Continuing along its gothic path, Sony Cambridge offers Ghosthunter - but are we sleeping with the light on for the wrong reasons?
Sony Cambridge Studio
Adventure / Horror
Ghosthunter is a title we've been following very closely since its unveiling earlier this year, because it really looked promising - especially when we sat down with the developers at E3 for an impressive demonstration. We had high hopes when the final version arrived. So what's the result of Sony Cambridge's latest effort?
The story begins when rookie cop Lazarus Jones and his new partner Anna Steel are called to investigate strange goings on in an abandoned school. Inevitably, Lazarus stumbles upon a secret lab under the school where he finds the "Array" - a ghost containment unit with a very convenient large red button on the front. Unable to resist, Lazarus presses it, releasing all the captured ghosts from inside.
Amidst the madness, one of the escaped spirits named Astral bonds with him, which enables him to see, and more importantly, fight the ghosts. As well as run of the mill ghosts that escape, something truly evil is unleashed, Hawksmoor. Baring an uncanny resemblance to the villain from Ghostbusters 2 Hawksmoor takes advantage of the situation by kidnapping Steel and rallying his former troops to mount a war against humanity. From here Lazarus must utilise not only the weaponry he finds in the lab, but also the new powers he receives from his bonding with Astral to battle through the hordes of ghosts, save his partner and stop Hawksmoor.
Unfortunately the horror element is never fully realized; the developers seem to have followed the textbook guide on how to scare people right down to the rattling chains, but somewhere along the line the game became bloated with unnecessary humour. Wise cracks and comedy ghosts succeed in lightening the mood so much you are often too busy smiling to be scared by any spooky goings on around you.
Sure, you can expect to jump out of your seat a few times as a chainsaw wielding beast warps in and pounces on you, but other than that all you have to fear is dying in an unbalanced fight and having to start from your last save point. The unfortunate fact is that Ghosthunter, with all it's potential to be a truly frightening game, ends up as not much more than an entertaining adventure with horror themes. Don't get me wrong, it's far from an all-out comedy, but try to think of it like a Buffy: The Vampire Slayer style TV show: you have your cool-looking protagonist fighting evil always with something witty to say in the face of death, some episodes are comedies and some episodes are serious, but it's got to be suitable younger audiences too.
Gameplay wise, Ghosthunter bares a lot of similarities with SCEE Cambridge's last game Primal. It suffers from an under-developed combat system, which is unfortunate when you realise you have to spend almost half your time in the game battling ghosts. Picture the scene: you're faced with a huge hulking beast known as a Revenant charging towards you, you draw your gun and start firing, but you can only walk with your gun drawn so you have the choice of running away or standing to fight. I'd like to stand and fight, but that means I'm going to get hit, there are no rolls or dodges just a frustratingly paced walk, in fact you'll find all your fights to be a mix of moving slowly left, right, forward or back while repeatedly hammering your fire button to take the ghost down before he gets to you.
However, there are some quite unique and fun elements to the combat as you'll find when you first encounter a ghost. On first contact you have to tag your foe with your trap grenade, a discus like trap that lodges itself inside the ghost and displays the enemy's health while you fight, so once the health drops to zero the weakened ghost is sucked into the trap in an impressive audio visual display.
Another main gameplay element is the character swapping between Lazarus and Astral, which again is very similar to Primal. As Lazarus you utilize his human skills, which include combat and interaction with solid objects, as Astral you are able to take advantage of ghost abilities such as possession, flight and invisibility. Often you will find that Lazarus does the fighting and Astral solves the puzzles by going where Lazarus can't.
Puzzles play a main role in Ghosthunter, but you'll rarely find yourself in a situation where you don't know what to do next, thanks to the often psychic abilities of Lazarus. One puzzle that comes to mind was so hidden from my attention it was left to Lazarus to tell me what to do. I walked in to a large dilapidated dinning hall with pictures all around the walls, but one picture in particular had two small sections torn off, I didn't think that was anything important until Lazarus said "Hey I better find those missing pieces". How he knew that he had to find the pieces is a mystery to me, but throughout the whole game he continues to suggest information he could never know. Apart from making no sense this unneeded element takes a substantial layer of challenge away from the game; it becomes nothing more than a do-what-you're-told adventure.
Probably the most impressive element of Ghosthunter is the audio, the combined music, sound effects and voice make the game shine brightly in a sea of under developed PS2 titles. Throughout the game you experience a range of ambient, spooky and pulse pounding tunes, your first trip to the swamps will introduce you to one of the best audio tracks in the game that will have you standing around just to listen. The sound effects range from rattling chains to tormented screams and turn out to be some of the few truly scary things you'll experience throughout your adventure. As if the audio department hadn't worked hard enough already, they continued on to recruit some very talented voice actors from the world of movies and games including Joe Morton (Terminator 2) and Rob Paulsen (Final Fantasy X-2, Powerpuff Girls) who add a great level professional quality to the game. One day all game companies will put this much effort into their audio presentation.
Playing Ghosthunter you'll probably realise some of the similarities it bares to various movies, not all of the horror genre, whether it be locations such as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre house, Alcatraz Prison from The Rock or even character similarities such as Brad Pitt's role in the movie Seven. Such tributes will pop up quite frequently as you play to the point where you may even forget what game you're playing. Just remember, no matter what, it isn't Ghostbusters!
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|Ghosthunter Official trailer - direct feed, hi-resolution||1.20min||9.95MB||WMV|
High-quality video footage of the cool Ghosthunter trailer.
High-quality gameplay video, with game features explained by the developers at Sony's Cambridge Studios.