Review: Geist (Nintendo Gamecube)

Review: Geist (GC)
Developer: n-Space
Distributor: Nintendo
Genre: First Person Shooter
Release Date: 8/15/05

Ah, we once again return to the first person shooter. To say that FPS’s have been a staple of both console and computer gaming for years is an understatement. Ever since the days of Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, FPS’s have been released in droves for practically every gaming system. However, it wasn’t until Half-Life that the genre received the kick in the ass that it needed to really take itself to the next level.

Ever since, developers have striven to give gamers something more than just the standard lock-and-load style of gameplay, focusing on intricate plotlines and occasional puzzle solving. Of course some succeed more than others. For every Half-Life or Halo you’ve got a Daikatana or Turok: Evolution.

Enter Nintendo’s latest offering to the FPS pool: Geist. After several years in development, n-Space’s ghostly opus has finally hit the shelves with its focus on the supernatural and the ability to possess people and objects. But is it enough to help the game stand out among its contemporaries? Or is this just another promising concept falling flat?


1. STORY

Geist starts off in standard FPS fashion. You play John Raimi, a civilian working with a special ops team as a disease specialist called in to help investigate the mysterious Volks Corporation, who appears to be making some sort of virus. Your goal is simple: get in, collect a sample of the virus, and get out before anyone knows you are there. But of course things can never be that easy.

Once you have collected the virus sample the alarms go off, and you and your team are forced to fight their way out of the base. With your main escape route cut off, you take to a few tunnels, and end up running into a cavern that houses a particularly nasty insect-like life-form that chows down on one of your comrades (think Big Trouble in Little China but with more legs). Once you manage to blast your way past the monstrosity, the coast is clear and you prepare to be airlifted out by helicopter.

However, something possesses one of your military pals, and next thing you know he’s shot you and your comrades. You come to just in time to see that you are strapped to the ceiling of a rather large machine right as it tears your soul out of your body and deposits it into a containment cell. After only a short time in the cell something malfunctions, and you find yourself free.

From this point on you play as a ghost, able to wander around without being seen and possess various people, animals, and objects, all the while attempting to solve the mystery of the Volks corporation, and maybe even get your body back. It’s certainly a fresh take on the FPS genre, and one that is incredibly entertaining right off the bat. The storyline is solid even though it does contain a few cliches, and it is interesting to see how events begin to unfold as you progress.

Story Rating: 7/10


2. GRAPHICS

As I mentioned earlier, Geist has been in development for several years now. We actually got our first glimpse of it back at E3 in 2003. Because of this, while the game may have looked fantastic two years ago, it suffers somewhat in comparison to the graphical advances we’ve witnessed recently. That’s not to say it doesn’t still look great, but it doesn’t match up with Metroid Prime 2 when it comes to attention to detail.

People, animals, and objects all look very good, and have decently high poly counts with some excellent textures, although some of the humanoid models tend to look a little blocky at times. Enemies also tend to be overused a bit. They aren’t quite all clones, but there is very little variation between enemy soldiers. The few times you get to see yourself in spirit form are a real treat, as your body glows and pulses with multicolored lights as you float above the surface of the floor. Backgrounds are equally well done with fairly realistic looking textures and a good amount of detail, although often times they tend to be repeated a bit much.

The graphical effects are what really make this game stand out though. And I don’t mean just the flashes of light from firing a weapon or seeing smoke and fire either, which are all perfectly fine. First of all, there is your spirit form where you view the world in an astral haze. It’s almost like being under water with the colors subdued in a bluish hue. You’ll spend a good amount of time seeing things like this, and it’s an interesting experience. However, once you’ve possessed the body of a human, things are more clear and bright, and you can see details that you couldn’t quite make out as a ghost. Possess an animal and you’ll see the same thing, only in black and white.

Yes, the graphics aren’t quite top quality, but everything still looks good. My biggest major complaint is actually with slowdown, which I am amazed is even an issue considering how powerful the Gamecube can be. Too many times you’ll run into an area with four or five enemies standing around only to have the game starting running at about three-quarter speed. And that’s before they start firing at you! It’s much too common of an occurrence and really begins to affect gameplay after a while, especially in areas where accurate aiming is of the utmost importance. If it wasn’t for this annoyance, the final graphics score would easily have been a point or two higher than it is.

Major slowdown issues aside, the game is crisp and clean, with some really neat effects and plenty of attention to detail. It’s not the best looking game on the system, but the developers still produced an interesting world to wander around in.

Graphics Rating: 6/10


3. SOUND

Geist doesn’t sport the best sound around, but what it has is perfectly serviceable. The music is easily the best part as it really fits the mood of the game. It’ll be eerie and quiet one minute as you’re floating around, and then rev up and play loud the next when a gunfight erupts. There’s a pretty decent number of tracks too, so even though a few melodies will pop up frequently, it’s never so repetitive as to be annoying.

