Tuesday, September 20, 2016

VGR Michigan Report From Hell

A fun odd little horror game that was pretty different from the many other countless survival horror games there was on the PlayStation 2.

Flowers, sun, rain, some guy named Mondo and people killing the past? Time for a Suda51 game!

VGR: Michigan: Report from Hell also known as simply Michigan
From Grasshopper Manufacture/Spike/505 Game Street (EU)
Played on PS2
Also available on /

Type Survival horror/Found footage/Adventure game
Year August 2004

Before they became a lot more famous for their much more renowned Killer7 game, Goichi Suda, alias game creator Suda 51, and his studio Grasshopper Manufacture made a barely known little horror title called Michigan.

This was right off their couple of first games, the two Japan-only titles The Silver Case and Flower, Sun, and Rain. The developer was already known for experimenting with games and playing around with the medium.

Despite not having as much input on this game as the later titles, it's still very much a Grasshopper production. And the original idea is very much Suda's.

While the game would never get a release in the US, this was their first title released outside Japan, in Europe.

Played from the first person perspective of a cameraman, this is the closest we've ever seen of a horror/found footage film as gameplay mechanics!

Despite being titled Michigan, the story actually takes place in Chicago, Illinois! It's really titled Michigan because it takes place around Lake Michigan.. Confused already? Hey, it's a Suda game, what were you expecting?!

The story revolves a mysterious event - one day, a mysterious mist covered the entire city (very reminiscent of Silent Hill's Fog World)! The government is completely lost! And the weird fog's spreading pretty quickly across the city.

In this game you play as a nameless new cameraman that just joined the news crew of ZaKa TV. The crew is covering the events as they unfold in the city. You are accompanied by your boss, a sound engineer named Jean-Phillppe Brisco. On your first assignment you are following a news reporter, Pamela, investigating this weird fog. It appears to somehow mutate people into monsters, attacking and infecting all the ones not infested yet! Pamela is soon killed (you'll find her a few stages later!). So you join Brisco to meet a new reporter to look into this situation...

As the story progresses you walk around the city, going from the office of Debora Flair, the big boss of Zaka TV to a mall, the public library, the train station and all kinds of other places. Whenever you lose someone from the TV crew, the person gets replaced by another. Trying to shed some light on what is happening exactly.

It turns out it was some biological weapon that escaped from the hands of military scientists, let loose by accident. Now some high placed people are trying to keep things in control - and failing at it!

The crew tries to join the evacuation plan in the outskirts of town, at the airport.. and run into a lot more problems along the way...

Finally, while Brisco and the cameraman wait at the lighthouse in the epilogue, Brisco mutates!

In a post-credits scene the player finally gets to see the face of our cameraman revealed on screen! And it depends on how you played through the game... before he's suddenly killed by unseen people trying to keep things secret...

You play as this nameless cameraman, meaning the entire game's played through the point of view of the camera.

The gameplay can best be summarized as a found footage-playable game. It's a first person view complete with camera details on the HUD. You're always accompanied by the boom-operator Brisco and a reporter (except on the lighthouse stage at the end of the game).

The whole idea of the game is to explore your surroundings and interact by "tagging" elements of the scenery or the other characters to draw the attention of the reporter so she will interact with whatever you tag. You must be fast and scan the background quickly because she will continue walking around and talk as you play. If you're not fast enough you might miss interesting details or a secret door. It's all about timing if you don't wanna miss stuff.. or protect her from the various creatures lurking around that might cause her harm or even kill her!

There's no real Game Over... to a point. The cameraman character is able to die if a few rare occasions! And the only direct action you can do is a pretty weak "kick", to make a key fall from a closet for example, or distract a monster temporary. Only the reporter might carry a gun a couple of times depending on the situation. The kick doesn't really work much aside a few rare scenes.

You can run out of film (basically a "time limit" here), so you must solve mysteries and notice stuff pretty quickly. Once that time's out you can continue to play but only the plot will advance, it will be too late for additional elements (more on that below).

So, yes, in a way you are basically playing just a sidekick to the other main characters.

