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Publisher: Feral Interactive    Genre: Action
Min OS X: 10.1.3    CPU: G3 @ 700 MHz    RAM: 128 MB    Hard Disk: 600 MB    Graphics: 16 MB VRAM

Ghost Master
November 14, 2003 | Ectal Greenhaw

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You are one of the evil undead, and the Haunting Committee has given you your big break. Lead your own team of ghosts, ghouls, and monsters into the mortal-infested town of Gravenville. Send the gibbering fools screaming into the night. Prove yourself to be an effective manager of the things that go bump in the night.

Along the way, empty a house of sorority girls by filling it with spectral spiders, torment a not-quite-mad scientist until he finally goes over the edge, rescue lost souls, and fill a police station with walls of fire. Are you fiend enough to put fear into the heart of every human who crosses your path? Then this genre-mixing puzzle/strategy/sim should be on your shopping list.

Ghost Master, developed by Sick Puppies, ported by Zonic, and distributed by Feral, is a game that borrows from many movies, television shows, and video games but still manages to come off as fresh and exciting. Its influences may be obvious, but the pieces are put together in some original ways. And how many games have a headless horseman?

Playing this hauntingly charming game, a veteran gamer can’t help but think of the great games from the now-deceased Bullfrog. Ghost Master is a game that has elements of Populus, Theme Park, Theme Hospital, and especially Dungeon Keeper. With Bullfrog’s Dungeon Keeper, the twist was that, instead of being a hero killing monsters and purloining treasure from an evil dungeon, you managed an evil dungeon filled with monsters and killed heroes before they could steal your treasure. Ghost Master employs a similar “genre inversion” but pokes fun at movies more than video games, unless you choose to see it as a light-hearted jab at the survival horror genre. Perhaps something more like Dungeon Keeper meets Resident Evil would have made a better game.

Ghost Master almost makes one feel as if Bullfrog has come back from the dead, but the game has a certain roughness around the edges that you wouldn’t have seen from Molyneux and Co. back in their day. And maybe this game would look a little better if it weren’t obviously following Bullfrog’s style of turning conventional game play on its ear.

Ghost Master also borrows heavily from the Sims — the humans speak in a language suspiciously similar to Simlish — and has references to more movies and cartoons than I can keep track of. There are ghosts that come straight out of Casper, Ghostbusters, Scooby Doo and countless black and white horror flicks. Playing on movie titles, the levels have names like Deadfellas, Calamityville Horror, Weird Séance, and Poultrygeist. Many of these play off of the plots of popular movies. The best reference has got to be the level modeled after Evil Dead.

Game play

When you first fire up Ghost Master, you are greeted by playful ghost movie music, very reminiscent of a Danny Elfman score. After an impressive opening movie, the player is prompted by some mortals seated around a Ouija board, “Spirit, what is your name?” Controlling the planchette, you enter your name. The foolish mortals look adequately spooked. Then you find yourself looking at the main menu, the mood a little broken.

Now to get to work for the Haunting Committee. You, the haunter, have been hired to lead a team of ghosts to terrify the residents of a little town called Gravenville. I suppose that’s just what evil undead civil servants are supposed to do (not too different from ordinary civil servants, really). The first level functions as a simple tutorial, and in about 10 minutes, you should have the basics of game play down.

In order to deploy your haunters, you attach them to “fetters” which fall into categories like “electrical”, “emotional”, and “corpse”. The gremlin-like Cogjammer must be tied to appliances, and the banshee Weatherwitch must be placed on thoroughfares, such as hallways and sidewalks. Much of the strategy game involves finding well-traveled rooms where your ghosts can be moved. Occasionally, you find yourself frantically searching every object in the house to find the one that will gain your favorite ghast entry into the material world. Fortunately, there are a few ghosts who can just be placed in any room.

The resource system for the game is as unusual. There is one resource, called Plasm. You need a certain amount to deploy ghosts, and a little extra to use more powerful haunting abilities. The more people you scare, the more Plasm you’re awarded. The more ghosts you have deployed and the scarier you are, the more Plasm you’re using. It’s a refreshingly simple system.

Once placed, the ghosts can use a number of abilities. How scary you want them to be is up to you, what goals you’re trying to achieve, and how much Plasm you have available. For those who want to micromanage, you can give orders to ghosts, telling them to limit what powers they use or to only chase certain mortals. Adding a tiny bit of RPG flavor, the ghosts gain experience each time you use them.

At the end of a level, you are awarded points for how quickly and how well you achieved your goals. You can use these points to choose new abilities for your haunters, adding another touch of RPG play to the game.


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