Release date: 29.04.2005
Language: English with selectable subtitles
System: Playstation 2
A review by MaryScots 1st June 2005
We adventure gamers are often labelled old-fashioned and narrow-minded as far as our perception of what an adventure game should be like goes. Classic, pure and traditional are adjectives thrown like dirty words in our direction by the disciples of visionary innovation. More often than not, the demand for more console ports of adventure games is closely connected to this. Well, we wont let them get away with it and take Haunting Ground as an example to find out whether this concept could be of interest for the traditionalists.
Having escaped a severe car-accident, Fiona Belli awakes all alone and locked-up in a cage in the cellar of a building unknown to her, wrapped in nothing more than a silken sheet and surprisingly without a scratch on her delicate skin. All alone? Not quite. Although she really could have thought of a nicer company than this big coarse monster dude sneaking around her prison. He crouches in front of her and just manages to open the lock when suddenly he listens up and runs away. This is Fionas chance to escape! And she does only to find out quickly that there is only one way to go from the garden she enters after leaving the cellar up the stairs and into a dark, gloomy castle.
In the guestroom she meets the strange maid who provides her with some pieces of clothing. Oh well, better than nothing! After having extended her explorations, Fiona meets the third mysterious inhabitant of this castle, Riccardo, who introduces himself as the keeper and informs her that she is the heir of the estate, which holds the name of her family, Castle Belli. Anyway, thats about all the welcome she is to receive. From now on Fiona is on her own for a while until she discovers Hewie, a white German Shepherd in distress. After freeing him she has a companion and she will sure as hell need him!
Now its up to Fiona to find a way out of this labyrinth of a castle and while doing that, she tries to unravel its mysteries.
No setup required! This definitely is the big advantage of console games. Put in the disc and get started! Its also quite comfortable to snuggle in your favourite armchair while playing. That said, you probably wont snuggle that much as the tension will make you sit upright most of the time and make your hair stand on end.
Controlling the character/s with the gamepad is also quite convenient, though this too is possible for some pc-games by now. A lot of adventure fans will like the 3rd person perspective but in any case you should take some time for practising with the pads buttons and sticks as Fionas life will depend on that later on.
Both analogue-sticks are our most important controls, the left one steering Fiona and the right one for her dog Hewie. The directional buttons also control Fionas movements unless when she is ordering Hewie, they serve this purpose. The buttons on the right make Fiona kick and run, examine, take or manipulate objects. The SELECT-button above the left analogue-stick provides inventory-access and the one right beside it pauses the game when we have to come up for air. L1 makes Fiona crouch in place and pressing R1 makes her jump backwards.
Saving is only possible when Fiona finds one of the castles clocks. We then position her directly in front of it and press the action-key. This can get seriously nerve-wrecking as there isnt always a clock nearby when we just escaped from danger. So it happens that we have to repeat the same chase again and again just because we cannot find a clock.
Capcom thought out something special for Haunting Ground. The aimed at goal was the closest possible fusion of the player with his alter ego. Its panic should transfer to the player, among other things by use of the gamepads vibration effect, which should make the player tremble, too. The feeling of helplessness is emphasised by not receiving any weapons (I sometimes longed for at least a club) apart from a guardian on four paws. Which doesnt mean that our opponents are unarmed.
Haunting Ground is a Survival-Horror-Action-Adventure. In this order. First and foremost we have to explore the locations thoroughly to discover doors, hiding spots, save points or better clocks, helpful items and also traps. Meanwhile we will be harassed by the castles inhabitants, whose approach is announced by the intermission of the background sound. Each of them has his/her own special reason for chasing us and there is only one option for us to escape certain death: take to your heels and run! Fiona can only insufficiently defend herself by kicking. But there is still Hewie whom she can order to attack her opponents and gain her some time. Apart from that red urns are scattered all over the corridors and she can break them also by kicking to reveal useful objects such as substances she can throw at her pursuers to hinder them momentarily, again to gain some time. Now and then, Fiona has to calm herself with some camomile for another feature of the shared panic is its impact on Fionas sense of orientation and her body control. If the chase lasts for too long or if an opponent gets too close she will start staggering and her vision suffers, which we experience in the graphics loss of colour and distinctiveness it becomes extremely blurry. In case our heroine stumbles and falls this will almost always result in a Game Over. The one bright spot, though, is that there is only one enemy at a time who has to be bested at the end of each chapter in order to go on and confront the next one.
For practised adventure gamers the difficulty-level of the puzzles is rather moderate. Hints are served to us on a silver platter and therefore the solutions almost fall into our lap provided that we have had a good look around. And this turns out to be our biggest problem as due to the numerous chase interruptions we constantly find ourselves somewhere we didnt want to go in the first place. The castle-map once we have found it doesnt help much either as it is just as confusing as the building itself. These desperate efforts in orienting consequently have the lions share in the total of about 20 hours playing time.
