Detroit police officer Lazarus Jones and his partner Anna Steele respond to a distress call emanating from Montsaye High School. On their entry to the derelict and abandoned school (rumoured to be haunted following a massacre that happened there a couple years ago), the partners split up, with Lazarus taking the low road and heading down towards the basement. There he stumbles upon a hidden lab, and when investigating one of the strange machines that populate the lab, accidentally activates the ghost containment unit – with disastrous consequences!
As the confined ghosts escape to freedom in a mad rush, one of the spirits collides with Lazarus, knocking him out cold, and when he finally comes to, finds that he is now blessed with a second sight, enabling him to see ghosts. But this isn’t the end of the story you see, the problem is someone now has to clean up the mess that Lazarus has made, and do it quickly. An evil entity from the past known only as Hawksmoor has big plans for this world of ours – and will stop at nothing to achieve his goals (and yes, it does include taking Lazarus’ partner hostage).
Armed with the latest anti-ghost weaponry and the help of a sarcastic computer AI, Lazarus Jones must now boldly step out, face his worst nightmares and’ hopefully not die trying.
Ghosthunter is a third-person action/shooter from the kind folks over at Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, and really flew pretty much under the international gamer radar when it was released back in 2003. What makes Ghosthunter unique for its time is the fact that it played very much unlike anything before it – both the game genre and the gameplay itself kind of straddles the norm. Simplistic puzzles that any child could figure out, a slow-moving (and some times frustrating) shooting system, but somehow much greater than the sum of its parts, thanks to a solid story, good humour, exceptional scripting, extraordinary atmosphere and sumptuous visuals.
The story itself is pretty much Ghostbusters stuff – in fact the game makes a few cheeky passes at the franchise, but the detailed plot line and great character lines, particularly from Lazarus Jones himself makes for an enjoyable, fun and disturbing ride all rolled into one. – As the story progresses you will be taken to very different and distorted locales, all creepy and all with their own twisted tale to tell.
The gameplay itself is pretty simplistic. You have a selection of guns at your disposal (some affecting corporeal bodies whilst others effect only ethereal bodies – you get to pick which one works on which foe) and wander around a fairly intuitive environment taking care of the baddies that pop out every now and then and then finally a big boss at the end of the level. The trick in defeating ghosts of course is that they can’t really be killed – meaning you are also armed with a ghost-capturing …grenade’ device (sound familiar?) which you need to toss at ghosts you are firing at upon. Once you have drained enough of their energy, the grenade captures them and returns to you. You can also use the grenade to grab health and ammo energy from the ghosts as well.
A little extra depth is thrown in via the Astral, the ghost who inhabits Lazarus’ body and which can be summoned at special points in the game. Once you pass over control to Astral you get to float around in a wavy astral form and usually need to solve one or two simplistic puzzles in order to open a route for Lazarus to move forward through.
The visuals in Ghosthunter are simply stunning to say the least, with very detailed environments and character models. Lazarus Jones is particularly well rendered and detailed but I fear that the price you pay for these high quality visuals is the loss of fluidity in the game play. The characters’ movement animations are smooth and particularly well done, but they are sluggish and the game feels very stiff, particularly in you had to compare it to a high pace action game like Devil May Cry, Ghosthunter or even Ratchet and Clank. That said, the game has almost no load times nor frame rate issues whatsoever, something quite amazing if you take a look at the visuals being presented. The cutscenes from Ghosthunter makes use of the in-game engine actually, but to be honest, you hardly notice it, which goes to show just how good the graphics engine really is.
The sound for the game is just as solidly presented, with good creepy background music, a slightly up-tempo track for the encounter sequences and great voice acting from the various voice actors used throughout the game. With a voice cast that features the likes of veteran voice actor Rob Paulsen (Terminator 2), Ali star Joe Morton, and famed British actor Sir Michael Gambon, the voice-acting aspect of the game is pretty much as close to flawless as you can get. Everything (even the cheesy, campy dialogue) blend together seamlessly to add to one of the most atmospheric games you will ever encounter.
Ghosthunter is a game that kind of sits in between genres – it isn’t scary enough that it will appeal to hardcore survival horror fans, but it is creepy enough not to come across as a fun, smile-filled kiddie ride. It isn’t seriously difficult and doesn’t present that much of a challenge. In fact, it doesn’t even offer much in terms of longetivity – it will probably only take you 8 or 9 hours to get through it. And once you’ve completed it, there is pretty much nothing to bring you back to it once again.
But despite all these looming drawbacks, Ghosthunter is an extremely enjoyable experience while it lasts. You’ll almost completely forgive its relative simplicity thanks to its excellent ambience, entertaining characters and well rounded storyline. – Simply said Ghosthunter is most definitely a game that any gamer would do well to sample. You’re probably going to enjoy the ride (though maybe not forgive the terribly weak ending I’m afraid) and this game should be pretty cheap to pick up on anyway.
Well worth it.
Related link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghosthunter