Saturday, October 14, 2000

Haunting Grounds Ps2 review | 9.0

Oh, my. What an emotionally exhausting but brilliant game. It has a heart, albeit twisted, that is sorely lacking from most survival horror titles coming out these days. In a gaming world filled with tired knockoffs, "Haunting Ground" works sort of as an amalgamation of the best elements from "Resident Evil", the "Clocktower" series, and "Silent Hill", all put against the backdrop of an eerie, gothic European castle with about a million rooms, but surprisingly few places to hide.

While I absolutely love the "Fatal Frame" series and greatly enjoyed the fight-or-flight nature of "Clocktower 3", I wasn't prepared for the serious test of my brainpower that "Haunting Ground" was going to administer. The former titles had a tendency to give you at least somewhat discernible clues about what to do next, whereas "Haunting Ground" plays out much more like real life would (i.e. "figure it out, stupid"). I'm ashamed to say that I had to consult a couple of internet walkthroughs to even be able to conceive of what to do next. The clues you're given in this game are going to be very cryptic and you will get lost on quite a few occasions in an attempt to find a new door, a new item, ANYTHING. If you're looking for a game to spoon-feed you answers, this is NOT THE ONE!

Some players might prefer this approach, however, so if you're a great puzzle-solver and even a little bit of a poet, you should have great fun with this title.

The enemies held my attention more and were certainly more imposing than those in "Clocktower 3", the release that "Haunting Ground" comes closest to mimicking. You go through four enemies in this game, and each one is faster and smarter than the last. First, you're going to be pursued by Debilitas, a strangely-lovable, Quasimodo-esque groundskeeper. Then you're stuck with the the emotionless, calculating maid, Daniella, followed by a hooded clone with a revolver (luckily, he's not a terribly good shot). Finally, you must face an alchemist attempting to come across the formula for eternal life. The final boss starts out as an empty husk of a man, withering with age in his antique wheelchair, and then somehow ends up being about 24 years old...and a real looker, at that. I had to pause and seriously think about it for a moment once he tried to tempt Fiona into giving birth to his child. If only he weren't such a malicious, psychotic, self-centered beast of a human being, he might have made for a fun evening.

If I recall correctly, in "Clocktower 3", your last four enemies were an anime-looking freak wielding two swords, two murderous mime twins who were more funny than scary, and a British nobleman.


So...basically, if you enjoyed the first two levels of "Clocktower 3", bathed in their somber palette of grays and browns, with enemies that actually seemed as if they were--gasp!--designed to SCARE you, check this title out. If you were more impressed by the goofy villains and colorful landscapes that took place after those first two levels, well, maybe you should steer clear of this one.

But what review of "Haunting Ground" would be complete without me mentioning that Hewie is the star of the show! His animation is detailed and true to life, and his artificial intelligence is perfect. I'm used to the incredibly stupid A.I. of the guards in games like "Tenchu", so when I met Hewie, I was pleasantly surprised that he acted like a real, breathing organism instead of a computer. He's certainly a smart little pup, but of course he's cursed with that infamous doggy A.D.D. that will have dog owners everywhere nodding their heads in familiarity. When you tell him to do something, you've got a 50/50 chance of him obeying and doing what you say instead of sniffing around or lying down on the ground and looking sweetly up at you while wagging his big, shaggy tail. It's both charming and annoying all at once. You know, sort of like owning an actual dog.

As has been mentioned by other reviewers, if you foster a good relationship with your canine companion, it will affect the outcome of the game. So if you haven't given him some attention in a while and there's no imminent danger present, it's not a bad idea to crouch and play a nice game of "shake" with him, or just rub behind his ears and tell him he's a good boy. He'll appreciate it, and believe me, you will also appreciate it when he returns the favors by attacking your pursuers while you're panicking and crashing into everything like a spaz. And though I don't like using it, it's also a good idea to scold him when he doesn't listen to you, otherwise he will get lax and start to ignore you. Oh, and if you possibly can, avoid kicking the poor guy if you're trying to help him beat up on an assailant. I slipped and accidentally got him in the ribs once or twice while aiming for the attacker, and hearing his yelp of confusion felt awful... I know, I know! He's not a real dog, but augh... you know.

So, in short (after an incredibly long review, anyway), "Haunting Ground" is a very proud addition to the survival horror genre. It's effectively creepy, and with an unsettling sexual obsessiveness that I feel female players in particular will find incredibly unnerving. Most games these days try desperately to shock only to fall flat on their proverbial faces--*cough*Manhunt*cough*--but I don't believe this to be the case here. This is a genuinely gross and weird game. Had it not been for Hewie's spirited and lighthearted presence, it would have been much harder to tolerate on an emotional level.

When I bought my copy, the guy at EBGames told me that this title has actually already been discontinued, so it's rare to find an unused one nowadays. In stores, anyway. Here at Amazon, I doubt the tide of willing sellers will ebb. But still, who knows, within another year or a few more months even, it might get difficult to find a used copy. So if you're thinking of checking this title out, you might want to do it relatively soon!

No comments :