Ghosthunter is a Guerrilla Cambridge horror game that's basically a 3rd person shooter Ghostbusters game with the numbers filed off. It stars Rob Paulsen as the police officer Lazarus (sic) Jones as he tries to recapture the ghosts he unwillingly unleashed and save his partner from a medieval ghost played by Sir Michael Gambon.
Open in another tab for a better look.
What strikes me most about the look of Ghosthunter is just how uneven it is. It alternates between amazing high detail and muddy low detail quite often, which I'm not fan of. The character model of Jones looks great for 2003 and there are some really nicely detailed enviroments throughout the game. There's some awesome cloth physics too and the lighting is pretty good.
But there are also some awfully drab parts of levels where it just looks unfinished. The UI is also atrocious, which isn't something I usually care about, but it deserves mention. It's just so flat and boring, with contextual actions being denoted by crime scene chalk drawings.
Once the action gets lively and the particle effects fly, the engine just tanks the framerate to horrible levels. It wasn't that detrimental to play, but it still sucked.
Jones is a standard protagonist with a quick mouth, but he's pretty fun. But they never go full Nathan Drake with him, which I think would have worked. As you traverse the levels, he only speaks up a few times during gameplay, in spite of the crazy stuff that happens. You could argue that's for atmosphere, which the game has plenty of, but it isn't that scary of a game. It's rated 12 and up in Europe and I only find one part actually scary.
It's like an introductionary horror game, which I haven't really seen before. It's not comedic horror, but they avoid explicit violence pretty often. Even if it doesn't get scary, the atmosphere is often pretty cool. The supporting cast is average, but the villain Hawksmoor is the real standout. Not only is he acted well, but he has some really nice theatric dialogue to his name. He steals the show without going hammy and plays off Jones' quips well.
Sadly, the plot tanks at endgame. So much random crap happens in quick succession and the game ends almost on a joke. I get the distinct impression that they absolutely had to have these key scenes, but had to cut the rest of the final level for some reason. That's really lame, but not the only thing that suffered. After the first level, you can check the ghost tank for a bit of lore on the ghosts you've found. But halfway through, they just throw you into the next level immediately without letting you have a look in the tank. I want my Freddie Fortesque lore, dammit!
Overall, I feel like the game wasn't allowed a final edit of the script to tighten it. The camera direction is pretty spotty as well, but I'm not a good judge of that.
Being such a clear ripoff of Ghostbusters, you can probably imagine how you handle ghosts in the game. But Ghosthunter is still pretty stylish. Instead of a floor trap, you have a discus grenade that pins ghosts and lets you capture them if you deal enough damage. It's really spiffy, but the controls are pretty janky. It's an early console shooter, so this is to be expected.
I had a pretty awful experience at the start, where I had forgotten that L2 let's you switch between aiming modes. You can either have the Timesplitters aiming where you have to move the reticule to the sides before the camera moves or make it so the cursor is stuck to the center of the camera. The first choice was horrible and I was really happy when I figured out how to activate the good controls.
But even with that out of the way, it still took a while to get accustomed to the flow of things. I was really missing a dodge roll and a proper cover system. It's just awkward to avoid ghosts sometimes. Modern games have me spoiled in this regard.
The guns are ok, with a few of them running on ghost power. This presents a fun dynamic, as ghosts give you ghost energy, but the ammo dependant guns are much stronger and are best saved for critical moments. This keeps you switching guns, making it unlikely that you'll depend on only one.
The greatest strength of Ghosthunter and one of its bigger problems lie in what I like to call enviromental setpieces. They're unique smaller setpieces that house the game's puzzles. I'm really impressed with how inventive these are, in spite of how simple the mechanics are. They are mostly focused on perception and some downright obvious things in retrospect. You'd be surprised if you saw just how much time I lost due to obtuse corners.
Let's take the Poltergeists for example. You traverse a series of classrooms in succession looking for Poltergests to capture, all of which are invisible. So in every classroom, you have to figure out how to bring out some smoke so you can capture them. Every time it's something different that you'll have to figure out and it's quite clever.
