Review: Haunted Past: Realm of Ghosts Collector’s Edition

Haunted Past: Realm of Ghosts Collector’s Edition
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Developer: Gogii Games
Genre: Adventure/Hidden Object
Release Date: 01/14/2011

That’s right. It’s your friendly neighborhood writer back with yet another hidden object game to review. This time I was sure I’d hit some sort of genre fatigue, but by mixing in other titles for my PS3, I’m managing to go into each of these games fresh. I know what to expect, but I’m open to the experience. Thus, I can play more than one of these things a week and not go crazy.

Haunted Past is actually a bit of a departure from the other games I’ve played in a few key ways. That made it a very interesting game to play through, if only for future comparison’s sake. So let’s get down to it. I’m back in another house and ready to solve my way to freedom!

Story

After inheriting an estate, our heroine heads right over in a state of excitement. This is the late twentieth-century, so this is kind of a big deal. Once there, she finds the ghost of her mother hiding from an evil presence, and discovers that claiming this house as her own will not be such an easy task.

The story is pretty interesting here, although it’s kind of short. The basic premise is that her mother died here decades ago, and the cause was never revealed. The ghosts and messages of those who tried to discover the truth are laid bare around the estate, lending a strong backstory to the proceedings. This is not one of those games that lays out the whole premise at the beginning, and then just has you working towards an ending. Bits and pieces are fed throughout.

Like House of 1000 Doors, this game lends itself well to a possible sequel, but doesn’t do so at the cost of the main narrative. There is a definitive conclusion to the game’s story, and it was actually kind of cool. Overall, it was an enjoyable mystery/horror romp that will definitely satisfy the genre’s audience.

Graphics

This game’s art style is all about being spooky. Each room is heavily detailed, covered with cobwebs, dust, and other such things. The dilapidated house looks like it could collapse at any second, which helps create a pretty cool atmosphere. Only Dorian Gray did a better job in my opinion, and that game had an unfair edge when it came to setting the mood.

Like Curse at Twilight, this game plays it safe with it’s character models. The ghostly apparitions don’t change expressions or mouth words, but instead just stand there looking all ghostly. Given the failures I’ve seen in the genre, this isn’t all that disappointing. Beyond that, these are generic looking humans. I’ve got nothing special to say about them.

One of my favorite effects in the game occurs when you use the hint system. It acts like a mirror being shattered, meaning a crack forms over the area you need to interact with. Combine that with the sound of glass shattering, and it’s a pretty nifty effect. The rest of the effects are pretty run of the mill, including sparkles that highlight areas with which you can interact.

The spooky atmosphere gives it an edge over most of the competition, but this game probably won’t wow it’s players.

Audio

In an interesting decision, there is very little music in this game. Instead, there is a strong accompaniment of drawn out spooky sounds. Seriously, this game would have worked great around Halloween. Once again, it shows just how much this game is about atmosphere. It ends up working, and when the rare bit of music does show up, it has more impact. This was a gamble, but it paid off.

The voice acting is right around where it usually is for this kind of game. You’d hate it for a big blockbuster title, but it seems right for a ten dollar downloadable game. With only a few voices and one that are used sparingly at that, it’s not a huge part of the game. Still, you won’t be trying to rip off your ears, so that’s a good sign.

The real story here is the lack of music in favor of mood setting sounds. For this game, it works, and that leaves it with a strong impression. This is one you don’t want to turn the sound off for.

Gameplay

Unlike every other adventure game I’ve played, this game has no traditional puzzles. Instead, everything is either a hidden object puzzle or simple use of inventory items. This is an interesting choice that helps make the game feel more unique compared to its brethren. I was actually glad there to see not a single slide or jigsaw puzzle.

With one less gameplay mechanic to worry about, one might think the game would become monotonous. However, it adds a new mechanic to replace the puzzles. Throughout the game, you’ll need to enter the spirit realm through a mirror. In here, you see the room as it was in the past, and are stuck in that room. What you need to do is find and hide objects so that when you go back to the real world, you can uncover them and use them. For example, you may need a fishing pole in the real world, but there are none to be found. In the spirit realm, you can place that pole behind a wall, and then go back into the real world. Once there you can use a hammer to break down the wall to reveal the pole. This kind of idea isn’t wholly original, as I’ve personally seen similar ideas in other games, but it works great here.

