Summary: If there's somethin' strange in your neighborhood
Who ya gonna call (ghost master!)
If it's somethin' weird an' it won't look good
Who ya gonna call (ghost master!)
I ain't afraid of no ghost
What kind of game is this?
Ghost Master is one of those games that defies classification. Depending how you look at it, it’s an RTS, a puzzle game, or just without a genre. It has elements that can at times resemble the Sims, Dungeon Keeper and Majesty. What is it exactly? What keeps me coming back to play it even though at no particular moment can I ever recall feeling a rush? Good questions all.
The whole idea in Ghost Master is to haunt places and meet challenges in those places. Most often, it’s simply a matter of cleaning up the unwanted mortal presence in those areas. As is befitting a game of this style, there’s a certain campy humor to it all but it is never overt and it never falls flat on its face by trying too hard. The humor is more in the setting and background style, rather than an active attempt at making a player laugh. It suggests, and succeeds in making the game a light-hearted experience.
A play session
Ghost Master can’t simply be reviewed, it has to be described to help place criticisms in context. Typically a review can get by only with supporting points, but this game is different enough to require the full play-by-play.
Ghosts come in a wild variety of types and have an incredible array of powers. Many of these powers are shared, but vary in magnitude. A powerful specter has a more devastating Spark than a gremlin. The ghosts themselves are actual characters rather than units. You start with a few but must unlock others. Unlocking the ghosts is often a puzzle – a specific task or situation must be achieved.
Ghosts are also picky. They have fetters that they become bound to, and these are very specific. Some are easily found, like the indoors or water, while others like murder, sleep or children are hard to find. Once a ghost is bound to a fetter, he’s there until you move him, release him or allow him to roam with a behavior command. As ghosts are used more often, they become trained and can use more complex commands. Once a ghost is in place, the player simply needs to determine what power level the ghost can use and the ghost will do his duty, affecting his specific area or room.
SIDEBAR: I’m probably the only Canadian who doesn’t know why every DJ and VJ in existence can’t stand Matthew Good.
Tom Chick hates fun
The key to Ghost Master is to realize it’s a puzzle game about influence. There are really very few ways to lose, the challenge is in beating the challenge times or freeing the ‘restless spirits’ that are permanently bound to their fetters, and adding them to your collection. To do so, you need to figure out a particular map, learn the habits of the human herd and their weaknesses.
Each human has a conscious and subconscious fear. Any unnatural activity scares humans, but attacking their fears is particularly effective. Typically you settle for driving a human away, however, to get the big points it helps driving them insane. As with any good puzzle game, Ghost Master rewards you with points. Like a truly great one however, these points are turned into gold plasma coins, which you can use to purchase new abilities for your ghosts.
There are other challenges than merely scaring away the human infestation. You may be asked to herd them to a specific spot, guide them into a task, or to scare a specific human. Most humans are completely harmless, but there the ones out there who can banish your ghosts. They can be cheap psychic mediums or ‘Ghostrakers’ (think: Ghostbusters). They’re more vulnerable to your scares because of their initial high belief rating, but can purge a room very quickly. Sometimes the player may get a flashing yellow exclamation mark warning over his ghost’s icon indicating that the ghost is near being spotted, but when the red exclamation mark of banishment appears, it’s all but over.
Aside from the rather quick binding and rebinding that becomes necessary to achieve a fast score or to avoid banishment, Ghost Master can be a rather static experience. For the most part, the ghosts just sit there, firing off their powers whenever the feel like it or whenever your commands specify. The player spends his time looking through the house for restless spirits to free and recruit, and to observe where the humans are going to.
The variety of powers is quite vast, but the effects aren’t all that impressive. Sparks, wavy lines, blood or water coming down from the walls or at best false fire will light a human up. The end result is always the same – the human runs away temporarily to regain their confidence, and then comes back for more. Eventually he’s had enough and goes away for good. When presented in this fashion, Ghost Master hardly seems fun – but then again, if you read about Puzzle Fighter Turbo, it wouldn’t sound too hot either. But when it comes down to beating that damn challenge time... it’s too hard to say no.
SIDEBAR: In the Transformers movie, Galvatron says ‘Coronation, Starscream? This is bad comedy.’ That’s actually a Shakespeare reference. I like that quote more than Spike’s ‘Oh shit, what do we do now?’ when Moon Base 2 bites the dust.
Graphics and Sound
Ghost Master is designed as an Xbox/PC game, so we didn’t expect the fanciest of graphics and our suspicions were confirmed. Ghost Master does, however, make the best of what it has. The haunting locations are designed splendidly, as if a real architect was involved. Houses are laid out in a natural fashion and are populated with furniture in a typical fashion. There may not be enough electronic objects as there are in a real house, but this seems to be mostly a balance issue to keep ghosts with electrical fetters at least somewhat restricted.
Animations of characters and ghosts are smooth and generally believable but sorely lack variety. There are clearly missing features that could have been implemented. A human who was scared out of the house and is walking back in will only occasionally tip-toe, and they don’t sneak enough. There’s no peering around corners or other more subtle behaviors that indicate unrest. Humans will react to many things the way you’d expect them to – strange, subtle smells or odd but non-threatening noises will draw them in like moths to a flame.
Sound effects are mostly of background importance. They lend atmosphere to the game but aren’t of primary importance. There is an English-speaking narrator but the characters mostly speak Sims-esque nonsense with what seems to be an occasional word of English thrown in that helps give the player a gist of meaning. The most important ideas can be found in floating bubbles over the character’s heads, which should go over great with Sims players used to translating Wrightian hieroglyphics.
The interface is absolutely remarkable for the simple fact that it works perfectly with the PC and has absolutely no console stink left on it. Considering the problems that so many other ported or simultaneously developed console and PC games have, this is quite an achievement.
It’s not perfect, of course – it’s particularly annoying to hear a restless spirit’s story every time you click it on the screen rather than its icon, but that’s an example of the small nitpicks that take away from a generally clean design. Your ghosts are listed on the left side of the screen, the mortals on the right and your available plasma up top. The terror, madness and belief ratings of each mortal are readily available and the game offers gratuitous but fun ‘view’ and ‘POV’ modes which either track a character in cinematic mode or switch to first-person mode, complete with breathing pattern and a heartbeat. Did I say gratuitous? Make that wonderfully gratuitous. Walking into a high-level terror that pulls a Spooky Surprise power, while in first-person mode, then hearing the heart pounding immediately after is remarkably gratifying.
SIDEBAR: The Tim Horton’s Iced Cap is way, way better than any Frappuccino that Starbucks can make.
Graphics & Sound
Much like the style of the game, they never really wow you, but do a rock solid job of presenting the game world.
It’s simple but addictive. The challenges made by the make help the player form his own challenges, like herding people around or creating storms for an extra haunting atmosphere. It also offers a lot of replay value, for those wanting every ghost and trying to beat the best score.
Lack of action
SIDEBAR: Weasels can give interviews about marketing.
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Such ambiguous words from Herr Jakub. Our Nazi-esque reviewer’s heart is going soft, or maybe it’s his head. So how would you like to spook the stuffing out of the inhabitants of a house? Or play hide-and-spook with a Ghostbus… er… Ghostraker? Let us know! Be proud say it out loud and Sound Off! in the news comments!
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