Hell is other people
On its surface, Michigan doesn’t appear to stand out from the crowd of survival horror games that infested the PlayStation 2. A mysterious virus is turning everybody into monsters and you have to fight to stay alive. However, this is a Grasshopper Manufacture title, a studio that likes to do things a bit differently.
Let’s start with the name. Michigan doesn’t take place in Michigan; all the action here is in Chicago. The title comes from Lake Michigan, where a plane crashed and appeared to start the outbreak. The game was never available for sale in Michigan, Chicago or any other place in the USA either. It only saw release in Japan in 2004 and Europe the following year.
Another unusual thing about Michigan is the way it plays. You’re a TV news cameraman recording reporters in the field trying to document the situation. Instead of direct interactions, you point your camera at things and “tag” them by clicking the X button. This indicates to the reporter that they need to do something. For example, if you tag a door knob, the reporter will open it. If you tag a monster, the reporter will (usually) shoot it. Occasionally, you are able to perform a shove action with L2, but it’s mainly just for opening things.
You also get points for camera activity. These are separated into three categories: suspense, immoral, and erotic. For suspense, an example would be finding a dead body. An immoral activity would be filming a reporter getting killed. When stumbling upon a pornography stash, you’ll receive erotic points (along with the sound of a woman moaning).
The depth of the game comes not only from the points system, but also your news team itself. If you let a reporter die, then a new reporter has to take their place. They all look different and have different names and personalities. So, depending on who lives or dies (and when they die), you can experience different events, explore new areas and hear distinct dialog on multiple playthroughs. Your sound man Brisco can’t die during the game, as he mostly seems to be around for comic relief. However, if you pay attention you can occasionally get some helpful advice from the man.
I know I may sound overwhelmingly positive about Michigan so far, but it definitely has some issues. For one, the dialog is ridiculously bad, and goes on for far too long. I actually enjoy the campy conversations, but they’re not for everyone. Ironically, despite all the dialog, there actually isn’t much of a plot or story revealed here; and a lot of obvious questions go unanswered. The graphics are serviceable, but don’t expect Silent Hill 2 quality. The puzzles aren’t exactly brilliant either and mostly just involve finding keys. Also, as I mentioned before, you don’t even get to actually perform the combat yourself; telling your reporter to shoot a gun for you isn’t really that fun.
So if you’re an old-school survival horror fan looking for something a little weird and different, then Michigan may be up your alley. However, you should probably first watch the video below just to make sure you can stomach it. Be warned, my emulator runs a bit slow — which has the delightful effect of making everyone sound severely inebriated. You may want to have a few drinks yourself before playing it.