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Haunting Ground - A Review
Kristophe, 2005-09-01

I've never been an overly enthusiastic fan of the horror-adventure genre of gaming, though I am quite familiar with both Capcom's "Resident Evil" franchise, and Konami's "Silent Hill" series of games. So when I first learned that Capcom was developing a rather innovative horror-adventure game that would become known as the "Haunting Ground", I was intrigued just enough to go ahead and make the investment of adding it to my personal gaming collection.

I should make the point that "Haunting Ground" is a game about exploration and puzzles, vice "monster-bashing" and action (ala "Resident Evil") - and playing the role of a shy, young 18 year old female who has never had the least bit interest in any kind of sports or other athletic endeavors, and who's only real capability for dealing with the game's small handful of antagonists who want her dead is to run away (all too often in panic, which I shall explain in detail later) - is not really quite my cup of tea. To be quite frank about it, I might have produced this review a month or so earlier, were it not for the fact that it took me forever and a day just to play through "Haunting Ground" for the first time (I haven't attempted a second try as of yet).

As The Story Unfolds...

Display full imageThe story begins when our heroine - 18 year old, blonde Fiona Belli - wakes up in the basement of a strange and mysterious European castle after surviving a terrible automobile accident that took the lives of her parents. The castle is also home to four residents; the brawny brute castle groundskeeper, Debilitas (who has the mind of a five year old and a fetish for dolls); the cold and pitiless maid, Daniella (who is also rather mentally unbalanced); the wholly evil steward, Ricardo; and the enigmatic lord, Lorenzo (who appears to want to help Fiona, but who's real intentions remain a mystery) - and to Fiona's only real and true potential ally, the White German Shepherd known as Hewie that Fiona rescues from certain death.

Provided she can befriend, train, and keep him - Fiona and Hewie team up in an attempt to both uncover the castle's secrets, and to escape their early demise (well, actually Fiona is the only one that can easily die) at the hands of Debilitas (who sees Fiona as a "big doll" and easily becomes uncontrollable); or Daniella (who's obsession with, and envy of, Fiona borders on madness to the extreme); or Ricardo (who simply wants to kill Fiona for the sheer pleasure of it). Insofar as Lorenzo's intentions re Fiona, well, I don't wish to spoil anyone's gameplay by giving away any spoilers, so you will just have to find out for yourself.

Throughout the game, any one of these characters appear (mostly at wholly random, and all too often frequent, intervals) and attempt to "do Fiona in"; while Fiona's only defenses are to kick her antagonist (of which kicking a door shut into an adversary's face works most effectively), to throw Antimony Powder in an attempt to slow an adversary down, to strategically plant Magnesium on the ground (which works like a small land mine), or to run and hide (which only works to a degree - use the same hiding place over and over again, and Fiona will be found in short order). As long as Hewie is in the vicinity (and his health bar permits), Fiona also has the option of utilizing him to attack her antagonists as well - which, quite frankly, I found to be her most effective form of defense. I should add that Hewie is also an integral part to the successful solving of more than one crucial game plot!

The Game's "Nuts & Bolts"…

Display full image While the entire game takes place within the castle grounds, this is hardly a miniscule castle (actually, the castle comprises an area of over 130 rooms, all of them a bit strange). Exploring the castle is actually much simpler than might otherwise be imagined, thanks to the lack of loading screens between the various castle rooms and areas. Doors can be opened and closed. Hiding places for Fiona are just barely adequate, as are the number of clock "save points" in the game. Unfortunately, it is all to often when Fiona is on the verge of solving a major puzzle or obtaining some crucial item that one of her adversaries shows up upon the scene to chase her away, thus facilitating a seemingly endless number of "retries" in order to progress ahead, provided you don't get Fiona killed off.

Haunting Ground is, without question, a "strategically driven" horror-adventure whose most prominent (or problematic - depending upon your point of view) feature has to be Fiona's "fear factor". When confronted by an adversary, or simply by discovering something rather on the gruesome side, Fiona's fear factor begins to mount. If she cannot abate her rising fear, it will eventually turn to panic - which means that the onscreen color begins to grey out, and the screens will begin to skew about in time to the beating of her heart. When Fiona reaches a state of total panic; she will begin to run around uncontrollably (which makes it almost impossible for the player to control her movement), stumble frequently, and eventually fall to the ground (at which point she becomes an "easy kill"). I might add that compounding this "fear factor" within the game is the fact that there are no health bars, meters, or anything akin - Fiona simply has her "stamina" and her "fear factor" to gauge by how much (or how little) control the player has over her.

Display full image I should take a moment out to say that, without question, the graphics are (without question) absolutely clear and crisp, with a smooth look to the bright rooms and castle areas - in a word, superb. And while Capcom's graphic's efforts are obvious in the gaming environment, it was in the character models where the efforts really stand out - Fiona, for instance, is so incredibly lifelike and photogenic throughout the game with her varying eye and facial expressions that one can easily forget that she is not a living woman, but a mass of well-constructed pixels.

To conclude this section of my review, I wanted to touch upon the voice acting done in Haunting Ground - which is excellent (all the characters have something of an English accent). The soundtrack has all of the "creepy" music you could hope for - and is geared to first lull you into a seemingly sense of tranquility before suddenly breaking into the unexpected jump into the "fear factor" zone. My only complaint was that Capcom could have done a much better job with the ambient sound - I've owned dogs most of my life, but Hewie is the first dog I've ever encountered whose bark is definitely not Canis familiaris.

And So In Closing…

Display full image Haunting Ground was probably one of the most personally frustrating games I've ever experienced - not due to any technical problems or "bugs" (indeed, I encountered not a one), but because I continually killed off my heroine, and usually did so at the most inopportune time - thus facilitating the long process of starting over from a very inconvenient "save point". Add to this the very frequent and random appearance of an antagonist at the most inconvenient moment of game play - and not just once in a while, but recurring throughout the entire game - making unlimited patience a necessity in order to complete this game. Overall, the puzzles throughout the game were definitely challenging, but not overly impossible to solve. Ambient sound throughout the game was definitely not on a par with either the game's excellent soundtrack or its voice acting. And while having a companion like Hewie was quite innovative - all too often controlling Hewie turned out to be a challenge in itself (and not an easy challenge by any means, I might add).

Beyond the excellent characters and storyline in Haunting Ground, I was most highly impressed with the overall game graphics. Cut scenes were very well done - with the added option of having the capability to pause a cut scene with the PS2's "start button" - something I've not seen before to any large degree. But most of all I would have to applaud the superb effort that obviously went into the character models to such a degree that they actually (for me) became rather scary, albeit almost lifelike, people rather than a series of pixels.

Bottom line - would I recommend this game to a friend? I would have to answer "Maybe" - that it would depend on how much patience the friend in question actually posses, in conjunction with how well that friend could deal with the "brain versus brawn" ideology that is such an integral part of Haunting Ground, and would also involve just how much of a "friend" I would personally consider the given friend to be!

The Verdict

RPG Dots:   (7/10)

The ups and downs:
Outstanding GraphicsToo Few ''Save Points''
Excellent SoundtrackInconvenience of ''Save Points
Excellent StorylineVery Frequent Restarts
Best Sidekick (Hewie)Main Character Dies Too Easily
 Frustration Factor
Game Overview
Version: PS2
Multiplayer: No
Setting: European Castle
Combat: Very Minor
Play Time: 30 - 40 hours
Voice-Acting: Excellent
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