“Tank” controls, multiple keys hidden throughout an old and suspiciously empty mansion, every room change marked by a first-person cutscene through a door or down a ladder, memos and journals hinting at unsettling discoveries best left alone…
There’s even a part where you have to quickly duck into a small alcove to escape an incoming boulder.
But this isn’t yet another PlayStation-powered homage to Capcom’s potent horror formula—this isn’t a horror game at all. This is Doctor Hauzer, a self-described “mystery adventure” released on the 3DO in 1994, roughly two years after Alone in the Dark and two years before Resident Evil made its first trendsetting appearance.
As another housebound adventure sandwiched between two titans of that admittedly niche setting I thought I knew what I was about to play, and how it was going to look. I rushed straight into the game instead of actually reading the manual or checking the back of the box (I know, I know…) and marvelled at the cinematic angles used for the prerendered backgrounds, cleverly created in a particular style that made them blend in more effectively with the 3D main character and the interactive props around them. Of course the rooms would be flat images to walk over, because who would be brave/stupid enough to even think about creating a game like this out of polygons in 1994?
But no, these are true 3D places, and as if to prove it you’re free to switch between the default camera angles, an overhead view (very helpful when pushing/pulling objects), and first person modes at any time you like, in every single room in the game. You’re not stuck on the spot in these alternative views either, but free to turn in all directions, look up and down, move around as normal—and even run if you want to. You won’t do any of these things with great speed—the overhead camera view in particular causes the frame rate to plummet just because it has to show so much all at once—but as an adventure designed around investigating almost entirely static environments and mulling over the cryptic puzzles within Doctor Hauzer’s slow pace doesn’t feel like a problem, more a game content to offer a more methodical experience.
Even with all of this technical ambition, great care has been taken to ensure the game is still packed with as much personality as possible. Adams Adler, the playable journalist investigating the disappearance of the titular doctor, has a lot of character for a man with no one to talk to in a place determined to kill him off. He often comments on his new surroundings and unexpected events, and when the game switches to a close-up of his face his expressions are perfectly readable, graced with a fantastic hand-animated exaggeration that’s more than capable of breathing life into the pointiest of flat-shaded triangles.
The mansion itself feels equally alive, the seemingly abandoned setting possessing an extraordinary level of detail. Each room is distinct, possessing high quality textures and notable features that are unlikely to be found anywhere else in the game. It feels worn and used, rather than a mere walkable puzzle box. It’s not a realistic home by any means, but it does look like the perfect setting for a supernatural mystery, with just enough beds, sofas, and other boxy furnishings (sensibly, the game never tries to show anything that wouldn’t look good when made out of a bunch of triangles and stuck in a rectangular room) to make you wonder if their owner isn’t about to come around the corner at any moment…
They don’t though. In fact, nothing ever comes from around a corner at all. There are no enemies here, no concept of ammo or health. Adams is either completely fine or stone cold dead—and he’s often the latter. Examining some objects or even just walking through one particular door will instantly kill you, Doctor Hauzer frequently despatching its only living character with the sort of casual ease that’d make Shadow Tower blush.
However it’s well worth mentioning that these incidents only occur after you’ve taken a few steps forward in the very first room of the game—and probably been squashed flat by a falling chandelier for your thoughtlessness. It’s a harsh lesson but you never forget it, as it gives every death afterwards a “Well, we did try to warn you” tone, implying you could’ve been more cautious, you could’ve looked all around the room in first person mode and noticed the danger first, but you didn’t.
Keeping you from skimming the disc straight into the ocean at these setbacks is the ability to save almost anywhere as often as you like; the only exception seems to be rooms where you could unknowingly enter some sort of permanent fail state if you were able to save in them—after pushing something vital into a bottomless abyss, to give one example.
As fatal as Doctor Hauzer may often be, it’s not interested in being outright cruel. A musical sting accompanies almost every significant plot-progressing action, and many of the cinematic camera angles all but say “Hey, make sure you take a look at this, stupid”, clearly highlighting something of interest, sometimes before you’ve spotted it yourself. If you do press a button or activate a mysterious mechanism Adams will either comment on what’s just happened or the game will take a moment to switch to a short cutscene showing you the consequences of your curiosity.
Items are unfortunately more often than not hidden completely out of sight—there are no eye-catching sparkles here—but this disappointment is mitigated in part by some quietly competent map design. You’re never quite as far away from where you need to be as you may think, and moving between different areas is (relatively) quick, simple, and completely safe, so long as you don’t wander into an unsprung trap. There’s the size of the game to consider too—there just aren’t that many rooms for a vital item to hide in, and the furniture within these areas is naturally quite sparse. So while examining a dozen identical bookshelves for the one that’s got a book with a hidden key inside it may not be much fun, it’s also not an arduously long task either, not even for someone with all the patience of a tired toddler like myself.
I’m certain some rooms don’t even need to be solved at all, and some items didn’t appear to have any use, knowledge that would make any repeat run even shorter than my initial three hour playthrough. But their apparent lack of importance only adds to the mystery: what did I miss? What else could I have done here? What other strange death could I have inflicted on poor Adams?
Doctor Hauzer is an impressive game with a small, clear, goal that throws everything it has towards making the most polished version of its concise idea a reality. The game’s brevity is welcome and works entirely in its favour, preventing Doctor Hauzer from overstretching itself. Obtuse puzzles tied to an admittedly slim storyline would make for a very dull way to spend a week or two, but a single casual afternoon? That’s an intriguing mystery worth seeing through to the end.
[Ko-fi support made this article a reality. Please consider leaving a tip if you can, every last penny really does help!]
4 thoughts on “Doctor Hauzer: Is there a doctor in the Hauze[r]?”
Mansion-exploring fans were well-fed in the ’90s, huh? Thanks for this great write-up! The facial expressions are especially impressive in this for the time, doing as much as they can with those limited resources~
You couldn’t move for dusty old buildings back then! And thank you for reading too :D
I love hearing about games like this from less talked about consoles like the 3DO. Don’t think I’ve ever heard about this game and I’m intrigued by its lack of enemies and combat. Sounds like it might be a fun one to play with friends to laugh at the constant insta-deaths.
Comments are closed.