The entire game's based around filming interesting footage, pointing at stuff for the other characters and interacting to avoid monsters.
The idea is to find everything you can... or go look to very specific things depending how you want to play the game.
There are 3 types of events you can witness: "Suspense" shots, "Erotic" shots, or "Immoral" shots. It's what you can decide to focus on. Suspense is anything that is related to the plot and the mysterious mist, basically being a good reporter trying to figure out the events that happened in this town. Erotic shots happen whenever you go for pervy shots beneath the reporter's skirt or check out lewd stuff in the scenery. Immoral shots are for those that go looking for gory scenes, violence or just looking at the monsters.
There's a fun morality system that will reveal what the cameraman you've been playing as look like. For example if you were just "immoral" enough, but not too much, his name will even be given as Andy Steamboat and the cameraman as the one behind it all. And if you went for the erotic ending instead he will be named Teddie Snooker!
As long as you still have enough tape, you can earn points for any of these types. If you want to solve the mysteries in a stage you have to be quick!

While Brisco will never get hurt, the reporter might be killed! It's all about keeping her alive and making her notice stuff around. And it can be easy to not notice a spider crawling on the reporter's shoulder!

There are several reporters you can meet throughout the game. There's a Ann Anderson, a Carly Reis, Justine Rhoades, Paula Orton, and a dude (!) Mark Bockwinkle. After you get assigned your first reporter after the prologue, it's up to you to keep them alive! If any of them dies in a stage, the game will skip a bunch of of the next few stages and throw you at the beginning of the following chapter!! So you have to basically play the entire game with your first reporter if you want to play the entire game and not skip any stage! Well, aside from ex-ZaKa TV reporter Nina Valkov, who you get to play with for a small chapter in the woods before going back to your regular reporter the next stage.

Michigan is a lot of fun. It's pretty unique, for the genre. It does a lot of fun things with its TV station crew theme, like the whole camera HUD and typical TV loading screens.

Not even counting the fact you can skip over a bunch of stages whenever you kill your reporter, there is various alternate paths and chains of events you might trigger. And it's fun deciding the fate of the other reporters if you want to skip ahead. 

Michigan was actually directed by Akira Ueda, but still very much planned by Suda 51.

It's fun only getting to see your character once the story completed.

It's the only Grasshopper to actually play into this silly Japanese-style voyeurism than anything every since (although Killer Is Dead did had some elements as well).

A lot of the (original Japanese) game played around Japanese model Yinling of Joytoy (she also starred in the Ryu ga Gotoku games by Sega). Yinling was featured quite a lot in the promo material around the game, she's a secret hidden reporter you can unlock. She even has her own unlockable bonus stage AND a "dance" stage (which was ultimately completely removed from the European release). Once completely you can collect Yinling cards to get live photos of her. She even starred in a fun live action ads through the temporary ZaKa TV website at the time (and you probably can still find it on youtube. There, it's still online for now!).

Michigan is kind of a weird experience, in typical Suda fashion.

It's basically Grasshopper's B-movie. Actually, it's much closer to a Troma Films production, softcore angle and all that.

Playing off the passive point of view of a cameraman with limited control on what is happening around him. You can decide or refuse to interact with NPCs in a couple of rare occasions, if you want to save them or get to record their gory deaths.

As typically Japanese as this game sounds, it was strangely enough localized outside of Japan in a couple of places in Europe. Under the title Michigan Report From Hell, this low-budget horror game received a low-budget release! This port entirely handled by Italian company 505 Game Street was a very rushed job, containing various serious bugs including a broken options menu. And they took out Yinling! Even Suda ignored the game was released outside Japan!

The game can be pretty short.. but it's a fairly long experience if you go for the complete story. You must replay it several times to really unlock everything.

Finally a word on the music, by Masafumi Takada (and Jun Fukuda for a single track) it's completely inexistent! Aside from a few cues, it only really plays during the narration bits in between stages.

Overall, Michigan is closer to an adventure game, really. 

It's a pretty odd but fun little game from Grasshopper before they made a more mainstream name for themselves. It has a pretty original and good morality system.

The monsters do look pretty gruesome and creative. And it looks creepy enough, although the mist here has nothing on Silent Hill's fog.

In a way the Spanish horror films [REC] can be seen as a sort of spiritual successor to this game, even Suda himself recognized it was pretty much Michigan as a film.

Speaking of, Suda himself always hoped to revisit, or even remake, Michigan. Specially now that Grasshopper has grown into a more competent developer, they could refine the ideas first toyed with here...

I give it:
2 / 3 Necronomicons!

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