If there's somethin' strange, in your PS2...
GR is no stranger to the paranormal. One time, the alien skull above Ben's desk began floating around the room, spouting off about how someone really needed to remakeMutant League Football. Or maybe that was just Ben. Then there was the time one of Shawn'sdisgusting McFarlane action figures hijacked his keyboard to surf the web for porn'or so Shawn said. And of course, the compound is routinely haunted by the spirits of Jack Daniels and Captain Morgan. We're cursed!
So when it comes to ghost gaming, we're the men for the job, and today's ghoulish game takes on the form of Namco's Ghosthunter, a third-person action shooter that pits you against demonic forces of hell struggling to return to the land of the living. But while it sounds like a devilish treat, this fright winds up being more bare than scare.
You play the role of Lazarus Jones, a country bumpkin turned big city cop. Our buddy Laz gets called out to a local school and before you know it, Pandora's Box of evil spirits is busted wide open. Like his Ghostbusting forbears Aykroyd, Murray, and Ramis, it's up to Laz to capture the nasties and set everything right again.
Rather than go for the Resident Evil cinematic style of play, Ghosthunter is set up more like a classic third-person action game with the camera following behind Lazarus. One stick controls your movement, while the other works the camera or your aim. It's a simple and convenient control system with the exception of weapon changes. For that you'll need to hold down the L1 button and pick out a weapon with the control stick at the same time, no easy feat while fighting off enemies since you've got to stop everything to do it. But since the pacing of Ghosthunter is on the slower side, there aren't a ton of situations calling for quick weapon switches. This control weakness registers as an occasional annoyance rather than a full blown problem.
With all the evil spooks gallivanting around town, it's up to Lazarus to do his best Egon impression and start bustin' some ghosts. Seriously, the parallels between Ghosthunter and Ghostbusters are so obvious it's almost embarrasing. To catch most of the ghosts in the game, you'll have to use an energy gun to weaken them and then toss in a ghost grenade to capture them - just like the proton packs and those funky ghost sucking boxes. There's a little pig ghost that looks like a brown version of Slimer, and the game's main villain looks like Vigo if he dyed his hair black and took a sword cut in the face. All that's missing is the Stay-Puft marshmallow man.
Most of the time, enemies come at you in small, manageable groups of two or three, but they occasionally gang up on you at once, and it's here when things get rough. Ghost grenades can only capture a single ghost, so you'll need to take them down one at a time while avoiding the others. At least this doesn't happen too often.
The weapon selection is very limited. Basics include a Glock 17 and a shotgun, which are pretty much useless, and ghost energy weapons like the pulse and sniper rifles that you'll be using through most of the game. The various enemies will succumb to one of these two types, but overall it's not very satisfying gunplay.
Besides traipsing around town as Lazarus, you'll sometimes need to incur an out-of-body experience as Astral, a kind of friendly spirit who for untold reasons has decided to inhabit your eyeball. Certain areas allow you to summon your spirit friend to help you solve one of the game's simple door unlocking puzzles.
But as simple as these puzzles may be, it is still possible to get very stuck in Ghosthunter. Astral gains powers from specific defeated enemies; if you happen to pass one by, you just might find yourself in a situation that is impossible to pass. If this happens, you'll have to go all the way back and hunt down the one bad guy you overlooked. Grrr.
Due to the game's linearity, backtracking is at least easy. You'll frequently come across locked doors and gates that lead you down a single path. It reminds me of Clive Barker's Undying, minus the main character saying "stuck" and "jammed" all the time.
The atmosphere isn't quite comedic, though. Ghosthunter sets up a good eerie scene, starting off with an abandoned school then moving off into bayous and ghost towns. Surprisingly, though, the scares are far and few between. Even with the great setup, nothing ever jumps out at you - no zombie dogs, no disfigured corpses, no genetically-engineered super undead'just a variety of ghastly spooks. Ghosthunter might be a creepy game, but it sure isn't scary.
Despite Ghosthunter's mediocrity, it manages to put together a good audio and visual package. The character models look great and the environments use darkness and fog to create an appropriately creepy atmosphere. The voice acting and background music also fit the bill perfectly. Veterans Rob Paulsen, Joe Morton and Michael Gambon do a great job providing the voices of the game's main characters and the audio team provides some decent ambient tunes to keep your hands gripped firmly to the controller.
Ghosthunter is a fairly easy game and shouldn't take you more than a weekend to complete. Sadly, there isn't anything left to come back to once you've vanquished all the spirits. Looks like as soon as the ghosts are dead, so is this game.
While Ghosthunter sets up a freaky scene, it never does much to distinguish itself from your average action game. There are no big scares and only mildly interesting action. Ghostbusting wannabes might feel compelled to investigate this activity, but everyone else should let it float on by.