Haunting Ground PS2 Review

May 31, 2010 by Chris Wigham  
Filed under PS2, Retro Content, Retro Reviews

The fabled emotion engine remained just that, an official fable and simply a fancy title given to the processor powering your PS2. It was something that was completely blown out of proportion for reasons we cannot comprehend. Regardless of this unfounded Emotion engine hype, gaming can indeed convey emotions without the need of such a processor; Haunting Ground is all about the panic of being pursued for instance.

Haunting Ground is the latest horror title from Capcom, and has you taking control of Fiona Belli, a young woman who finds herself trapped in a foreboding castle. Being imprisoned is reason enough to panic, but Fiona also later has to contend with constantly being pursued by a cast of unnerving and relentless characters. These oddballs are a highly memorable bunch and are definitely the highlight of a largely disappointing plot that remains fairly weak throughout.

Haunting Ground employs some of the most established features of the horror genre, which includes giving the game a puzzling aspect, grainy visuals and an unsettling atmosphere. What it doesn’t do is arm Fiona with a weapon (only a feeble kick, shoulder attack and dodge move to speak of), meaning you’ll have to rely on various items as well as your wits upon encountering the enemy, a resourceful pal is also on hand to get you out of tight situations.

In the early stages of the game you’ll meet Hewie, a white German Shepard who’ll become a useful companion in times of need. You are able to instruct the dog to attack any pursuers to slow them down in their tracks, retrieve items you cannot reach, or utilise and cooperate with him during puzzles. A nice touch associated with Hewie, is the fact that he’ll respond differently to you depending on how you treat him, therefore he’ll remain mostly obedient if you constantly shower him with praise and the opposite if you do otherwise, although without any onscreen display indicating the dogs mood, this is sadly left a little under realised.

The same isn’t to be said of the panic aspect, which works wonderfully well. Fiona is an ordinary woman in a not so ordinary situation, and whilst Hewie can be used to delay the approach of an enemy, it’s always best to run like the wind, preferably stumbling across an ideal hiding place in the process. When being pursued Fiona can reach a state of panic, which eventually turns the screen into an impractical black and white, whilst Fiona herself can seem totally out of control, running into walls and falling to her knees. Worst of all is when Fiona reaches the state of panic that leaves you in a mostly helpless crawl, if Hewie isn’t quickly on the attack; this is when you should consider yourself pretty much dead. It’s a successful dynamic that certainly adds to the overall tension.

It has to be said that times can be testing and bordering on annoying on occasion. Fiona’s pursuers appear randomly in many situations, which is another touch that succesfully amps up the tension. It’s not perfect though, attacks can be too frequent, and this left us rather annoyed when we just wanted to move forward, instead of madly running all over the place, hoping to shake the oddballs or find a handy cupboard to hide in. In spite of this we’d rather have these random chases opposed to constant scripted events.

We completed the game in just over 8 hours, but thankfully there are plenty of extras to add to the longevity, including various endings. New costumes alter the gameplay experience considerably, offering both a gun (cowgirl outfit) and a whip (leather outfit) to grant Fiona some offence against her pursuers. There is also a mini game, which gives you the chance to play as Hewie for once, as well as a harder difficulty level that naturally increases the challenge.

The graphics and sound certainly deserve a mention for helping to craft a sinister atmosphere. When being pursued the thumping music sets the mood beautifully, whilst the visuals are mostly colourless, but definitely not characterless. The beautiful castle imagery, fixed camera angles and almost non-existent loading times from location to location definitely gets the big thumbs up from us.

Haunting Ground is a great new entry into the horror genre. The emphasis on panic is a refreshing detour for the genre, and running away and hiding makes things feel a little like a chilling game of hide and seek, even if it happens to annoy at times. Hewie makes for a fantastic weapon and companion throughout the game, but we would have liked to have more of an understanding of how he was feeling. Despite the few flaws, we recommend you to run away and get the game now.

8/10

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