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Review of Hooked on You: A Dead by Daylight Dating Sim™

SubjectHooked on You: A Dead by Daylight Dating Sim™
Hooked on You: A Dead by Daylight Dating Sim™
ByHelpfulness: 6
Vote: 3.5
atavar on 2022-10-09
ReviewNot only do I have the dubious honour of being the first person to leave a review for an advergame tie-in, I need to preface this by stating that I have no knowledge of the greater Dead by Daylight franchise, lore, or related ephemera. Furthermore, this review came at the behest of a friend who bribed me into playing it with free chaomian; the noodles were great, the novel... Well, let's get cracking.

Lots of words ahead; for all my reviews, I leave a summary at the bottom. I will also be leaving a special 'Margarethe' rating, you know who you are. It is precisely the amount of fun I think you'd have with this, put into a number. For all non-Margarethes' out there, the reason I try to leave full reviews - words and all - is that I think you'll get a much better idea of why this one didn't work too well for me, and why it might or might not for you - I have always found that far more useful then an 'objective' number score that provides nothing. As always, spoilers will be marked, even for a short game like this.

~

From the very start, the production values of this were high - having waded through a near-endless sea of free and freemium made with Koikatsu/made with Honey Select games that my friends foist on me, actually getting back to 2D felt a bit like Nirvana. And the art and sound design immediately stand out as good, very good. I'll get to them in full later, but you get drawn into what the games wants you to get drawn into - a cool, groovy, laid-back vacation in the south Pacific.

Or, at least, that's what the environmental clues told me I was gonna be getting. Before I'd thrown on one of my jauntiest floral shirts, though, that was rudely interrupted by the narrator.

The beginning to the very end of the game has you talking with not one, but two narrative devices that just keep spewing dialogue at you. Hell, you'd be forgiven for thinking you're dating one or both of them. Because the tone of the game is - like so many big-name VN - afraid to give the self-insert any hint of personality at all, someone needs to provide observation that can't be done in art.

And that someone is either the Narrator or the Ocean.

I can't say I disliked either, at first - but as it became increasingly clear the game wanted me to date 'horror hotties,' and in fact most of the time I was going to be revisiting the same 'dry' 'witty' observations from either of these two mouth-breathers, you can probably imagine I was pretty sick of them by the end.

As an example; at multiple points, the Narrator talks about how 'degenerate' you are.

Who is the audience for this kind of game, I wonder?
Because the kind of person who - like me - hears that word and thinks an unwashed guy smelling faintly of his own piss, immediately wants to turn the game off whenever he hears it. And the kind of guy who chuckles at it, probably looks at this, cracks their neck from side to side, and goes - okay, you wanna play, where's the hard sex?

And, on realising that this miniature VN has all the bite of a puppy with it's teeth ripped out, and the comments are essentially a twelve-year old puffing their cheeks out and yelling 'MY FATHER IS VERY IMPORTANT ON 4-CHAN,' you can probably realise what I'm getting at.

The dialogue of the narration is bad. Not always; not even consistently.
But when it's bad, it's really bad, and it has no idea who it's aiming for. And you're not escaping the narration, and you can't speed through it quickly because there's only a 'faster button' you've got to hold, because the VN is made in fucking unity.

If, whoever is out there who keeps telling game-makers to make VN in unity, please rethink your life. I personally hate you.

There's no rollback (and hey, I understand why it's not always included! but for accessibility-aided readers it helps a lot, and for short VN there's no reason not to have it), the save system is bizarre, galleries are for chumps, and occasionally the game hangs. Ren'Py is right there. It isn't 2010, this isn't Shira Oka: Second Chances. The improvements we've made in making these games are there for reasons. Use them, unless there is a truly compelling reason not to.

And all of the above UI talk becomes unavoidably necessary before the story, or what passes for it, attempts to mangle it's way into our hearts.

I want to remind you - especially the review 'commissioner' - that I have zero knowledge of Dead by Daylight, so if I make any lore mistakes, mea culpa; I'm gonna include flex points in the objective scoring for precisely that reason. That said, I think even a tie-in game should be able to do itself justice on it's own merits...

... And for the most, Hooked on You does.

Honestly, if you remove the entirety of the narrative device, the four dates - called Killers in this one, because, well, they're Killers - are interesting enough in appearance, if not personality, to be a nice brief slice of time. The novel's incredibly short link works strongly in it's favour, because though the art for each Killer is really good, engaging, and fun, the writing would be awful and deeply in common with this game's polar-opposite-companion, Lessons in Love, if the game went on even an hour longer.

