentioned before, you're a cameraman and the life of a cameraman belongs behind the camera. How true, for the entire game is viewed through the lens. You'll move around like in a first-person shooter and should something be worth noting, you'll be able to lock on to it. A pool of blood? Investigate it! Conspicuous papers? Investigate it! Magazines for ?adults?? Hey, why not? Sometimes you'll receive information relating to the plot, sometimes you'll receive information relating to absolutely nothing. However, there is a reason for investigating things and that's scoring points. There are three different kinds of points: ?Suspense?, ?Erotic?, and ?Immoral?. Suspense points are gained by filming plot-related objects and good camerawork (e.g. focusing on speaking characters). Erotic points are gained through filming various pornography magazines and crouching down to film up the skirts of reporters?which surprisingly still works on characters wearing pants (yes, this includes Briscoe). Finally Immoral points are gained by doing immoral things. What's more immoral than voyeurism? Why, having gratuitous shots of corpses and letting your reporters be struck down by monsters and filming it. There are also situations where you're given the opportunity to give aid and prevent tragedies from happening, like a suicide, or you could simply continue to film. The amount of points for each category factor into which ending you'll get. You only have around half an hour of tape per level, so you'll need to film important things quickly. You can spend over half an hour on a level even if your tape runs out; you just won't accumulate points.

Of course, there are plenty of nasty things hindering your way. But what can you do? You're a cameraman and the camera must never stop taping. Since you can't do anything and neither can Briscoe for some reason, it's up to?the reporters? Yes, the reporters who are packing heat. They're armed with guns and know how to use them?kind of. You see, they need you to designate their targets. Only then will they start shooting. They won't move out of danger's way so you're going to have to find the right targets to tag or else you'll have a bunch of dead reporters. On the other hand, you and Briscoe are pretty much free from harm, although there are a couple occasions when you can die. While trying to protect your reporter may seem like an exhilarating affair, it's not. Really, the combat's nothing more than finding targets before they can kill your reporter or tagging objects in the right order so an invincible enemy can become killable. Considering the lack of connection between you and the reporters and the very fact that it's nigh-impossible for you to die, the sense of danger is diminished heavily.

Technically, this means the game is easy, which it is. Unfortunately for Michigan, things are complicated by the mediocre visual quality. Too many times have I lost reporters unnecessarily thanks to ignoring a blurry blotch on the floor which turned out to be a monster. Then there are other times where hotspots that you're supposed to tag are utterly unremarkable. It's only through the implementation of an indicator that will let you know whether or not something is of interest. Either that or it's so obvious it's painful. Stay away, puzzle lovers.

Usually in cases where the backgrounds are bland, character models have some respite. Not here. At best, they're fluid and that's pretty much the only positive thing that can be said. At worst? Massive clipping, sudden jerky movements (especially when shooting), and Briscoe flailing around spastically. I suppose I can't blame them, as Grasshopper seems to have gone for the realistic angle of visuals, meaning the characters couldn't look like they walked out of a fashion designer's fantasy. Regardless, none of the primary characters will leave lasting impressions. At least they look different enough so you can tell who's who. Meanwhile, the monsters aren't so lucky. It's your expected case of bugs, fleshy things, and humanoids. I don't particularly mind bugs, fleshy things, and humanoids, but only if they look like they were spat from the lost level of hell. Michigan's monsters? Uninspired.

?Uninspired' could also be used for the voicework. Like the plot, this sort of thing practically comes hand in hand given the genre. It's not truly insipid (Magna Carta comes to mind, what with those pregnant pauses in dialogue) but for people stuck in a nightmarish city, they sound awfully relaxed and upbeat. What's that? Two of our fellow reporters died? Aw shucks, that's too bad. Oh, you've been knocked unconscious and chained to a pool table? Hm, quite a pickle you're in! Well, it's a lot better than the times when someone tries to emote since the only things they present are over-the-top sorrow and over-the-top hysteria. As long as you can laugh it off as B-movie cheese, you'll be fine, but as an actual horror game? Not happening. A few chills and thrills can come from the spikes of dramatic sounds that occasionally rears itself as something shocking happens?which peters out to some annoying music whenever monsters show up. And I always thought atmospheric silence was scary.

It should be noted that Yinling, a real-life model, played a reporter in the Japanese version but for the European release was completely removed. Also, the movie theater in the European release has glitch that sends you to the ?Dance Show? instead of the theater. This means you can watch the show without having to unlock it but you'll never be able to watch any of the unlocked videos. It's a pretty glaring bug; one can only wonder how that passed testing.

Bottom Line
Michigan: Report From Hell is nothing more than a curiosity. Some of the features were entertaining and had the Blair Witch atmosphere but the rest of the game is too inadequate to make this a worthwhile purchase. While there's a large degree of replay value (I believe you'll have to play nine times in order to unlock everything), many of the playthroughs will take only a few hours. More importantly: would you actually want to? It's not as if the core gameplay will change with each playthough. Ultimately, Michigan is an interesting exercise in an attempt to tweak the horror genre, which it does. It's just not tweaked nor presented well enough.

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