Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Recap of 2012: The Frightening Sequel

Not talking about the film, by the way.

Oh, what happened after Dishonored's release? Let me think.
I know I played and recorded Costume Quest for Halloween and would've recorded Grubbins On Ice as well but unfortunately the videos weren't very popular and Naughty Bear: Panic in Paradise was getting so many views I decided to focus on it instead. Costume Quest is quite fun and I recommend it to people who haven't played it yet, although I highly recommend it to be played on Halloween for the obvious reasons.
Halloween overall for me wasn't very special this time around, usually I've played some scary games and then watched great movies all day and night on Halloween, but now I just gave my mother Ghostbusters the Video Game and watched her play through it in a day.

Leading up to Halloween I did play and finally finish Ghost Master, and my opinion didn't change anywhere; the game is very disappointing and yet I still wish they could have made a Ghost Master 2 and improve on everything that didn't work in the first game. The idea has great potential, I just really don't like the execution. The humour and references, the music and the level and ghost concepts are good, the gameplay is unpolished crap and after the first scares and solved puzzles the completion of the levels becomes dull waiting for the characters' fright/insanity bars to fill up as the final goal is always to scare everyone living away. The random Sims AI of the people you must scare also ruins many of the puzzles which I personally found to be the meat of the levels, as sometimes I just simply wasn't able to lead the stupid humans to where I needed and occasionally the ghost powers required to solve problems didn't seem to affect the correct people, making me either wait for an immoderate amount of time or just outright restart a level in hopes of better luck.
Annoying puzzle: How to get stupid AI to go into a room
and pick up a book after you have cleared the door and laid
the book on the ground? You wait. Can't do anything else.
Or use an Obsession power, and then wait.
I once, long time ago when I hadn't yet played it, read an article about why Ghost Master failed, a post mortem, written by it's game designer. Reading through it would make you believe Ghost Master is a hidden jewel, a truly innovative masterpiece that never succeeded because of mostly just bad luck, bad marketing and wrong crowds playing it. I don't know if the problem in my case is that I'm in the wrong crowd of gamers or what, so just to make it easier for you to decide let me tell you something about myself: my favourite strategy game of all time (currently) is Evil Genius, I don't care much for RTS games other than the type of Commandos where you control a small team of specialized units at (in my case) a casual pace, and as far as the genres go I tend to prefer turn-based strategy instead. RTS games where you need to quickly control a number of units here and there and give specific orders to specific units fast or lose aren't my cup of tea at all, and from reading the post mortem of Ghost Master you'd think the game would be perfect for me, right? However, that talk of not being in direct control over your haunters is total bullshit.
Ok, let's take the level The Unusual Suspects, one of my favourites of the early stages, for an example. In this level your goal, as per usual, is to scare everyone away from a building, here a police station. Admittedly the first 2-5 minutes of the gameplay are spent on observing the level layout,  locating and then completing the on-average three puzzles you can do to unlock new haunters and warm up the people for a night of horror by causing rain in the waiting room to just build belief in the supernatural and keep frightening the people locked in the cells for some easy starting ectoplasm as the jailbirds can't leave the place, and it's all fun and good and you're enjoying yourself. Then you start the actual scaring, and what happens for the next 10-50 minutes (the level completion times can indeed fluctuate that badly) you may ask? The Sim-people run around the entirety of the level from basement to the darkest unreachable (to you, at least) street at the edge of the stage while you try your best to keep up by placing and then replacing haunters from fetter to fetter, giving new, specified orders constantly. Yes, YOU directly control where exactly your haunters will appear, limited by the amount, type and locations of fetters they can be chained to, YOU directly control which powers they use, and YOU CAN directly control whether they focus on some specific person on the level. The haunters can learn to obey very specific, direct commands and do not do anything on their own unless given orders to, in some specific cases, use their own AI as limited by their fetters and availability of the type of orders. The game always becomes a frantic moving of haunters from one place to another and then another because of limited amount of both haunters and the ectoplasm that governs how many of your haunters and their powers can be active in the level at the same time.
Maybe my favourite level, called "The Ghostbreakers"
A professional team of ghost eradicators have set up anti-
ghost force fields and alarms in the local police station.
Problem: How to get in there to haunt? Fun puzzle.
The AI of the humans in the game is so random that there is no room for "planning" or "anticipation" because they might be walking towards a certain room at one moment, then quickly and for no reason turn around and go the other way for a second before going back where they originally came from. They can run away so fast that they've left the small room before your haunters have actually appeared in there or activated their next power and whenever the people momentarily leave the level or at least the area you have any control in, which they often do to get a breather before later returning, they walk back so slow you might as well go get a sandwich. And yes, of course any small fright will then make them run away out of your reach again, and yes, their fright bars fill up ever so slowly. Once all this "action" starts in every level everything will be happening so fast all around the place that you no longer have a chance to enjoy the cool sounding ghost powers, and the much talked about casual, adaptive tactical gameplay is gone. After the first 5 minutes of a level you might as well be playing an RTS game where you individually control a number of units around the map yourself, and a very boring and horrifyingly repetitive, broken, unintuitive RTS game at that.
That is my problem with the game.

Dots. Better than Ghost Master?
Sadly I cannot find the actual game I played
that featured dot zombies. Wish I could.
I once came across a zombie simulation online. It was a black box filled with moving dots of different colours, one colour being a zombie that then infected the other dots it came in range with, turning them into new zombie dots. For a bunch of moving dots in a box this was fascinating enough to stare at for 15 minutes, but a strategy game was then made from that idea where YOU strategically placed the zombies around the map yourself, aiming to infect everyone before the armed forces on the map killed all the zombies away, making for an incredibly addicting and fun gameplay. In essence, that game was what Ghost Master tried to be. You placed specialized units on a map with the AI controlled units either fleeing from or attacking yours, and the goal was to empty the area. The key was careful observation of the placement of obstacles and units and anticipation of their movements. Once you placed a unit, you watched it work it's magic on it's own. Ghost Master offers nothing as engaging or entertaining like that.
Ok, Ghost Master has it's fanbase as well and I didn't hate every single second of playing it myself. In fact I almost loved playing the last and third to last levels. The thing is, every piece of crap has it's fans and nearly every piece of crap has it's moments of glory. I once knew a guy who said Crime Life: Gang Wars was his favourite game of all time. Incidentally he actually died soon after stating that, and I theorize that it was his bad taste and the bad games he played that killed him. There is also a reason for why I personally liked the final levels of Ghost Master; they are the ones where you start out with considerably more interesting objectives than just outright scaring everyone, as first you must combo the powers of your haunters to successfully smuggle some of them past anti-haunting force fields to sabotage the anti-haunting security devices, before you're forced to, again, start chasing the AI with your haunters like you were trying to catch greased pigs in heels. Only catching greased pigs, whether it's you in heels or them, is always more interesting than Ghost Master.

This recap will continue before the year 2014.

Ghost Master images from VisualWalkthroughs.com
Zombie Infection Simulation from http://kevan.org/proce55ing/zombies/

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