Actually, Hooked on You has a lot in common with Lessons in Love; both don't know who they're writing to, both are part of the new wave of VN that manage to piss off the old guard, whether we're looking for a quick eroge, something emotionally impactful, a deep story about a weird-ass house with meaningful queer themes, or that one VN about cicadas and the 80s.

Because this hobby has always been about words, in some part, and both VN bring in huge tertiary audiences who are enticed by the price of free and lots of content, or paid but it's directly related to their other interests; an effect that drowns and crowds out other VN, good VN from across the perspective - steals all the oxygen from the room like, well...

Killers, honestly.

And what do you get in return..?

Before going into the game's 'routes' - and the quotes are necessary, as they are pitifully short - there's one other character worth mentioning. Survivor, or Claudette/Dwight as it's called by the game. They have no personality, finish each other's sentences like the twins of Thermopylae, and appear to function as the world's worst scene transition. I'm sure they have some relevance to the greater game world as a whole, but I dreaded their appearance sucking any attempt at consistent writing out of the room like the world's blandest vaccum-cleaner.

The game absolutely refuses to let any scene go on too long. That is not always bad! Sometimes, that even helps keep the tone moving... But usually, in much longer games, not microgames like Hooked on You.

Regardless, you'll name your tabula rasa, go through the process of jamming down that 'fast-ish' key, see a volleyball, and start accruing points. Calling the routes 'routes' might be too much, as they share roughly 1/4th of the same content between them; I'm still calling them that, for ease of reading.

In the order I did them...

Trapper

Despite the fact I can't claim to be interested in guys, I had a secret reason for starting with Trapper; I'm also a trapper. Small-t, rabbits/hares, and I kind of hoped that'd be something we get to bond over. I forget that despite being a blank slate, these games adore not allowing you to ever fill that blank slate with your own interests or personality, and say - hey, I do the thing too. Wanna talk about it?

Also, Trapper just uses stock horror beartraps as far as I can tell, so he's not even really a Trapper. Big Meat Man with Machete is probably too much for a title, though.

He wasn't the worst place to start with. Trapper's route has some of the better subtle character nudges in the game. It takes 3/4th of the 'route' to get there, but I didn't hate that. The fact that I've struggled to find what to praise OR criticise here should nicely set the tone for the other routes. Yeesh.

Like eating raw unseasoned meat, Trapper's route is bland and flavourless but satisfies your night cravings after months of playing poorly done 3D model VN with no writing in them.

The idea that he isn't nearly as much of a dumb brick meat man as he appears made me pretty interested to see what happened when we started dating. When I realised that I'd hit the end of the game, I was absolutely howling with laughter.

The route consists of Trapper threatening to trap you/'trap' you, and never making good on it. I can actually feel my score decreasing as I revisit this, let's - move on, I guess?

Wraith

Easily my least favourite of the routes in the game. A good design and poses can't change the fact that, while he'd be fine as a protagonist - really, truly! A protagonist struggling to get over the emotional conveyor belt of crushing people to death in a junkyard, junking your boss, and then being... burnt alive? I guess? Unclear, I couldn't tell would be interesting and have more personality than flavourless McGee, our void-like main character (and the narration squad).

As a date though, this guy... Stand up for yourself. Nobody else is gonna do it for you. I think if he'd had time to develop why, he wouldn't feel like such an absolute disappointment. For anyone that thinks this kind of character is appealing, he's exactly the type in a GxB novel to turn out to be a psycho yandere who locks you in his bedroom and feeds you mushy porridge for the rest of the four hours remaining, and it's somehow considered a good end.

That is the vibe he gives off.

Which is a pity; at least in HIS route, Wraith TRIES to take a deeper look at the Island itself. That's something I wanted to play around with, and once again, the game shushes us and reminds us we aren't interested in that, we're interested in - whatever this is.

Spirit

I thought she was going to be my favourite route, but you end up feeling like a placeholder and not just because of her prior relationship(s?); I never got that she was interested in us at all; we're there, we're attractive, we have a brain. And though I'm fine with that kind of relationship, the fact that the other Killers really do seem to like us for who we are (a featureless amorphous blob of nothing) in their endings... It stands out.

On the plus side, shiiiing. But that raises a question we'll go over after covering the other route and some more design decisions.

Personality-wise, I felt like they couldn't decide whether to explore her personality - make it cool, but also kindly and not really into the whole 'Killer' thing, or just have her be an enigmatic ghost murderer who sometimes poses and mentions that she's a goth G F. Christ. I'd forgotten to mention how bad and 'hip' the dialogue can be. We'll get to that too.

