Review by Old
At my age, one thinks about the afterlife. Having been a civil
servant most of my working career, it's not a far cry (or howl)
to believe that I may find my heavenly(?) self in charge of teams
of ghostsspecters, banshees, ghouls and spiritsall with
the goal of frightening my former earthly human companions. If you're
in the mood for a really different game, have a twisted sense of
humor, and enjoy horror films, then Ghost Master may be the
game for you.
Let's dispel one misconception right away, though. Many who have
not played GM view it as an adventure title. That's not the
case, I'm afraid. GM is primarily a real-time strategy game,
with strong simulation overtones, and some RPG components. It's
Ghostbusters (or "Peoplebusters," really) meets
The Sims. One might think of GM as "haunting
management." It's original, creative, funny and graphically
lovely; but it's not an adventure.
Ghost Master comes to us from Sick Puppies, a British development
house. In doing a little research, we find that one Gregg Barnett
is not only responsible for this inventive title, but also had a
major hand in all three Discworld games! I may be a bit biased,
with my English wife, but I do feel that, except for peculiar spelling,
the English have a wonderful talent for subtle and off-the-wall
humor (or humour). Given GM, I'm very much anticipating further
products from Barnett and company.
Haunter Committee Handbook
The presentation of Ghost Master, from the 39-page manual
to basic design and interface is excellently done. Clearly, time,
patience and care were "exorcised" (get it?) with game
production. It installed (750 MB) and ran smoothly on my moderate
1.8 GHz, nVidia 3 system.
As mentioned, the basic premise of GM is simply to scare
the living daylights out of the poor, unsuspecting denizens of Gravenville.
You'll employ about 50 ghosts of various types and descriptions,
using 130 powers, all within 15 levels set across 12 different locations.
This is a game where the manual needs to be read and the fine tutorial
taken seriously. It's tough, and very different, if you don't play
many real-time strategy titles.
In each of the locations, you begin with a recommended team of
spirits, or a group selected by you. Your goal is typically to frighten
the characterswhether in a sorority house (I used to frighten
them just by showing up), police station, hospital or barnyard ("Poultrygeist").
As nicely outlined in "Twenty Steps to Easy Haunting,"
your individual ghosts need to be "fettered," or bound
to a specific place within the location in order to do their ghostly
work. They also need "plasm," or energy; this energy being
increased by successful haunting, thereby giving them more power.
The particular mortals who are your targets have varying degrees
of weaknesstermed as Terror, Belief, and Madnessall
colorfully depicted on the interface. So, to sum up, much like some
of the Rainbow Six kind of titles, you need to select a squad,
trying to tailor it to your particular destination and goals, being
watchful of the squad's health (plasm) along the way. As you may
guess, there is considerable replay opportunity available, given
the multitude of ghosts eventually available (not all are there
up front), and once all of the levels are opened. In addition, some
missions have extra puzzle elements and challenges, such as finding
two hidden corpsesnice stuff like that.
The range of locations, as well as names, are inventive and highly
entertaining. We have Spooky Hollow, where you try to create rain,
winds and thunder; the Blair Wisp Project; the Unusual Suspects,
set in a police station; the Calamityville Horror; the Phantom of
the Operating Room; and What Lies Over the Cuckoo's Nest, just to
name a few.
Within each setting, you'll find little Sims-type people,
going about their routines, not suspecting the horrors you're plotting.
Once members of your team are in place, the fun begins. To some
extent, you can sit back and watch, but there is also a need to
exercise some degree of management.
The graphics are all in 3D, with special effects from your ghosts
providing the highlights. Unleashing spider hordes, controlling
mortals like a puppet, creating storms inside a room, making walls
bleedall are beautifully enacted. Further, the house, for
example, can be rotated completely, with each floor examined in
detail using a zoom feature. Indeed, a la Dungeon Keeper,
the camera can even enter the character of the spook or victim,
showing you what he sees in grisly detail.
As evident from mission titles, homage is paid to classic films,
horror and otherwise. This homage is also evident with the incredible
music and sound effects. From the title screen to the missions themselves,
one can't help but smile, remember, and be properly inspired by
the aural quality of Ghost Master.
Ghost Master is unique, creative, colorful, challenging,
and a good deal of plain old fun. If you've ever wanted to enter
the puerile world of your Sims with a team of bizarre spirits,
then this is the game for you. If you're up for a hard, but satisfying,
puzzle/strategy mission objective game, Ghost Master should
fit the bill. Heck, it gets "10 extra points" just for
being so weird and different!
My raves don't lead me, though, to award a coveted Gold Star. Although
the settings are different, and ghosts/powers are considerably varied,
there is still a redundancy that sets in after three or so "exorcises."
The game engine is terrific, yet I wish there was more of a story
or adventure involved. Considerable discussion is evident on GM
fan sites regarding more missions or add-ons in the future,
but nothing is yet in the works. To some extent, the game may be
the beginning of a work in progress, but it is also very possible
that this will be all we see of Ghastly, Shivers, Weather Witch,
Electroplasm, and all of the other ghostly fiends and friends we
made during our tour of Gravenville.
Developer: Sick Puppies
Release Date: August 2003 (PC); November 2003 (Xbox)
Four Fat Chicks Links
PIII 450 MHz (PIV 1.5 GHz recommended)
128 MB RAM (256 MB recommended)
16 MB video card (32 MB recommended)
Where to Find It
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