Atmospheric effects are also pretty good, especially when you are possessing different objects. As a ghost, you’ll be constantly hearing a light wind noise in the background, but switch to something else and you’ll get a whole different experience. Hop inside an animal and you might hear its heartbeat. Jump into a power generator and you’ll hear the sparks and pops of its internal electrical system firing.

Other sounds are okay, but nothing special. Weapons fire and explosions are pretty standard fare with nothing to really knock your socks off. Likewise for the voice acting, which is pretty decent but not very prevalent. You’ll hear the some decent voice work in the various cut scenes, but the rest of the time it’s just the same few greetings repeated over and over again by the various soldiers and scientists and such that you encounter. A little more variety here would certainly have been appreciated.

Overall, Geist sports an excellent soundtrack with a few nice atmospheric effects, but otherwise is pretty generic with the remainder of its sounds.

Sound Rating: 5/10


4. CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY

Geist’s controls are pretty standard first person shooter fare, with the two analog sticks being used for movement and aiming while the right trigger is used to fire. The other buttons on the controller pull up various menus, interact with objects, reload your weapons, or perform other tasks. The controls also tend to change a little bit based on what you are possessing, but never so much as to cause issues. For the most part, when inhabiting an inanimate object, the A button is used to affect it while the L trigger may perform a special action. Possessing humans or animals are pretty much identical, except that humans get weapons, of course.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the controls is not so much with the controls themselves as with the graphical slowdown as noted above. When the frame rate starts to drop, aiming becomes a real issue. Add this to the game’s pseudo lock-on system, and you’re in for a little bit of frustration. Geist tends to try to help gamers by keeping the firing reticule on your immediate target, but tends to center on the targets body as opposed to staying where you put it. As such, you might be aiming for a headshot only to have the reticule suddenly jump down to your targets midsection, which could be protected by a shield or some sort of armor. This can be especially frustrating with bosses when accuracy is key and you may only be able to damage them by shooting at a specific section of their anatomy.

For all intents and purposes, it is the first person shooter aspects of Geist that harm it the most. You only get to use one weapon at a time, which is whatever your possessed host happens to be carrying on him, which makes for a pretty mediocre shooting experience. Run around, shoot people, and interact with objects. Whee hah…

It’s when running around as a ghost that the game really shines. One of the first things you learn how to do is possess objects, which is as simple as floating up to them and pressing A. However, before you can possess a living being they need to be susceptible to being possessed. This means scaring them. Some critters, like dogs for example, can be scared pretty easily by possessing a nearby object and making some noise. Although a person can take some work… You may need to interact with several objects before a person is scared enough for you to possess them, and this is where the games puzzles begin to kick in. Can’t get through a door because it’s been ghost-proofed? Go find yourself a human and start working on scaring them. Sometimes it’s as easy as rattling a nearby garbage can, and sometimes it’ll take multiple exploding power generators.

Other puzzles will require you to figure out the key codes to certain areas of the Volks complex. One of the neatest puzzles involves possessing a security keypad and watching a guard enter his code. Except that his code will be backwards since you will be looking out from the pad itself. It’s little attentions to detail like this that really make Geist a fun game.

In the end, Geist is about half first person shooter and half puzzle solving adventure, and it’s the later portion of the game that is the most enjoyable. As a FPS, Geist is pretty sub par with plenty of other games being more worth your time. But as a puzzle solving game, Geist is incredibly entertaining, and more often than not you’ll be looking forward to getting through the shooting so you can get back to possessing.

Control and Gameplay Score: 6/10


5. REPLAYABILITY

Unfortunately, Geist doesn’t have anything in the way of multiplayer beyond the standard four player hookup on the front of the cube. This tends to hurt the game a bit as you can’t put together any big LAN parties or hook up with friends over the internet. However, if you can get three of your friends to come over and play, you’ll find that Geist’s multiplayer experience is actually a ton of fun.

There are three different modes to play, and all of them utilize the possession aspect of the game in unique and entertaining ways. You can also toss in some bots to play along with your friends, bringing the total number of opponents up to 8. And if you can’t get any friends to come over, you can always load up your maps with up to 7 bots to play against.

Throughout the single player campaign you will find little trinkets that unlock extra multiplayer maps and characters, but beyond that there isn’t really anything else to find.

As for the single player campaign itself, you can beat it in around eight hours depending on how quickly you figure out the puzzles and how good you are at shooters. Assuming you find all the collectibles on your first trip through the game, there’s really no reason to come back and play it again, unless you just happened to enjoy it a lot.

