Snoozy Alarm Clock

Acknowledgments

  • KittyKitty's walkthrough at GhostMaster.net helped with the game's many puzzles.
  • Shaun Kendall for explaining why the red ward equipment fails in Ghostbreakers.

Ghost Master Review ★★★★★

Ghost Master, on my radar since before its original Halloween 2002 release date, has unfortunately become a classic example of the good idea poorly implemented. The first rule of game design should be do no harm. In this case, the developers have taken a great idea and handicapped it with a clunky interface, ambiguous objectives, and contrived puzzles.

The isometric (yet fully 3D) perspective demands a less laborious camera than what is available here. You'll find yourself constantly zooming, panning, tilting and rotating as you try to get an angle on the action, but no matter how hard you try, the view is never quite right. When important events occur your perspective is taken to the scene, but if you're not perfectly still the view will be suspended. Touch any control a moment after the perspective changes - as you are likely to do since there's no warning - and you've missed the show. Worse yet, if multiple events happen simultaneously, their presentations don't queue. Instead, the original event is pre-empted by the subsequent event. Oh well, lost again.

There is an auto-camera view that holds to the character you choose, and you can even view the game world through the eyes of your victims (great idea), but you cannot issue commands while using these modes, making them essentially useless. Constant clipping problems result in mortals passing through walls (and each other) as often as the ghosts, and each level's beginning fly-by is plagued by frequent stuttering - especially curious since both the polygon count and texture detail are rather low.

All of these annoyances are secondary to the primary complaint you'll have while playing this game, which is, essentially, "How do I play this game?" Level objectives are presented as cryptic riddles, the solutions to which often rely upon contrived consequences of your ghosts' powers. The result is more an exercise in jumping through the right hoops than logically evaluating your options. Fail and you'll have to start over at the level's beginning because there is no save-anywhere - not unusual for a strategy game but still a major drain on the fun factor.

The game's music and sound top the short list of things done right. The music is very well orchestrated and does a good job of both setting the horror theme and building a sense of drama as the scenarios unfold. EAX positional audio works well and the voice acting is entertaining. The retail version has no hint of the audio stuttering I experienced in the demo.

Without doubt the camp-laden horror settings are a unique joy. Nevertheless, much like another horror-themed game - Clive Barker's Undying (in its case ruined by frequent and time-consuming level loads) - Ghost Master is frightening for all the wrong reasons. Let's hope there's a sequel capable of fulfilling the promise of such a great idea.

- Last Update 11/02/03