As in most adventures solving puzzles is all about collecting items or betimes creating them we have to apply elsewhere. Sometimes we need Hewies help to deactivate a trap or guide us. We have to find keys to open certain doors and happy news for all fans of Broken Sword 3 we "may" even do this kind of exercise now and then in one case under extreme pressure. Most of the puzzles were a walkover for me but they do increase in difficulty towards the end. Meaning that were not done with simply using item A with object B, rather we will have to do various things in a specified order to achieve the desired result. Sometimes running from one room to another is required, too. Documents to be found all over the place will provide useful hints we should make notes of. Some of these texts also reveal tiny parts of the appalling secrets of Castle Belli.
To be fair, a TV isnt a monitor. So I guess I have to excuse the low quality of the resolution. And although graphics arent the most important aspect of a game for me, I have to admit that I do have my problems in this case. What good is the most detailed 3D-environment if I cant make out anything really? Admittedly it has to be a little dusky to create an eerie atmosphere and after a while the eye adapts to the hazy locations but I for one rate the atmosphere and graphical quality of a Silent Hill 2" much higher. We can argue whether it is easier to make out a hotspot if it sparkles as it does in Haunting Ground or if the character turns his head towards it as is the case in Silent Hill 2. Particularly, because only the collectable items sparkle, however, the other objects dont. One always has to position Fiona directly in front of the objects, press the action button and wait for her reaction or comment. In case nothing happens that doesnt necessarily mean it has to be like that maybe she simply doesnt stand in the right place. This trial and error can cost precious time while being chased if for example a curtain covering a possible hiding spot only reveals a relatively useless mirror or Fiona simply refuses to crawl under a sofa because the enemy is to close already or even worse, this sofa wasnt meant to be a hiding spot in the first place. Graphical problems become problems in gameplay and verse visa.
One more drawback is the camera work. More than once during the chase scenes we cant see where we order Fiona to run. So it happens that we unintentionally guide her directly into the arms of her pursuer.
Like most videogames the automatic cutscenes show a much higher quality than the gameworld itself. These videos usually reward us for solving a puzzle and are initiated by opening certain doors or by touching certain objects. The characters are designed quite life-like, if you ignore the fact that most of us probably wouldnt be too excited about meeting a mentally retarded, moronic monster-man like Debilitas (a quite adequate name by the way) or an anaesthetic and frigid beauty with lilac-coloured tresses like Daniella. Fiona on the other hand is a pretty, blonde girl with big blue eyes and tad too much bust size (on the animation of which a little too much devotion was bestowed), though, male players might differ in this. ;-) Our heroine, however, does complain about her too narrow top now and then. What comment will she make after she is given the choice between two even hotter outfits once we have successfully mastered the game and go for a replay?
A soundtrack is rather sparingly implemented. In the course of her explorations Fiona is surrounded by a soft dark soundscape, which stops abruptly if an opponent is near. As soon as he or she gets near enough and also during the chase sequences the music becomes menacing. Each opponent was given his/her own characteristic melody, composed to increase the players tension once more.
The voice-acting is good and gives no reason for complaints, though we wont experience it very often, which is why there is not much to say about it.
Its the hour of truth. Well, dear readers, Haunting Ground couldnt really convince me to be a true adventure game, though thats not what it was supposed to be in the first place I dont want to become unfair, you see. It struggles but After having mastered the first few chases with Fiona, a change of title struck my mind Hunting Ground. I dare to predicate that the puzzles will be too easy for most adventure fans and the chasing sequences soon began to annoy me. Only the story can make the player stick to the game after a slow start. Had my task been to review a Survival-Horror-Action-Adventure for a general gaming site, my score would have reached 70-75%. I honestly have to acknowledge that the developers reached their above mentioned goal. I felt the heroines panic, so much in fact that I had no desire whatsoever, to experience another of the multiple endings. However, I am writing for the Adventure-Archiv and therefore the score will be lowered accordingly. Let me put it like this, its sufficient, because hardcore-adventure-freaks will probably see no fun in most of the games aspects.
Adventure-Archiv rating system:
- 80% - 100% excellent game, very recommendable
- 70% - 79% good game, recommendable
- 60% - 69% satisfactory, restricted recommendable
- 50% - 59% sufficient (not very recommendable)
- 40% - 49% rather deficient (not to be recommended - for hardcore-adventure-freaks and collectors only)
- 0% - 39% worst (don't put your fingers on it)
First steps of our pretty heroine
Coolish welcome by Daniella
Fionas new clothes
Oh-Oh! along comes Debilitas!
Hewie likes Fiona were not alone anymore
Fiona isnt strong enough to defend herself so Hewie takes over
Alone with the dolls spooky!
Here he comes again the bothersome monster-man off we run!
Busted! Fiona panics not good...
By order Hewie will snuffle up useful things
Hewie cant follow us everywhere
Fiona has to do something with this metal box but what?
What might she have spotted here?
The proud heroine and her dog after the first successful fight