But for many of these puzzles, it's absurdly easy to get lost and confused. I didn't want to blame the design, but it happened to a friend as well, so there's probably room for some improvements. I can't really pinpoint what's wrong with the design, but I can at least claim that the signposting is lackluster and seemingly random.
Jones has a notebook that gets filled with hints and observations over time, but they are minimalist and few. I think the biggest sin is that the game doesn't make clear what the problem you are trying to solve is. One of the greater design flaws I know happened to me a few times as well. That flaw being when secret collectibles are easier to find than the actual way forward, it always tilts me when that happens.
As a way of adding some depth to the puzzles, Jones gets straddled with a ghost partner named Astral. She is a letdown on multiple levels.
First of all, she's mute and an active force in two cutscenes. Even in her introduction, she barely has any presence. She's just there, having somehow been bound to Jones. This sucks so hard. A mute ghost with some snarky facial expressions would have been awesome as a foil to Jones.
But no, she's just there in a portal when you need her for a puzzle. Many of which are inventive, but there are problems outside of the confusion factor.
She absorbs some powers from ghosts you capture, but they aren't anything special and are rarely put to good use. Two of the five are only used once each! And that's not even the worst part.
Activating a power puts Astral in a state that consumes ghost energy and I don't understand why. The powers act as nothing but means to solve puzzles, so I see no reason why they would be limited, except for cheap tension. And from what I gather, you can just run out of ghost energy and get in an unwinnable state.
That's just awful.
There are a few small things that bother me in Ghosthunter, allow me to list them off.
There's no ammo number when you pick up ammo boxes, only when you have the relevant weapon equipped. It's not a dealbreaker, but it bothers me.
The shotgun is easily missable unless you're playing the NTSC version where there's popup that tells you to look in Jones' car. Not getting it will leave you in quite a bind. But I think you can pick it up later, so it's not catastrophic.
I can't really blame Cambridge for this, but the game doesn't work with unofficial memory cards. It's annoying, and I would leave it there, but the game can actually save to them perfectly. It's just the reading that doesn't work.
The flashlight gets extra modes for a few puzzles, but you still keep them for the rest of the game, making it tedious to turn it off, since you need to switch through all three modes before you can shut it off. One of the modes let's you see an Easter Egg much later on, but I don't think that justifies it.
Jones is supposed to be a police officer, but he spends a silly amount of screentime pointing his gun at people who pose no threat! It's just dumb, you're only supposed to aim at what you're ready to shoot. And he isn't even spooked enough to justify it!
Both the checkpoints and the way health is handled feels off. The checkpoints aren't as common as I'd like them to be and they activate in weird places. That forced me to replay a boss, as the checkpoint only activates after you walk a few steps afterwards. Shame on me for saving before seeing the checkpoint text, but I think a cutscene after a boss should give you a checkpoint.
The game also adheres to that most annoying school of checkpoints that save your current health level. Par for the course in a survival horror game, but you can't carry any health on you, so you're at the whim of the semi-rare health pickup.
This meant that I rarely found myself at a decent level of health, which might have been the point. But I would have still liked a bit more, or at least make the game heal you before starting a new level.
The bosses in Ghosthunter are generally pretty interesting, but prove to be more annoying than fun. Oftentimes, they have a really specific weakness that's either hard to understand or exploit. YMMW of course, but the Kraken fight and the final boss are pretty bad.
Kraken requires you to shoot a shell lodged in his body that's impossible to see, so you have to rely on the reticule as it moves through his body. Once you blow it up, his spirit gets released. But it floats from the middle of the main body and is extremely hard to see.
The final boss is just lazy. Extremely so, even. It's just a mook rush followed by an extremely lackluster fight, no more interesting than one of the simpler regular ghosts. They had to have been on a horrible deadline.
The climax of the first level is an awesome place and where the game hits its stride. You descend into it and loop through the same rooms as it gets creepier and crazier. The imagery is bananas and the projector scare is great.
It really makes me aware of the potential the game had, as it's all downhill from there. I really wanted the whole game to be like that house.