Review by mundocani
Reviewed: 01/01/03 | Updated: 01/01/03
Scary but frustrating
There are some great things about this game, and several things that just suck.
The greatest thing is that it is scary -- even after fighting 100+ ghosts, I get unnerved every time I battle another one. I'd probably play better if I could stay more calm and objective during battles, but it's just that creepy.
The sound is terrific, using the XBox's Dolby Digital support very effectively. I've actually turned down the volume on my stereo just to try to lighten things up a bit.
The graphics aren't stunning, but they're still very good. The grainy look of the game (ala Silent Hill) is effective and the muted colors really enhance the felling of being in an old abandoned building. The game is darkly lit and so you're forced to play in a darkened room, which enhances the creepy feel of the game.
The mansion is sparsely furnished though, which seems odd since everybody who's lived or visited seems to have died -- so where'd the furniture go? Maybe the ghosts don't attack furniture movers. Also, the mansion isn't really all that big. Rooms and locked doorways are re-used for puzzles and missions throughout the game. Doors which were unlocked by finding a key at one point, are locked again later by a talisman. Other doors you've been through are re-locked later even though you can still get to the rooms on either side by taking the long way around. Who's going around re-locking the doors and hanging these tags on them? This seems like an obvious design trick to make the game seem bigger or forcing the player to use a particular hallway. I think a better design could've achieved the same thing without making me feel like I'm being herded around.
Health boosts (Herbal Medicine and Sacred Water) are far too scarce. Herbal Medicine is the weaker health boost and only recovers about one-third of your health, but a single hit from a ghost can easily take that much health away. The better boost comes from the Sacred Water, but these are extremely rare. The fact that ghosts do so much damage combined with the fact that health refills are so rare contribute to making battles the most frustrating part of the game.
Navigation is awkward, with your character often getting stuck against straight walls or unable to pass through wide open areas. For some reason, the actual navigable parts of hallways, doorways or stairways can be strangely narrow. The game doesn't do a very good job helping out by guiding your character into the navigable portion either. It's far to easy to get stuck against invisible navigation barriers. Similarly, the game is very fussy about how accurately you're facing a door or puzzle or item before you can use it. You might expect being next to a door and facing towards it would be enough, but you often need to be well-centered and facing it directly before you can open it. This fussy alignment is also true of the items to be picked up and the puzzles.
The battles are promising, but for several reasons are ultimately very frustrating. First, the navigation problems noted earlier can cause you to become stuck against nothing at all while the ghosts happily pass through everything to come attack you. The ghosts also disappear frequently and move quickly which, since you have to keep them in the viewfinder of your camera for a while before you can significantly damage them, makes them very difficult to capture. Admittedly, the skill of the game is supposed to be your ability to photograph the ghosts, but when they disappear and quickly move over your head to throttle you by the neck it, then it just feels like you didn't even have a chance.
The upgrade system for the camera is interesting, but it has the very unfortunate effect of actually increasing the game's difficulty if you're not good at handling the camera. This is because in order to upgrade the camera, you have to collect a large number of points for each upgrade. To get a large number of points you have to take exceptionally clean photos of the ghosts -- the framing must be perfect and you have to time it well to maximize the points you'll get, but because the ghosts are moving and disappearing, you need the upgrades in order to make them visible or stop them from zipping around so much so that you can take a great photo. The net effect of all of this is that if you aren't good at taking the photos with the basic camera, you won't quickly get the points necessary to upgrade the camera with the features necessary for battling the harder ghosts later on. You may easily find yourself halfway through the game with a crappy camera and no health refills in sight. If you use a single save for your games (as I often do), this means you're screwed and will have to start over from the beginning (blech).
Overall, I still enjoy this game. It's really creepy and often outright scary. The navigation and battles are sometimes brutally awkward or difficult and the puzzles are exceedingly simple. You'll be scared and you'll enjoy the atmosphere of the game, but when you're fighting the navigation system while a ghost materializes above you and throttles you by the throat, you'll only feel like you've been cheated. Likewise, when you win against a ghost, you'll mostly feel lucky and not like you battled especially well.
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