Release Date: August 17, 2004
Buy 'GHOST HUNTER': PlayStation 2
As stale as the title ‘Ghosthunter’ may sound, the game is actually pretty creative and original, if only a tad formulaic in terms of puzzles and progression. There are more than enough things going for the title to offset the fairly substantial disappointments of its detriments, however. With its intriguingly familiar ghost hunting story elements, wholly impressive graphics engine, and multi-perspective yet fully functional gameplay system, Ghosthunter almost feels like a sign of things to come. Almost.
Ghosthunter begins on a typical enough note, with Lazarus and Anna Steele, two Detroit police agents, checking out an abandoned high school that is rumored to be haunted. The two split up to search the rundown structure. In the basement Lazarus finds a strange assortment of ghost-busting equipment. Before Laz has time to figure out what all the machinery does he inadvertently pushes the wrong button, letting loose all the spirits previously contained in the contraption. Things get chaotic and a particularly nasty spirit named Hawksmoor kidnaps your partner. Your goal is clear; find and rescue Anna Steele and recapture all those ghosts you accidentally set loose.
You’ll use a few different types of spectral weaponry to combat and contain the many ghosts you’ll run into during the course of the game, such as the spectral lasso, a long range weapon that drains ghost energy; the pulse rife, which is used to blast ghosts from close to mid-range distances; and the sniper rifle, a long-range (three levels of zoom) spectral firearm that can take out ghosts with a single shot to the head. There are also a few real-world weapons that can (strangely) be used to weaken ghosts like the 9mm handgun, 12 gauge shotgun, and the heavy duty grenade launcher. You’ll use these tools of the trade to weaken ghosts then hit the R2 button to throw the ghost grenade boomerang thingy, which attaches to opponents and contains them within the grenade in a style reminiscent of the Ghost Buster’s vacuum ghost sucking apparatuses.
While the environments in Ghosthunter tend to be quite diverse the objectives you’ll be compelled to complete in them usually follow the age-old combat/puzzle formula that Resident Evil and games of its ilk unapologetically utilize. Basically, you’ll run from one area to another, taking out all the ghosts that appear and picking up the items along the way such as weapons, ammo, and one-use items that will be the key to progressing to the next area.
Occasionally, the game will throw a puzzle your way to offset its otherwise standard run-and-gun proceedings, though these are far from being challenging or in fact very interesting at all. On the ground, in certain areas will be what the game calls ‘Astral points,’ if you stand on top of these glowing circular patterns and hit the X button you can summon Astral, a spirit form, and control her through the current environment, going places and doing things that you cannot otherwise do while controlling the human Lazarus. Astral can fly and thus is able to reach any area in the environment, though in order to interact with her surroundings you’ll need to switch to her physical form. While in physical form Astral’s energy will slowly be depleted, so you’ll want to do whatever you got to do with haste when in this form. Astral will also gain new abilities as you progress through the game, allowing her to do things like possess and control enemy ghosts or remove obstructing objects allowing Lazarus to progress.
As repetitious as the combat in Ghosthunter can be, it actually gets to be quite fun, especially once you obtain the sniper rifle. By hitting R1 Lazarus will change from his normal exploration stance to a slower-moving combat stance where you’ll control the targeting reticule with the left analog stick and move the character around with the R stick. This combat perspective is usually appropriate for most any close to mid-range fight in the game, though you do have the option of switching to a full-on first-person mode that gives you enhanced aiming and a familiar shooter-esque perspective of the action.
Visually, Ghosthunter is definitely one of the better looking PS2 games out there. The environments are brimming with all sorts of detail and atmosphere. The graphics engine somehow manages to push these super detailed areas along with nearly photorealistic character models at a steady 30-60 frame per second clip while maintaining a nearly life-like draw distance. There are all sorts of ghastly apparitions to be seen in Ghosthunter and they’re all equally good looking, such as the wispy, partially translucent aeriform ghosts, a Slimer-style ghost with instincts and a face like an animal, and a gigantic demon teddy bear that uses a little girl’s dead body to attack you.
The interspersed cut-scenes found through Ghosthunter tend to fall into the B-movie niche category, but not necessarily in a bad way. The voice acting across the board is quite good and features plenty of well-known talent who keep the dialogue interactions entertaining. Expect to hear voices from the likes of Rob Paulsen, Joe Morton, and Michael Gambon. The various orchestrations used in the game are in a word excellent. Somehow the artists involved in the game’s soundtrack creation managed to make the banjo an instrument that inspires dread and creepiness. The music is also dynamic and will change in style and tempo in accordance with the on-screen actions in real-time.
Overall, Ghosthunter isn’t the most complex or challenging first, second, and third-person action/adventure game on the market but it is one of the best looking and entertaining ghost-busting titles to be had on the PS2. You’ll most likely complete Ghosthunter in only a few short sittings, but between the impressive visuals, multi-faceted gameplay, and solid combat dynamics, chances are you’ll have fun the entire time.
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