When she was on fire, though, she was really good. Tells the best campfire stories, and I actually really liked the tone of her first one. It was more in line with the sexy HORROR vibes I thought I'd be getting, and I'd have liked this game a lot more if that was something that cropped up.

Huntress

... Honestly, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed her 'route' from start to finish. Without even mentioning the many Big Reasons to choose Huntress, her personality never stopped being 'bubbly, fun-loving, kinda sporty, and not-joking-about-snapping-your-spine-and-drinking-the-marrow' and THAT is what I thought we were here for? But because she starts off being approachable, you get more time to actually develop that then with, for example, Trapper.

What was annoying - similar to Trapper - is that the game constantly wheedles about how you can't possibly know what a shashka is - come the fuck on. My entire VN group is former CCCP, cut the shit. So, once again, when the writing was painful, it was very painful.

I actually felt pretty bad for her, too; I should have felt bad for the rest of the Killers, I think, but their stories were SO condensed and told SO rapidly, they almost didn't register. Because she never stops acting chirpy, the weight of it sunk in more, for me (and she gets the coveted second-best campfire story award).

Once again, I felt bad I couldn't talk about hunting with her; I get that most big-name commercial VN writers are scared about including hobbies far more then small-name VN writers, who'll talk about interests from the esoteric (maids) to the extremely specific (competitive rock climbing) openly. But once again, it would've been nice to share interests with her, and - nope, not happening.

trickster

Oh yeah, this guy was here. He spoke like a marketing rep, doesn't do anything of note, has the highest density of 'wacky random' jokes, and I would've loved to filet him from neck to navel, but alas, this isn't Hooked on You Become the Murderer Island, so, not happening. Actually, I take back everything I sad about Claudwight, this character is easily the worst, and interrupts you just as frequently. At least they had some narrative purpose; Trickster just steals valuable time from an already short, time-starved VN, and makes every scene he's in worse.

A mysterious end?

So, major spoilers ahead...

After successfully wooing every single Killer, the Narrator reveals it's also the Ocean, and both are the mysterious Entity, an Elder God(?) power that's been manipulating everything the entire time. My first thought was - wow, the Entity is kind of cute, can I date the Entity? I was pretty desperate for a serious route that focused on character, sex, ANYTHING by this point, so - just getting a pat on the back and told I was a real champ for making the Killers smile, now make sure to leave 10/10 on Lessons in Love, uh, Dead by Hooked on You, was...

This is bad for a lot of reasons. They're the character you spend the most time with, and putting aside my brain turning into slush above and wondering about a fifth route that wasn't to be, it's just - done. Thanks for playing.

It honestly made me lean back and reflect about these kinds of mass-appeal VN. I can't even imagine fans of Dead by Daylight being thrilled by this ending. The Entity talks right to you, the player, calling you a member of the team and basically telling you how important you are to the 'franchise'. I'm an old fart, it feels the same way every youtube channel, twitch stream, and - honestly - radio show has always felt. Like a parasocial asshole never referring to anyone by name, but using the most generic terms to make them all feel

'loved.'

And that wasn't the intent, I feel, the intent was to make them all feel 'loved.' Part of something bigger. And that just - didn't sit right with me. What is the audience for this game..?

I asked that, again and again. Kids? I know I would've played the shit out of Dead by Daylight if I'd had internet reliable and been young when it came out; and it would've been easy to get even under my skin and leave impressionable hooks on me.

But the writing is at once too obviously pandering to appeal to kids, and too crass (in an almost boring way) to really drag them in. This game won't hit niche h-game players, literati VN enjoyers, who the fuck is it for.

A game for nobody

When I replayed the game a few times - I haven't even talked about minigames, ah, MINIGAME singular, they're there, you HAVE to play them, they're awful - it just got worse. The reason I gave it a comparatively low, but not awful rating is also what stops it from slipping into being awful. It's super short; I read through the entire thing in maybe two hours, with an hour after devoted to content mining.

The only VN I've ever wanted my time back from is LiL; this is nowhere near that bad. But who is this for?

I think the answer came to me as I pondered something - it's hard for the Killers to kill you. I actually only died on my main playthrough once, and it didn't count because I had enough gold coins to reverse time, or some twee and non-logical thing.

But you know what you can do..?

Break their fucking hearts.

