Released a few months ago to a pretty lukewarm reception, [i]Haunting Ground[/i] is an artistic tour de force of horror misunderstood by many and ridiculed by people unwilling to appreciate it for what it is.
In most games horror and fear, if present, are represented by what you face, and also by the atmosphere of the setting. [i]Haunting Ground[/i] definitely imbues itself with plenty frights thanks to those two aspects, but there are other ways of striking fear into the player that few other games are brave enough to try.
Now, in most horror movies, who are the main protagonists? Whoever says to themselves “defenceless teenage girls” can go have a cookie because they are right. [i]Haunting Ground[/i] places you into the rather fancy sandals of Fiona, an 18 year old, extremely well endowed damsel in distress. Witnessing first the FMV introduction that bares an awful lot of flesh and shows blood speckling down that flesh, it is clear that innocence and sexuality are two of [i]Haunting Ground[/i]’s main themes, and it should be applauded for utilising these themes in a totally tasteful way.
Finding herself trapped in a cage in the lair of an extremely unpleasant ogre like hunchback, she finds the lock has been undone after he has gone away, allowing her to escape and explore the grounds of a huge, gothic castle. She also has encounters first with a beautiful white Alsatian called Hewie and a creepy maid, Daniella. With Hewie being her only friend, Fiona must find a way out of this ghastly situation. But when the ogre, Debilitas finds her wandering around, Fiona realises that she is going to have to stay clear of this child-like monster or face an extremely unpleasant game over screen. Now this Game Over screen is simply put, the most unpleasant one I have ever seen. The words “You Died” are replaced by the rather more poetic words “Acta Est Fabula” and then the player is treated to some extremely unpleasant noises, including sniggering, ripping, and other noises I’m too scared to describe. It is probably a good thing the screen blacks out at this point.
[i]Haunting Ground[/i] is a very technically strong game. The Graphics are some of the best on the PS2, the loading times very fast and unobtrusive, the style borrowed from the realistic style of Resident Evil 4. Yes, Fiona looks a bit like Ashley, but I would say is definitely the hotter of the two. Sound effects are, well, what I said above, very disturbing. The worst times are when there is total silence; the tension is unbearable when the music suddenly stops.
Now, anybody familiar with Clock Tower will know more or less what the gameplay of [i]Haunting Ground[/i] entails. With no reliable way of fighting Debilitas, Fiona has little choice but to run and hide, Hewie providing the much-needed distractions she will frequently use. And before you ask, yes, this is pretty much how the whole game works. You must run and hide, until some opportunity to take your pursuer out presents itself. You will get items to increase your attack power, the shin kick, and to boost Hewie’s attack power allowing you to knock pursuers unconscious for a time, but this definitely takes practice. Usually it is better just to run and hide.
When attacked, Fiona begins to panic. The screen blurs, and she becomes harder to control. Sometimes she will burst into uncontrollable dashes. When this happens, you’re only one hit away from that incredibly unpleasant Game Over screen. And on your first play through, you will be seeing this screen a lot. But I wouldn’t get too discouraged about that. As your familiarity with the castle grows, you find it a lot easier to evade enemies. The puzzles are a bit like Resident Evil’s only much better, more complicated and there is a lot more of them. The game at heart is more of a puzzle game, but with a constant threat overhanging your exploration.
Introducing defencelessness, like with the Clock Tower games, is where Capcom show there is more than one way to scare a cat. In most horror games you have a gun, bat, or camera, something to rely on. With [i]Haunting Ground[/i], you only have Hewie who is about as reliable as a real dog. Yep, you’re in trouble alright.
The story is heavy on alchemy, like Konami’s Shadow of Memories/Destiny, but showcases it in a much more horrific light. Flashbacks of her parent’s death in a car crash which resulted in her current situation, notes from a mysterious benefactor, and some truly eye-opening twists ensures [i]Haunting Ground[/i]’s narrative stays riveting and terrifying at the same time.
[i]Haunting Ground[/i] is not a game I would describe as “Survival horror.” That mantle belongs to Resident Evil, and Silent Hill. Rather, this game joins Fatal Frame and Clock Tower as a “Situational Horror”, where you not only have to worry about surviving but also working out how to get out of the situation your in. This is easy in Resident Evil and Silent Hill because the path to that is obvious, but there are very little hints dropped about how to progress in [i]Haunting Ground[/i]. However, some logical thought and a keen eye is all you need. It’s not Myst by any means, just harder to work out than the puzzles you would expect to find in Resident Evil and Silent Hill.
This game is my favourite horror game. It’s scarier, is more interesting, is better looking, and quite simply is more fun than almost all its forebears. It also has been the victim of some very unfair reviews at other sites, so if you’re reading this now, well, you’re doing the right thing. If you like Clock Tower, Resident Evil, or horror games in general, you need to check this game out, Need!
Now, flaws. There really is not any other than the game may not be to everyone’s taste. If you absolutely must have a weapon to blow off the heads off your enemies, then avoid [i]Haunting Ground[/i]; that is all that really needs to be said.
And for those that want a score, I won’t hesitate.