In 2003, Namco surprised quite of few of us with the excellent first-person action/adventure game Breakdown for the Xbox. Breakdown surprised us due to the fact that it finally made the adventure genre interesting again by really immersing the player in a world of conspiracies, aliens and freaky plotlines. Now we have Ghosthunter for the PlayStation 2, which on the surface aims to be as cool and innovative as Breakdown was, but in the end falls flat due to generic gameplay mechanics, a linear story and less-than-spooky level designs. Interestingly enough, even with these glaring faults, Ghosthunter turns out not to be a horrible game, but it’s just about average, at times it even gets interesting enough to keep you playing “just one more level.”
The story’s really not much to remark about. You start out as a cop who’s investigating a murder and suddenly his female partner is whisked away by what’s obviously a ghost. Pretty quickly you discover a lab that resembles the containment room in Ghostbusters, complete with tanks to hold ghosts. You hit a button, ghosts escape and the nightmare begins. Well, it’s not much of a nightmare, since really, the ghosts are very un-scary, as is 99.9% of this game. While they attempt to make it scary by making the worlds you visit creepy and crawly, it feels more like you’re wandering the Halloween section of the local Wal-Mart than actually exploring other ghostly realms. Anyhow, back to the story. You hit a button, ghosts escape, you get knocked out. You wake up, and this annoying AI starts talking to you about how it’s now your new gig to go track down the ghosts, get ’em back and save the day. You could care less, but the AI tells you that by capturing ghosts, you’ll probably find your now-missing partner. Woohoo! Let me tell you, I just couldn’t help but want to jump into the action after this great lead in!
Throughout the game, you get bounced around different ghost worlds via a Stargate-styled portal. Each world has a variety of puzzles and ghosts for you to deal with. Some puzzles are just plain stupid, like having to follow a little phantom around on his patrol. If you don’t stay stealthy, you can’t get anywhere in those levels, since the phantom has to open doors so you can get places. But if he sees you, he runs away. This leads to a lot of “oh dang! Spotted, back up, try again.” It gets old an unsatisfying very quickly. But there are other puzzles, of which I won’t speak (got to give you some reason to play this, right?) that give you more of a sense of accomplishment.
Once in a ghost world, you basically find clues and capture ghosts. In an homage to ghostbusters, you have a special grenade that ghosts, when sufficiently weakened, get sucked into. I know, I know, why is it called a grenade when it’s really a trap? Don’t look at me, I didn’t write the storyline. How to weaken a ghost? Well, you start out with a ghostly sniper rifle and ghostly machine gun, and you just blast away at ghosts with those until you weaken said ghost. Then you hit ’em with the grenade, and you’re done. Once a ghost is captured, some of its energy gets passed back to your ghostly guns to recharge them. Ghost can also leave health power ups behind. The combat is, as you can probably tell by now, generic and at times weird. Seems some ghosts can only be hurt with your ghost guns, while you can whack others with a standard shotgun or pistol. No sense at all in my book. After all, our hero Lazarus is fighting on a ghostly plane, so how is it possible that you can go “Sopranos” on a chainsaw wielding ghost on its own turf?
Giving credit where it’s due, the sounds and visuals are very good. The visuals for Lazarus are given an especially nice treatment. While he looks lame and blocky at the game’s start, once he’s donned his ghost hunter garb, he looks significantly better. Weapons and ghosts are likewise nicely treated, though the environments are bland with a capital “B”. Since the maps require seemingly hours of running around trying to find a door or ladder (and rarely running into any cool ghosts), the limited color palette and lack of much creativity in environmental designs makes this a tiring and tedious chore. In the beginning of the game, the sounds really lend an eerie air to the game, until you realize that while you’re hearing dozens of uber-spooky “save me” and “help me” chants, there’s nothing to be afraid of. Ghosts sound ok, but nothing amazing, though the voice acting for Lazarus (who’s a bit of a whiner in my book) and other characters is strong.
The level designs in Ghost Hunter suffer from the problem of tireless running. The maps themselves are fairly clever, with lots of twists, turns and hidden tunnels to keep you on your toes, but for most of the game, you’re just running between areas. On occasion you whack a ghost or two, but then it’s back to running. And for some reason, Lazarus’ idea of running is a crawl for the rest of us. So, you’ve got huge level maps that you have to cross at about 1 mph. Top it off with the slowness of Astral a female spirit Lazarus can command to move into places a solid person can’t, and you’re walking in syrup through most of the levels.
So here’s where it gets weird – even with the seeming laundry list of complaints I have about this game, I still kind of enjoyed it. There’s a certain sense of accomplishment that comes from solving the tougher puzzles. And even though the pace of the game is quite slow, you find that it’s nice to be given a break from the “hurry or die” mentality of most other titles. Taken as a whole, however, Ghost Hunter for the PlayStation 2 ranks about average in my book.
- Gameplay: 6.8
- Ghostbusting action meets Dragon’s Lair linearity.
- Graphics: 7.5
- Great character models, so-so environments
- Sound: 7.5
- Great sound that could’ve been used a lot better
- Replay: 5.5
- The gameplay isn’t compelling enough to make you want another go-round with this game
- Overall: 7
- A good rental
— Craig Falstaff