GHOST MASTER / Empire Interactive / PC

The concept of haunting a house to scare out the inhabitants is a pretty great one for a game, but I can only think of one other previous game that attempted it -- the rather obscure The Haunting Starring Polterguy for Sega Genesis. Ghost Master comes along and takes a tilt at the idea, but this time with more of a real-time-strategy sort of twist with a team of different spooks with different powers and moving between a variety of different environments scaring different types of people (rather than just endlessly terrorizing the same family like Polterguy did).

You can sort of think of the game as Scaring The Shit Out Of The Sims, as the gameplay engine is kinda similar (albeit with the ability to move and rotate in a full 360 degrees) and it uses a similar art style and similar "Sim Babble" speech for the characters you haunt. You move through different levels, haunting different environments such as a sorority house and an office building. The basic goal in each environment is just to drive the occupants' Terror or Madness level up so high with your scares that they flee the area. Of course, this requires some strategy. Each type of ghost can only be bound to certain objects and has their own range of scare types. Placement is key, as if occupants can flee to a place of safety that's free of scares, their Terror and Madness will gradually go back to normal. You also have only limited energy with which to place ghosts and use scares, and can only get more by keeping the occupants in a perpetual state of terror. As you go through the levels some added complexity is dribbled in, such as ghostbusters that can kill your ghosts when they find them, or secondary objectives like freeing a trapped spirit or directing all the occupants to find dead bodies stashed throughout the house.

That would make for enough of a strategy game by itself, but there's an even further layer of depth. Each of the occupants has their own bio that clues you in to what scares them the most, and the game's killer feature is a POV mode that allows you to see through the eyes of any occupant at any time and experience the scares firsthand (though their repetitive panting sound effect gets REALLY annoying).

This is all a great concept on paper and could have really worked well. Unfortunately, the game interface is somewhat cumbersome and slow and you'll struggle to keep up with the non-stop action without pausing constantly. The game is also complex enough that you'll probably want to play the tutorial level first, but they insisted on having every single game function explained to you by a really slow-talking woman instead of just giving you text to read, making it unbearable to wade through. The basics are easy enough to understand on your own, but levels that require you to free a spirit can require doing some really obscure or counter-intuitive things, and you'll probably get stuck on them if you haven't ground through the tutorial to understand how the finer points of the game engine work. Those levels felt unnecessary and had they just been excised, I think the overall product would have been better.

The strategy is unfortunately pretty limited as the levels are samey otherwise, and before you know it you've spooked your way through most of the game without much effort. It's a fairly simple grind of setting up small scares in sensible places to build up energy, then unleashing the grand Sedgewick Hotel-like finale to run everyone off. It's only made challenging by sometimes wrestling with the controls and having to solve obscure riddles to free a trapped spirit once in a while. I'd love to see someone return to this same concept and iron it out a bit, but this effort just didn't quite pull it off.

Videos :

* Gameplay Video