The 'bad' ends are interesting in that they're you, just being vicious to these killers. I almost felt like - while trying to remain 'objective' to the game itself - the writers were letting their frustrations out from work or crunch on an advergame tie-in, and the unknown and amorphous audience they were fishing for, hooks and all.

It worked pretty well. Huntress' was so cruel it actually made me stop for a moment.

All of them were hyperbolic; I can't call the writing or visuals effective. But they were effectively ugly, and made you seem like much more of a monster then the Killers you've been not-flirting with on such terribly short routes.

Honestly, I wouldn't have minded more of that, or rather more build up to it. As is, it came out of nowhere.

Hell, why are we on Murderer Island? Early on, I assumed WE were a Killer and was psyched to find out what sort of psycho we were. It would've helped the comedy, too; having Dwaydette truly stupidly Kenny-ing every day or so with a long-suffering sigh as us and our mates argued over the best way to go about it would've been actual humour instead of a reference or meme.

And it would've made the mysteries alluded to more interesting, the plot - even if short - more compelling.

The game as it stands, though, isn't about compelling. It isn't about much of anything, really.
You see those Killers? They're a mite sexy, yeah? You wanna shag 'em? But not, like, too much.
Yeah, right, you do you.

You get nice postcards, vaguely pin-up-y, after you beat a route's good end. But another thing that stuck with me, is - after every scene's Narrator pretends to be uncomfortable talking about sex - the writer actually uses euphemisms to describe what's going on, and when they aren't silly, it can even be a bit poetic.

Much like Lessons in Love, the fragments of a writer writing about things they want to write about are here, and it's almost tragic to see them buried under - in one case - massive rambling wordcount, and in this case, lack of confidence or hatred of the target(?) audience.

I think the writers probably could've written more, and to an older audience. I'm a little sad they didn't, just as I'm always sad when I have to say that a game isn't too hot.
Leaving a negative review isn't fun; people worked on this, and there are things in it that were pleasant. I remembered how much I miss the south Pacific, and got nostalgic for silly Killer dates that I'd never want outside of a VN, anyhow.

But in the end, I don't think I'll remember even that within a week, and that's the most damning thing I can say.

~

'Objective' pros/cons;

Cons:

* Writing quality is very poor, and extremely distrustful of itself; elements suggest a dislike for the assumed target audience, and having to write for them. Sometimes feels like a zoomer trying to cosplay a boomer trying to be a millennial trying to be 'cool.' Buzzwords.
* Game is short and without any real substance; you will repeat 1/4-to-1/2th of the content every playthrough, including arbitrary unskippable minigames.
* UI is awful; unity is a terrible platform for VN. Those who use Unity to make VN, let them depart, for they have no stomach for this.
* Very little time, in writing or art, is actually spent meaningfully with the Killers or any other interesting characters. No mysteries are examined, no plot is had, just a meaningless chain of 'random events.'
* No gallery. In this era. Why.
* Trickster.

Pros:

* Sometimes, albeit rarely, the writing actually is effective - intentionally and otherwise.
* Killers are fun and personable, and you'll probably find one whose appearance or vibes you'll like. They may have no substance, but they ARE stylish.
* Style in general is legitimately lovely. A lot of energy was put into the short game feeling like a tropical getaway, from the art to the sound design. Even if the latter uses Dead by Daylight effects or music, it fits the general feeling perfectly.
* I like getting a pin-up - sexy or not - after beating a route. In general, I think bonus writing or art after doing in-game stuff is a cool 'thanks for playing' and it always ups my feelings towards a VN a bit.
* Huntress is built like

~

'Subjective' score;

35/100; Originally, I was going to say 45/100, but its not quite good enough. However, I need to stress that I think for fans of the games - who might actually see a lot of stuff I missed! - this could go up to as far as 65/100; a fun, flawed little time-killer who is far too short to be aggravating.

My reasoning for the low score is that it was genuinely hard for me to think of things I liked or disliked, and when I solidified my feelings on what I disliked, a lot of them were the actual experience of playing the game.

I think, to the team, Psyop, I'd say - if you end up reading this, have more confidence. Crunch less, maybe play games that aren't your wheelhouse. Actual eroge, weird yuri romance, a Nitro+ Chiral game. Whatever. Just - play them. Understand why, regardless of our tastes, VN writers like VN. You can do that, too; you don't need to bring the field down, or work in it, if you don't actively like visual novels. You have the talent and design - I'd love to read an original novel from you lot, that you actually want to write.

Now, as a special bonus: the Margarethe score.

Fucking 20/100, trust me on this one you will hate it. The minigames alone were designed in a lab to make you angry. Don't.
6 points