March 26, 2015 5:00 AM | Joel Couture
When a killer's on the loose in your campground, you're kind of stuck with the tools you have on hand. Still, what are you and your friends going to do to defend yourselves when you've only got some matches, a case of beer, and a rake to defend yourselves with? Probably die, as I've done many times in the first episode of Hypnohustler Games' Lakeview Cabin Collection. It's not easy to survive the attacks of a demented killer with improvised tools, especially when you're just part of a group of dumb teenagers, but with a little persistence, maybe one of you will make it out alive. Maybe.
At least death is pretty funny in the Lakeview Cabin Collection. The characters are drawn in a chubby, stubby style, making the teenagers look like little figurines from a kid's play set. That particular child might be a little unhinged from seeing these little fellas slam down beers, screw, and accidentally kill each other over the course of the game, though. Still, those character models take something that should be horrible and make it funny. I'm getting older and have less of a stomach for seeing exposed viscera, so seeing a small, goofy-looking dude get impaled and strung up on the walls is a lot easier to tolerate. On the other hand, there's also something deeply unsettling about seeing these cute little guys and gals getting disemboweled and strung up on the walls. It's nice not to have to look at hyper-realistic gore to enjoy the game, but still maintains the horror in the events that are happening.
There were several cabins along the shore (each stage in the game is themed after a different famous horror movie, with the initial stage containing a mock-up of Camp Crystal Lake from Friday the 13th) filled with items and things to interact with, and it's in finding these tools and figuring out how they interact with each other that you learn how to play the game and survive. One cabin could contain some delicious hot chocolate or a place to strip naked (why not?), and others might hold a guitar and some matches. Are these of any use to you? You never really know, so you should explore every cabin to see what's inside, and then play around with every item to figure out its best use.
As you play around with items, you may find that many carry unintended consequences if you aren't careful. Something as simple as lighting a campfire might help or hinder you later, as I found out while setting what I thought was a clever trap. I had positioned my teenagers in places meant to lure the killer out, arming them with whatever I could find for a good old fashioned beat down. Little did I realize that my pet dog is dumb, and it wandered into the fire and then proceeded to run through the camp, setting all of my friends on fire and killing them before I could douse them in the water. Admittedly, one of them survived, but considering the killer went upside her head with an axe literally seconds later, it didn't help much.
Even with a full stock of dumb teenagers at your disposal (4 that you can witch between on the fly), it's hard to take the killer out permanently. The game plays like an old horror movie, where the killer is often only down and not out. Blows with axes, rakes, or other weapons will drop the killer, but you know they'll be up and after you again in moments. You can hide in closets or under beds to temporarily ditch the killer, but you'll want to start thinking of more creative solutions. That might mean luring him close to the wood chipper, blowing up a motorbike near him, or some other such plan. It's up to you what you think will work, as the environment is loaded with tools to make this happen. You just need to figure out how to best use these tools to set your traps.
Having all of these items gave the game this interesting Scribblenauts-like feel, even if I didn't have infinite options to solve things with. You're given a difficult situation and are expected to overcome it with creativity, taking stock of what's lying around and then figuring out your own way of using it. Want to put the gas can out and then throw a match at it as the killer runs by? Go for it? Think you can drop an item on him from up high? Try it. Part of the replay value is in figuring out how many different ways you can down the killer and how many teenagers you can get out alive.
Not only this, but some tools have uses you might not expect, turning something that might seem useless into a powerful weapon. At one point, I started up a radio by accident while running from the killer, and it turned out that loud music made him flip out and freeze in place. This also meant that blows from the guitar would also stagger him, opening up a whole new array of tactics. Finding out the particularities of each killer is another part of the puzzle that keeps things interesting, but don't let these discoveries make you overconfident. Sometimes, the killer brings along a friend.
The music subtly adds to the atmosphere and hints about certain happenings. Like the movies it draws inspiration from, Lakeview Cabin Collection uses tense tracks to put you on edge, shifting to discordant notes to tell you that something bad has happened. Once the killer enters the scene, a pounding piano tune plays, driving it into your brain that you need to get away as fast as you can. It's a great back and forth, with small musical flourishes indicating any change in your environment as well as making you jump when something bad happens.
It's good that the music gives you clues on what's going on outside your sight, since you don't really know what's happening to the four playable characters otherwise unless you're constantly checking on them. Switching between the teenagers and keeping them all alive while setting up a trap can be a complex task. Hiding spots make this a little easier, but I found that the killer wouldn't show up unless you gave him something worth chasing after. If you hunker down and hide, he won't show up. You have to take risks in order to beat him, and while hiding helps in rough spots, you'll eventually need to poke your head out and try to lure him into danger. If you don't really care about keeping everyone alive it's not so bad, but challenging yourself to keep all of the people alive definitely added replay value. Also, it can be very hard to spring a trap alone, so you really need to try to keep as many kids alive as possible if you hope to win. This is not the kind of game that a lone protagonist can win very easily.
Playing around with items and learning how they interact with each other and the killer makes the Lakeview Cabin Collection a lot of fun to play around with, especially for horror movie buffs. The single stage was quite challenging, and had many silly things to play around with, but still seems a little light on content given the asking price. Still, the next three stages will be added for free as Hypnohustler Games releases them, so you can look forward to taking your group of dippy friends beyond the shores of the lake by buying it now. As is, it cracked me up whether I failed or succeeded, providing me with a fun, if murderous, playground to goof around in. I would love to be able to try out the other stages and see how I feel about them, but like you, I'll just have to wait and see which movie is next.
Lakeview Cabin Collection is available for $9.99 on Itch.io and from the Humble Store through the developer's site. For more information on the game and its developer, Hypnohustler Games, you can head to the game's site or follow the dev on YouTube and Twitter. The game is also looking for votes on Steam Greenlight.