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Traveller in Playtime: Haunting Ground

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DO NOT KICK THE DOG

[Halloween is the perfect time to go back and play some hidden horror gems from days past - which is exactly what Kerrik52 does in his Haunting Grounds retrospective! I'm a sucker for PS2-era horror games, so hopefully this tickles your fancy as much as it did mine. Get your work on Destructoid's front page by writing a kickass blog - bonus points for bringing the spoop in these waning October days! - Wes]

Haunting Ground (AKA Demento) is a survival horror game made by Capcom. It stars Fiona and her canine companion Hewie as they try to escape a variety of crazies in the grounds of Belli Castle. It was supposed to be the fifth Clock Tower game, but became its own IP instead. But it still has much Clock Tower DNA in it, as it built around escaping a variety of stalkers, not unlike Clock Tower 3.

Open in a new tab for a better look.

Low-key Horror

Something that becomes clear in the first few hours is how slow and creeping the game's horror pace is. It feels awfully realistic, even though that's evidently not the case. You can look around and find the odd scary thing, but oftentimes it just feels like a castle at night.

The game doesn't fill me with dread like a normal effective horror game does, at least not until a stalker draws near. As soon as their music starts, a bit of panic sets in and you have to bring an escape route to mind. This is exactly what Fiona is feeling and thinking, making it really easy to relate to her. I love when the protagonist is in the same mindspace as me when I'm playing.

Fiona also writes down some nice comments when she finds something of note and has some interesting thoughts when you examine the weird stuff in Belli Castle. It adds to the atmosphere and helps to develop Fiona outside of cutscenes.

Getting Chased by Stalkers

The stalkers are at the center of the game's mechanics and are handled in a great way. Each has their own reason for chasing down Fiona and slightly different mechanics for you to exploit. They'll either find you randomly or after certain setpieces. Then Fiona starts to panic and the hunt is on. Each section of the castle that they govern is comprised of a complex set of rooms full of hiding spots and traps for you to find and use.

It's interesting to try and learn the layout as soon as possible so that you can run without having to consult the map. The streamed loading works perfectly, so the pace never lets up. It's a unique way of mastery; usually you don't have to care too much about level design in a horror game.

What separates HG from your run-of-the-mill chase horror game is the fact that you're not helpless all the time. Hiding and avoiding conflict is the best option, but a direct encounter isn't entirely idiotic. Traps are awesome if you can find them and figure them out, but you have a few direct combat options as well. You need to employ both traps and direct combat during boss fights.

Another unique thing is that you don't have any proper health, only invisible stamina and panic meters. Both can be restored with items or time, and change during a chase. I haven't noticed much punishment for getting Fiona tired. I think it slows her down a bit and makes her unable to tackle. The real problem is panic. The longer she spends next to a stalker, the higher it gets and the screen goes whiter. Once it maxes out, she freaks out completely. It's at this point where you can barely control her, as the screen goes white, she runs super fast, and starts tripping. If you can endure, it'll soon reset to about half.

The camera combined with the lack of tank controls can get you quite easily when panicking, but it's no problem during normal play. It's at this point where you can actually get killed. If a stalker gets you while panicking, it's all over and you're treated to the sounds of the stalker's unique game over noises. It's a very creepy and encourages you to never hear it again.

Hewie

I'm not a dog person, but Hewie is such an awesome companion that I have to make an exception. You find him chained early on and he decides to become your protector from then on. Fiona only has a wimpy kick, some stun bombs, and a tackle, so you'll have to rely on Hewie if you ever want to engage a stalker properly.

He's just a dog, so getting him to help can be hard. In direct combat it's actually pretty easy, but some contextual actions for puzzles can be fickle. There are five generic commands: ”Go,” which is jump, attack, and search; ”Call,” which makes him come to you; ”Scold.” which keeps him from disobeying; ”Praise” is to reward him after doing something right; and finally, ”Sit,” which makes him sit on buttons and lets him charge a super attack. You can also make him shake with it!

Female horror protagonists with a dog deserve a comeback.

Treating him correctly with praise and scolding improves your relationship, which makes him more reliable and boosts your final rank. Since it made me like him, I consider the system a great success.

The one problem I have with him is that he doesn't keep up if you run at top speed all the time. This can make it annoying when you need him for a puzzle, but I think you can alleviate this by going a bit slower and calling him semi-frequently.

Alchemy

HG makes uses of alchemy in many ways. It's central to the plot and integral to many of the characters. It's also used for some of the stranger puzzles, which make use of a few pieces of alchemical mythology. You even get extra rewarded if you know the legend of the Jewish Golem.

You find the odd medallion scattered throughout the castle that you can use in an alchemy machine. This starts a luck/reaction based minigame where you need to match up spheres as they switch colours. It's bit hard, but consumables aren't really that important. You can easily get by with only a handful.

The equipment is a different matter, as it's quite useful. I think there are a few to make, but most are either found or earned. If you get enough, you can become rather powerful in conjunction with Hewie. It's still a risk to fight, but it becomes more viable later on and in NG+.

The Daughter of Resident Evil 4

Resident Evil 4 is the game that keeps on giving. Not only is it amazing, but it also spawned other masterpieces, Haunting Ground being one of them. Belli Castle is a dead ringer for Castle Salazar, and Hewie is basically ”that dog.” It's so interesting that Capcom managed to get so much use out of spooky castles. I don't think there are other games whose failed prototypes and assets have found new life quite like RE4.

The Horror Heroine and Female Themes

[I ask for a bit of leeway on this topic, I don't usually write about this kind of stuff. Don't flamewar me please. Write some reasonable comments instead, ok?]

With the game being centered around a young woman being chased around by creeps, it should come as no surprise that it makes use of fears that are associated with, if not exclusive to, women.

Fiona is the exemplary woman visually, having a body many would envy. She is somewhat sexualised in the story and has something called Azoth inside her. I take it as some kind of alchemical lifeforce, so it's understandable why a young woman would be brimming with the stuff.

All of these facts about her play into the central theme of female exploitation that makes the game so real and scary, despite the fantasy aspects. Every stalker wants her for a different reason, making for an interesting cast of villains. They objectify her in their own ways, making it really scary and uncomfortable when they chase you.

And just to twist the knife further, the most vile of the bunch got the honour of the bad ending. Heavy viewer discretion advised on that one - it's horrible on like five levels.

I consider this theme a great writing success, especially since it really makes you want to keep Fiona out of harm and get out. It's horrific, but so well put together. A worthy challenger to Silent Hill 2's throne if there ever was one. The dominatrix bonus costume is a bit much though.

The Extra Room

Once you beat the game, you get access to the Extra Room. It's a reused room from the main game that has been stuffed with a bunch fun extras, such as costumes, movies, character models, music, and even a minigame. I wish all games made an effort to not only have extras, but also made the game's assets more readily available.

Final Judgement

GREAT


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Kerrik52
Kerrik52   gamer profile

Greetings, one and all. I'm known as Kerrik52 around these parts and I think I'm pretty swell, for a Swedish dude. I love all games, except the bad ones. I play games when possible, thinking I'... more + disclosures


 



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