Haunting Ground

  • by Ouroboros
  • May 11, 2005 00:00 AM PST

Haunting Ground treads familiar earth while digging up a few fresh ideas.

Haunting Ground casts you as Fiona Belli, a diminutive and skimpily clad waif whose last memories are of a car crash with her parents. What became of her parents and how she arrived in this ancient castle are mysteries, but there are more pressing concerns--like the ham-fisted thug with the body and mind of a side of beef, and a striking resemblance to Sloth from The Goonies, who's after her.

Ready or Not Here He Comes
There's little choice but to run and hide, and this reality defines the gameplay: your time is divided between exploring, solving the requisite puzzles of questionable logic, and hiding to avoid harm. You're not entirely without assistance, however, and Hewie the white Alsatian is an inspired addition. You can order him to explore an area for goodies your human senses would miss, attack a pursuer to buy you some precious seconds to escape, and even fetch items you can't reach directly. The potential of this partnership isn't fully explored, but it doesn't feel like an empty gimmick either. The alchemical item creation nonsense isn't as fortunate, feeling as it does like a tacked on response to Resident Evil's herb blending.

The visuals of Haunting Ground are stark but appealing, with bright blues and reds jumping out from the dominant grays. Strangely though, many areas seem washed-out and low-contrast where you'd expect a film noir-ish spread between light and dark. On the other hand, a panic effect drastically changes the look of the game as the heroine gets upset. The image becomes grainy, Fiona starts to stumble and lose her breath, and missed frames and motion blur make recovering a challenge.

Aurally, Haunting Ground is oddly inconsistent, especially in its choice of music. Footsteps and Hewie's growling may alert you to enemies occasionally, but most of the time there's little ambience to speak of. Sure, there are the typical ticking clocks and water drips, but only rarely is any sense of genuine dread created.

The cinematics, directed by Japanese filmmaker Naoto Takenaka, feature remarkable facial expressions, conveying a range of emotional response not seen before in this genre. Paired with some convincing "handheld" camera scripting, the effect is powerful, and easily provides Haunting Ground's most compelling moments.

If only the repetitive gameplay were up to the same standard. Rushing around a room hitting a "search" button looking for tell-tale twinkles and scene hot-spots gets old relatively quickly, and the only thing that breaks things up is the frequent random encounter with a pursuer.

That Dog Won't Hunt
Despite a few fresh ideas, Haunting Ground is no classic. The thin story relies too often on clich� and titillation, the villains aren't terribly frightening, and the gameplay becomes too predictable too quickly. Ultimately, this is Resident Evil Lite with a dog. If you've already played the better horror titles, there's enough here to keep you moderately entertained for a short time, just as long as you don't expect too much.