GARAGE: Bad Trip starts off with great atmosphere and foreboding. You are in a parking garage in the boot of a crashed car. You limp away from the wreckage, wondering how you got there and who you are. All you know is that there is a fire and being underground seems like a bad idea. But the staircase and car ramp have collapsed. You head on down and a corpse jumps up and tries to bite you.
On paper, this sounds like pretty pedestrian horror fare, but Bad Trip does a good job of making you strain to listen for nearby enemies or be aware of what is around you all the time. Add in lo-fi graphics and a grungy VHS quality filter effect and suddenly the game rides this fine line between not knowing what you are looking at and not wanting to know what is on the floor there. Oh, it just moved!
Picking up a weapon or medkit or unlocking a door is normally enough to cause horrors to rush at you or corpses to jump to life, making you wary of everything all the time. Angry rats hide among the boxes you smash for ammo, waiting to eat you. In the beginning, most enemies can be dealt with by using melee attacks and moving away, but eventually, you will need to pick the right weapon for the job in a fight to save ammo while not losing health or dying. Keep your weapon trained at the door and wait for enemies to burst in, or find a long corridor to turn into a kill zone. Getting backed into a corner is a quick way to die, so is being caught reloading. They might be zombies, but slow is not a qualifier I would use for them.
Sadly GARAGE: Bad Trip loses a lot of its horror footing when the armed goons come into play, at which point it becomes a twitch reflex exercise reminiscent of combat in Hotline Miami. Except in Hotline Miami, you beat the enemies or die before quickly reloading from a checkpoint. Having a bad fight could result in being low on health packs or ammo and while you generally will find enough at the next checkpoint, getting there can become a pain. It is such a sudden jerk away from planning to deal with enemies or making sure you aren’t surrounded to fighting ranged enemies that suddenly shred your tiny health bar with a few well-fired shots. If you don’t mind twitchy gameplay that will sometimes involve a save reload or two as you work out where the enemies are lurking, then you will find it a fun change after dealing with zombies. If that sounds bothersome, you are not alone.
Besides twitchy gun combat, there is something else that reminds me of Hotline Miami. Drug use. Your character takes drugs at one point in the game to hear the hollow spaces in the walls, which you use to get out of a bind. The screen bends and waves and turns neon as you bash through tunnels in the walls, fighting rats as you go until you fight rats the size of a small car and vomit up whatever concoction you took. You also talk to someone who gives you instructions via a landline telephone by cutting the cable and keeping the handset with you. No jokes. For a while, I thought my character had just gone insane and was hallucinating help on the other end of the line.
You also talk to someone who gives you instructions via a landline telephone by cutting the cable and keeping the handset with you. No jokes.
As you move deeper into the garage you discover terrible corporate secrets, weapons testing and cover-ups. The setting is fascinating and the game drip-feeds information about the world via letters you find as you try to find a way out of this hellhole of undeath. It is hard to relate to the protagonist, a down and out drug dealer who only seems to care about his own skin, and an elusive militant that sends you on missions that nearly get you killed. The writing of their conversations often left we frustrated or cold and I never connected to either of them. Not feeling a connection to the main character makes the game lose a lot of its punch, but I continued to see the finish. After all the world building writing and the tongue in cheek jokes from the devs I find it disappointing, but understand that a lot of players are here for the twitchy fights and speed running gauntlets, which you unlock as you reach certain new locations in the game.
If you like a challenge, the gauntlets will keep you coming for more after the curtain falls on the four-hour long campaign. If you like B-grade horror movies, you need to visit the garage.