Murder House Review – Puppet Combo Still Killin’ It
Developed and published by Puppet Combo
Available on Windows
From the moment Puppet Combo’s Murder House starts up like a vintage VHS tape, players are transported back to the days of old-school survival horror. Emma, an intern at a news agency and the heroine of the game, is tasked with breaking into the home of the infamous Easter Ripper (otherwise known as The Easter Bunny), a serial killer who is believed to be have been executed for his slew of murders that were often young children. Once Emma and co. have entered the house, they find that there’s more than just a juicy story waiting to be discovered.
True to the old-school style of the game, the dated graphics and controls will bring glee to anyone who finds joy in retro horror (like myself). In fact, Murder House is inspired by many iconic relics of a bygone PSX era—fans of Resident Evil will pick up on this immediately with the eerily long door-opening animations, or the whonky camera system that Puppet Combo itself has dubbed, “Silent Hill Camera.” Despite this, the inspiration doesn’t feel stale—rather than simply regurgitating the systems that worked in those titles exactly how they are, Puppet Combo finds ways to innovate its archaic aspects so as to make the title feel like it could have been a standalone title in its own right back in the 90s.
As it turns out, the Easter Ripper has made a return, and with his trusty sickle, is on the hunt for more prey (spoiler alert: it’s you). Our protagonist has pulled a tendon while at track practice, so she can only run away for a certain duration before her stamina bar depletes. Therefore, dusty cabinets, dilapidated closets, mildew-y mattresses and any other decrepit features of the house that provide hiding spots from the murderer are Emma’s new best friend. The Easter Bunny loves to burst through doors at any point during the game like the Kool-Aid Man to wreak havoc on the player, so the threat of danger in Murder House is constant.
As a veteran of horror games, it takes a lot to actually spook me at this point .I’ve been chased by demons, zombies, giant-pair-of-scissors wielding freaks—you name it. It is because of this, however, it’s all the more impressive that when I’d turn a corner and that menacing, pink, dead-eyed Bunny would appear, swinging his sickle at me, I was, for lack of better phrase: shook as shit. Murder House is one of the first horror titles in a while that has gotten me genuinely spooked.
I think that there’s a number of reasons why Puppet Combo nails the stalker-style killer so well in this game. If the Easter Ripper catches you by surprise, he is not very forgiving. It only takes about three strikes from him until Emma ends up in a colorful cutscene (that varies) where she’s brutally slaughtered and you need to restart from your last saved checkpoint. For added pressure, there is a finite amount of times that your progress can be saved (which functions the same way that ink ribbons due in Resident Evil). And the best part? The actual Murder House application closes out when you are killed, so you need to reboot it again to reload your last save file (not to worry: it doesn’t take very long). The extra step does add pressure to try and avoid dying as much as possible.
As you do jump into closets, or turn off your flashlight and scramble behind obstacles to hide, there is a chilling tension as you watch the Easter Ripper slowly creep around the room searching for you. Hiding isn’t always successful—I was in my trusty spot behind a mattress, camping out as I waited for him to leave, only to look to my side and see him staring back at me. I was subsequently yanked out of my spot and forced to run away to try again somewhere better. This keeps gameplay in Murder House fresh and not as simple as knowing where one hiding spot is that will always be full-proof to head to as soon as you’re being chased.
In the midst of the running and hiding, you will slowly collect items such as keys, tools and clues to help uncover what has transpired in the house, and how you can make an escape. The puzzles are logical and don’t require too much thought—however, immense exploring is necessary. With the dated graphics, I found myself walking past doors without even realizing it at times, because they blended in with their surrounding walls. I did grow a bit frustrated at one point because of this, and found my way by just clicking randomly until I uncovered another clue. I think Murder House can definitely be completed without a guide, but I wouldn’t have minded some direction in one or two spots when I wasn’t sure if I was missing a specific item or if I’d forgotten about a specific door.
An aspect that appears to be improved upon well from Murder House’s predecessors is its audio. Puppet Combo’s previous titles have been subject to some criticism by players in the past for the high-pitched cacophony that often accompanied chase scenes (with Powerdrill Massacre being the most notorious example). It added another layer of fear because it would often catch players off-guard—however, it would sometimes be a bit obnoxious.
Murder House, however, doesn’t seem to have this issue. It has its share of jump-scares and loudly startling moments, but they never feel over-the-top, and seem placed with much more precision. I found that it was able to affect much more of a sense of dread and slow-building tension that brought out the fear in me than Puppetcombo’s previous titles.
Furthermore, it also feels like it has a lot of character in comparison to previous titles. The addition of voice acting (and excellent voice acting at that) helps each character feel a lot more unique. Emma’s inner monologue as she examines objects throughout the house also made me feel invested in her as a protagonist. Murder House is Puppet Combo’s most cohesive and, dare I say, scariest title yet. It felt like a genuine and effective return to the roots of old-school survival horror—if you’re a fan of titles like Resident Evil, Silent Hill or Clock Tower, look no further than the home of the Easter Ripper.