Wizard Books, £4.99, ISBN 1-84046-417-8
Horror, 2002 (Reissue)
House of Hell is not set on Titan, but on Earth. Yes, you play a normal person on your way to attend an “important appointment” the next day. While driving on a dark and stormy night, you are given some directions by a creepy old man which cause you to be even more lost… until your car finally breaks down and you have no choice but to seek shelter at a nearby creepy mansion. You will soon learn that the Lord Kelnor, the Duke of Drumer, and his guests are demon-worshiping cultists and that you are marked for death in the House of Drumer unless you manage to find a way out.
The House of Drumer is a labyrinthine sprawl of rooms, each one named after a demon or devil, and you basically have to locate a weapon and some clues to help you confront the big bad final villain and escape in one piece. Victory is impossible unless you manage to stumble upon the one true way out set by Mr Jackson in this story.
As a gamebook that originally came out in 1984, Steve Jackson’s House of Hell predates interactive horror games like Resident Evil. Unfortunately, House of Hell plays more like a maze where you wander blindfold, each wrong turn you make being taken into account until you reach a maximum number of wrong turns and you are then removed from the maze. It’s not fair, and unless you have a lot of time to spare trying to figure out the correct way by numerous trials and errors, this one is going to see you gritting your teeth in frustration.
The artificial barrier here is the Fear points. You collect Fear points every time someone or something spooks you, and you will die of fright if your Fear Points hit or exceed the maximum limit. Since you have to pretty much explore the House a few times to even get an idea of the correct pattern of rooms to look into and the correct directions to turn, this means you have to make a few more runs than necessary because of the Fear points. Of course, you can always cheat and set your Fear to 100 because you are playing the character of Frohike the Lone Gunman on steroids, and I don’t blame you if you do this.
The final confrontation is pretty disappointing due to its anticlimactic nature. You’d think there would be a grand scene involving confrontations with cultists or something, but no, it’s not even close to that scale. All that build-up, frustration, and repetitive wandering lead up to that scene? Talk about an anticlimax.
On the bright side, House of Hell has the makings of a pretty good chilling campaign with plenty of the right atmosphere. It’s too bad that the author decides to muck things up and make the campaign even more frustrating and even tedious for the player by introducing plenty of artificial rules that restrict the dungeon crawl process. The player is already initially crippled by not knowing what or where he or she should do, and restricting the process of exploration by this artificial means ends up making what could have been a fabulous horror campaign a tedious and boring one.