Now we can all run away like little girls
Mon, 4 July 2005
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Running away and hiding; sometimes that really is the most sensible option. When you are a sexy, young, blonde chick and a bunch of insane freaks are intent on doing you grievous (life ending) bodily harm, Iâ€™d say thatâ€™s a good reason to make a bolt for it.
It seems Capcom believes the same thing, because in Haunting Ground you do play as a sexy (though very pale, but sheâ€™s British so that isnâ€™t her fault), young, blonde chick, by the name of Fiona Belli. You do have a bunch of insane freaks hoping to bring about your demise. And you do run away and hide. Constantly!
Fiona also gets more and more scared, depending on the level of danger she is in. When she gets really freaked out, you have trouble controlling which direction she moves in and the graphics (or her vision, if you will) become increasingly distorted, until you can get her to safer ground (such as underneath a couch, or inside a wardrobe) and wait for her to calm down.
|Cue the Benny Hill chase music |
This is a rather more realistic approach than the much more common way lead characters in videogames behave. Usually they are stoic and heroic types, who seem barely even fazed by the extraordinary circumstances they find themselves in. Unfortunately it is a little overdone and after a while it started to piss me off. Youâ€™re just trying to get on with the game, but your progress is regularly hampered by these non-stop hide and seek antics. Besides, I can be a chickenshit in the real world, in my videogames I would usually prefer to kick some arse.
So, Haunting Ground is a 'survival horror' game, in a truer sense than most. Capcom are hardly strangers to this genre, in fact you could say that it belongs to them, at least in terms of sales figures. Though Konami would still have to get some recognition and, indeed, Haunting Ground is much more similar to Konamiâ€™s Silent Hill games than Capcomâ€™s own Resident Evil. It is subtly creepy, atmospherically eerie and the odd story sucks you right in. Even though, from the start right up until the end, you have no freaking clue what any of it means (well, I didnâ€™t anyway).
Aside from all the running and hiding, the other most novel aspect of the game is the inclusion of a German Shepard sidekick called Hewie. Using the right analogue stick, you can issue various commands to the dog. He can attack and slow down the enemies who are chasing you, crawl or jump to places Fiona canâ€™t reach and more. The AI for Hewie is a bit unreliable though; he can get stuck, or take too long to find you and other little problems, so that gets rather frustrating. But essentially, having him in the game does work in its favour and helps make it all feel that touch more original.
Haunting Ground is very stylish and generally well presented. Occasionally the game can look overly blurry and washed out. At other times it looks quite impressive, particularly during the cut-scenes. The graphics have a pretty familiar feel to them for anyone who has played any other titles of this ilk. Of course, after Resident Evil 4 this game looks almost old-fashioned, but by any other standards it is a fine looking effort. The designs of all the characters and environments have obviously been given plenty of work and they all fit together very suitably to enhance the mood of the game. The music is equally suitable, changing tempo to match the situation, and the voice acting is mostly above average.
The control scheme is all fairly straightforward; it is basically the same as the usual deal for these types of games. At times however, they are a touch unresponsive and not just when Fiona is having one of her 'freak out sessions' where the poor control is an intentional effect. It isnâ€™t an overwhelming problem though, simply a minor annoyance. Survival Horror games arenâ€™t exactly known for their super smooth controls, letâ€™s face it.
The game progression requires solving the usual kinds of puzzles; shoot the monkey in his arse with a blow dart and he drops his banana, a passing peacock slips on it and the force of its landing causes a key to fall from a nearby tree, which you can then use to open a door. Okay, I totally fabricated that particular example, but thatâ€™s kind of how things work in these games! I especially liked the 'boss fights' where the game gets a bit more action heavy for a change and you have to use some quite creative means to dispose of Fionaâ€™s rivals.
The game isnâ€™t particularly long; at least it didnâ€™t seem to be. But that might have been because I got totally engrossed and played it pretty well straight through over a couple of days. But, hey, thatâ€™s got to mean that it had something going for it! And there were some decent challenges in that time. Some sections which required me to attempt them over and over until I was able to get past.
|I will go for the one on the left and you can have a crack at the one on the right. |
If you are keen enough, you can stretch the lifespan out too, thanks to things like alternate endings and bonus costumes to unlock for Fiona. I was quite taken with the dominatrix one...settle down Sammy, sheâ€™s just a game character dude. Sorry about that. Anyway, these little bonus goodies, while hardly earth shattering, are always a welcome touch in my book.
I really wanted to find out what happened next. The plot was pretty cool and reminded me of various horror movies; The Ring and The Shining being just a couple of examples. I didnâ€™t really understand it all too well mind you, but that just seemed to add to the atmosphere rather than detract. After all you (as Fiona) are in a strange place, where all kinds of bizarre and disturbing events are unfolding and, if you think about it, that kind of thing really should be confusing!
Well, there we have it. Haunting Ground is a good one for the horror fans and those who love either Silent Hill or Resident Evil. Not a perfect game by any means, but it has enough going for it for me to give it a very solid recommendation to those who enjoy the genre.
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It isn't the best game of its kind, but Haunting Ground has some nice little twists to the formula and provides an all together engaging experience.