Beyond that, everything else is pretty much par for the course. You need to find items in the environment during hidden object puzzles, and you use items to move forward. This can be as simple as putting a key in a lock to as complex as rewiring a light fixture. When an item is no longer needed, it disappears from your inventory. Everything controls and acts like you would expect.

The mirror mechanic helps set this game apart from the pack, but it is otherwise a standard entry in the genre. Fans will enjoy it, but detractors won’t find anything to change their mind.

Replayability

This was actually the shortest game I’ve ever played in this genre. I beat it in a couple of hours. Unintentionally, I played through the entire game in one sitting. I guess taking out all of those puzzles cuts down on the play time in a big way.

The Collector’s Edition comes with an extra chapter. Even this took around half an hour, so even the extra time still couldn’t really help this game. This genre is hardly replayable as it is, so when a game is this short, it isn’t good news. Either way you slice it, you won’t get much bang for your buck here, so that is something to consider before making the purchase.

Balance

Perhaps my favorite thing about this game was that it had a customizable difficulty. There is an easy and hard setting for those looking to keep things simple, but the custom setting was helpful. This way, you could keep hints coming if you needed them, but make the hidden objects harder. Or, you could somewhere in between.

If you go on easy, this game is a cakewalk. With no head scratchers to worry about, this game is pretty easy to work through. If you chose harder hidden object puzzles, they will definitely test your eyes. Rather than change up the backgrounds, you instead are looking for trickier objects. Often, they’ll blend into the background, meaning you can’t just do a quick once over to move forward.

Either way you slice it, this is not a tough game. However, the adjustable difficulty allows players to customize it to their liking. More games should offer this kind of thing.

Originality

There are a couple of things this game does to help set itself apart from the rest of its genre. For starters, the lack of music is something you don’t see often, as is the lack of traditional puzzles. Add in the spirit realm, and this game is comparatively unique among the games I’ve played.

That being said, there really isn’t anything original here. All of the design choices have been done before in other games over the years. I will give it some points for putting all of these touches together and for sticking out of the current crowd, but that reward has to be properly scaled back.

This game could be seen as a refreshing change of pace for some, but the basics are all here. This is pretty much a different brand of generic cola. If you like cola but want to trick yourself into thinking you’re drinking something different, this is the kind of game for you.

Addictiveness

I usually give high scores for addictiveness for adventure games. After all, simple point and click gameplay is addicting and fun. I also played through this game in one sitting, which is another good sign.

However, I can’t help but take some points away because of the game’s length. It lasted only a couple of hours to begin with, which is a normal length session for me even for games I don’t enjoy. While I was compelled to push forward, there simply wasn’t much to push forward to.

Appeal Factor

This game is definitely going to appeal to fans of the supernatural and the creepy. In that particular subset, this game stands above many others. Since every other adventure game I play goes for that kind of theme, I’m going to assume that’s a pretty large subset of the adventure fan club.

Once again, this genre is accessible, addictive, and plays well enough that anyone can get into it. If you’re looking for a movie length game about ghosts and hidden pasts, this game will be right up your alley.

Miscellaneous

Like I mentioned, the CE includes a bonus chapter. This chapter is separate from the main story, but it still fits. This game is clearly setting up for a sequel, and the bonus chapter might as well be a bridge between the two games. It’s an interesting addition that adds about half an hour of game to your time, it’s worth it.

The rest of the package is simply the basics. You have some concept art and some wallpapers. These are about as interesting as they usually are, but not likely to take up more than a minute of your time. A few more additions would have been nice, as the game offers less than it could.

The Scores
Story: Enjoyable
Graphics: Above Average
Audio: Decent
Gameplay: Above Average
Replayability: Worthless
Balance: Decent
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Decent
Appeal Factor: Decent
Miscellaneous: Mediocre
Final Score: Mediocre Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

Haunted Past ends up being a pretty average adventure game, despite all it does to set itself apart. This is because for every idea that sets it above the pack, there’s a problem to meet it. The story is enjoyable, but the game is incredibly short. The mirror world is interesting, but the lack of traditional puzzles makes it feel like something is missing. Overall, if you like the genre, this is one to consider, especially if you’re also into spooky atmospheres. I’ll be interested to play through a sequel if one ever gets released, which is at least something positive to end on.

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