Replayability Score: 4/10


6. BALANCE

Geist tends to alternate between being fairly hard and incredibly easy without any real regularity. The games does scale in difficulty nicely for the first few levels, but after playing for two hours or so, things start to become routine with the exception of the boss fights, which can be very frustrating. This is mostly due to the aiming and slowdown issues discussed above, but it all adds up in the end.

The biggest issue is with the first person shooter portions of the game, which are pretty easy overall. Run around, shoot guys, grab a med pack to heal up, and continue on. Again, only the boss fights offer any real challenge. And if you really want to get an edge? In areas where you are in a long hall or room with enemies at the end, you can shoot them before they even begin firing at you. Just watch for when your targeting reticule turns red and fire away. You’ll clear the room without even risking taking damage.

The puzzle portion of the game isn’t exactly rocket science either. Most of the puzzles are pretty simple, and since the game comes right out and tells you what you can possess by glowing red after you’ve inspected it, it might as well be giving you the answers. Just keep possessing objects until you stumble upon the right thing to do.

Additionally, it’s very difficult to die. As a ghost, you have a slowly depleting energy meter which can easily be replenished by possessing a person, animal, or draining a plant. If the host you are possessing dies, you just pop back out as a ghost. The game really only kills you if you run out of hosts to possess, or let your energy get down to 0. In either case, running out of hosts really only occurs during boss fights, and you’d almost have to want to run out of energy for that to even be an issue.

Entertaining, yes. Difficult in the least? Not at all.

Balance Score: 3/10


7. ORIGINALITY

Geist gets a lot of credit for its possession trick, which is done incredibly well and is certainly something that you won’t find in many other games on the market right now, if any. However, the first person shooter aspects of the game are certainly nothing new, and have been done much better in plenty of other places. The game also gets some credit for its multiplayer options, which contain some great twists on the standard deathmatch and capture the flag formulas. It’s just a pity that you can’t play multiplayer without inviting some friends over for a bit.

The possession trick goes a long way, but unfortunately the shooter aspects play too big of a role in the game to make Geist completely original. Still, it’s a breath of fresh air in a stale genre.

Originality Score: 6/10


8. ADDICTIVENESS

This game won’t suck you in and refuse to let you go, but it will definitely keep you entertained for a while. Within the first thirty minutes after completing the standard shooter intro, you’ll become absorbed with the ability to possess things and seeing what they can do.

Sadly, these entertaining romps as a spirit are continually interrupted by the mediocre first person shooter portion of the game, which don’t really hold your attention or move the story along in most cases. They are just kind of there.

In the end, the portions as a spirit are pretty addictive. But the shooting portion of the game is certainly not. Since the game is about half and half of each, we’ll use that as a score basis.

Addictiveness: 5/10


9. APPEAL FACTOR

Obviously those looking for something fresh in the first person shooter genre will be drawn to this game, but it’s hard to say whether they will be entertained or disappointed by the lackluster shooting portions of the game. Likewise, adventure gamers might thoroughly enjoy the puzzle portions of Geist, but be turned off by the shooting aspects.

Horror fans be warned however… Geist may deal with ghosts, but it is by no means a scary game. For that matter, there is plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor and sight gags that are pretty amusing. So if you are looking for scares, this isn’t going to be the place to find them.

If anything is going to hurt this game, it’s going to be the shooting. And that is going to be the portion of the game that the average gamer will be drawn towards, only to realize that it’s pretty lackluster. Fortunately those who stick around long enough to really get into the possession aspect of things will find a pretty enjoyable game overall.

Appeal Factor Score: 5/10


10. MISCELLANEOUS

Unfortunately there isn’t any bonus content or extras beyond the few unlockable multiplayer options. And without a way to play over the internet or set up a LAN party, those will quickly become stale.

It would have been nice to get some developer interviews or other information on the creation of Geist and why it took so long for the game to finally come out, but these are sadly missing. There are also no extra movies, game demos, galleries, or any other options that can be unlocked by playing through the game or collecting objects.

In the end, Geist is a solid adventure game with some pretty poor first person shooter aspects. I think if the game had been completely based on puzzle solving, it would have been a better experience overall. Perhaps if n-Space decides to make a sequel, they will either greatly improve the shooting portions entirely, or lessen them, if not remove them entirely. Some more voice over work would also be appreciated, as well as a little less repetition with the greetings. And, of course, the ability to play against more than four friends in multiplayer.

Miscellaneous Score: 4/10


THE SCORES

Story: 7
Graphics: 6
Sound: 5
Gameplay/Control: 6
Replayability: 4
Balance: 3
Originality: 6
Addictiveness: 5
Appeal Factor: 5
Miscellaneous: 4
Overall: 51
Final Score: 5.0 (Average)