The Haunted: Hell's Reach is one of those developer Cinderella stories that the industry occasionally produces: tiny developer KTX Software won a contest in which their Unreal engine powered game would get a publishing deal with THQ through their budget ValuSoft line. Recognition would be had, money would be made, and KTX Software could enjoy their meteoric rise to stardom.
Well, at least they would if The Haunted: Hell's Reach wasn't terrible.
Let's get the positive out of the way first: Haunted's gore is some of the splashiest, spurtiest, squishiest violence that you'll find in a game. It may not eclipse the anus-ripping, jaw-snapping trashiness of Splatterhouse (still my gold standard for game-based gore), but the gouts of blood that erupt from your foes—and yourself, when you're not lucky—are ridiculous and repulsive. A well-placed headshot turns an enemy's neck into a visceral volcano, spraying blood, brain, and bone in a gruesome geyser that left me in tittering stitches. It's psychotic and satisfying.
Unfortunately, once you look past the homicidal entertainment value of the blood and gore, you realize that Haunted is not much fun at all. The gameplay format is eerily similar to Resident Evil 5's Mercenaries mode, with up to four players cooperatively taking on waves of enemies in a variety of locales. Once you grind through enough of the cookie-cutter enemies (who look plagiarized, yet inferior, to the designs from Tripwire Interactive's superior Killing Floor), you'll face off against a mediocre boss. It's stunningly bland for being a game about the mass slaughter of demons.
Compounding the blandness of the waves of enemies is the absurd rate at which they spawn. Areas that you've just recently cleared out quickly become mob scenes in the blink of an eye, repopulated by dozens of the same enemy (usually the generic melee zombie in black bike shorts) eager to soak up what little ammo the game gives you in an exercise in frustration. These sorts of massive enemy swarms work well in old-school shooter games like Serious Sam because you can shoot from the hip with success, whereas Haunted uses a typical post-RE4 aim-before-shooting mechanic that can be harrowing in small doses, but the constant waves of rotting flesh that the game pummels you with make it a dreary outcome regardless. Even played with friends it's a boring, grinding mess.
I honestly feel bad writing such negative things about this game. It's clear, in spite of the amateurish voice acting, threadbare production values, and bone-dry design of Haunted that it was a labor of love for KTX Software. They tried to make a set of fun levels, they tried to entertain us with over-the-top gore, they tried to make a game that we would love to play. They had good intentions…
Sadly, but appropriately, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
The Haunted: Hell's Reach is available on PC for $19.99.