Developer: Deck 13 Interactive
Publisher: Viva Media
Release Date: 12/10/2012
Haunted is an interesting marriage between two companies I feel are quite underrated by the average gamer. The developer is Deck 13, who has given us fun games like Ankh and Venetica. Viva Media on the other hand has become the big publisher for point and click adventure games in North America, replacing Dreamcatcher/The Adventure Company. Because of them we’ve gotten high quality games that would have never left Europe without them including Gray Matter, Alter Ego, Mata Hari, and of course The Next Big Thing. Together these two companies have brought us Haunted, which has been out in Europe since May. It’s one of the few games of 2012 I was actually looking forward to, but when all was said and done I ended up being disappointed by the actual end product – a constant running theme with 2012.
It’s not that Haunted is bad by any stretch of the imagination; it’s just that the game is an exceptionally generic point and click game without to really make it stand out from the pack. In a year where The Walking Dead had caused the lowest common denominator gamer to notice point and click adventure games for the first time since the LucasArts golden age, Haunted is a pretty straightforward and bland affair.
The main character in Haunted is Mary, a young girl who has run away from home as she is unable to live with the fact she has caused the demise of her younger sister. She passes out close to death in the rain and is found by a one eyed psychopath named Ethan who, along with his master, plan to carve Mary up and use her in their experiments. Mary escapes, and in doing discovers she has the ability to see ghosts. Even more important, she discovers that not only is she NOT to blame for the death of her sister, she might not even be dead after all! From here Mary travels Europe, picking up ghostly friends like William Wallace, a fake pirate, a pope, a wolfwere, Confucius and a goldfish. It’s a diverse and motley bunch to be sure.
The core problem is that Haunted can’t decide if it’s a comedy or a mystery style adventure game and in trying to blend the two together, you end up getting a story that isn’t very funny or creepy. It’s just kind of there. I appreciated the homages to The Secret of Monkey Island and even an appearance from the main character in Grim Fandango, but I can honestly say I never laughed at a single moment in the game. I might have smiled a bit, but it never tickled my funny bone like a Sam and Max game. More often than not I just rolled my eyes at the bad comedy and the constant squabbling between characters. It also didn’t help that none of the characters were likeable and all suffered from inexplicable mood changes. One second a character is full of self pity and whining about how terrible their existence is (every one suffers from it in this game), and the next they’re just fine, ready to go on with their adventure. You never get a real bead on who anyone is save for William the Pitiful who is just meant to be a joke character up until the very end of the game. As well, the adventure just deems disjointed. You’ve given cursory reasons to go from one location to another, but it never feels all that important to the core plot point – that of finding out what actually happened to Mary’s sister. The end result is a game that is okay to playful, but you are left with no real attachment to any of the characters and once it’s done, it’s done.
The game is also quite short. I beat the game in three hours and thirteen minutes. The good news is there are four short side quests and once you are done those, you unlock a bonus chapter at the end of the game that sets up a sequel. The problem is even with the bonus content, you’re looking at about only four hours of gaming and the average point and click game tends to clock in between six and ten. So this is a very short game. I appreciate the subquests and bonus chapter, and they are an attempt to break up the extreme linearity of the game, but Haunted still ends up being a “one and done” game with no reason to go back to it.
Visually the game is a bit lackluster as well. Character models are cartoonish, which is fine. Lots of adventure games have that look and feel, especially comedy ones. The problem is that everything looks like it is out of a LucasArts games from the 1990. I appreciate the homage, but the graphics look and feel quite dated. They should have gone the route of several Telltale titles to see how to keep the look and feel of the golden age of point and click while still having modern graphics. Animation is a bit wonky too. Characters move fun and at times it feels like the game suffers from slowdown or frame rate issues. Considering this is a point and click adventure game, this is a bit disheartening, especially when Venetica was an action RPG and it looked a lot better.
The voice acting is one of the true positives of Haunted. The cast is quite excellent and everyone does a fine job with their role. I think the story’s failed attempts at humour would have gone off even worse without the quality voice acting team behind the game. It’s also worth noting that the soundtrack and sound effects are equally as well done, meaning the game almost works better if you’re listening to it rather than playing it. I’d love to see this same cast with a better story behind them (or a better game), to see them really cut loose.
The core gameplay is pretty much what you expect from a point and click adventure game. You use your mouse for everything. Click on a person to talk to them. Click on an object to interact with it. Click on something that turns your mouse cursor into a hand icon and you can add that item to your inventory. Click on something in your inventory to use it. Click on an item in your inventory and then something on the background to make them interact. If you’ve ever played a single adventure game, then you know the deal…or do you?
Haunted adds a few changes to the typical game of this genre. For example, whenever a new ghost joins your team, their portrait is added to the bottom of the screen. Click on it to use them like an item in your inventory. It’s not a big change, but it still is something different. You can also click on the wolfwere to play as the ghosty creature rather than Mary. You’ll only need to do this a half dozen or so times in the game, but again, it’s still something different. Finally, depending on the difficulty setting Haunted gives you up to two ways to gets hints in proceeding through the game. The Eye Icon will highlight all the interactive areas on your screen so you can see if you’ve missed anything. Now the size of these clickable areas are quite small in some cases, and overlap in others, so it can still be a mess clicking on exactly what you want, but it’s a handy reference guide. Most games that offer this type of hint ability use the space bar, but Haunted has you clicking an icon instead. The other hint feature is a light bulb icon. Click on it and choose from a menu of open puzzles to figure out how to solve them. I never needed to use this as EVERY puzzle in Haunted has you clicking on or combining things, so you don’t have to worry about any logic puzzles or any of the other puzzles that have become commonplace in more modern adventure games. No, this is a definite throwback to the 80s and 90s – for good or for ill.
As you can imagine from all this, Haunted is not a hard game by any stretch of the imagination. The puzzles are all very straight forward and if you get stuck on one of the lower difficulties, you can have the game tell you how to progress through things. It’s short and easy, and although a bit dull for my tastes, it would probably be a good game for people new to the genre or younger gamers. I don’t think most people will progress through Haunted as quickly as I did, but I would be shocked if the game took anyone more than five or six hours, especially on the easiest setting. I should point out that the only difference between the three difficulty levels is if you have access to the Eye and Light Bulb icons and their respective hint functions, so you might as well play it on easy as oddly enough, that gives you the most access to what the game can do.
Basically, Haunted is your typical adventure game these days but it replaces a variety of puzzles with some optional side quests and a bonus chapter if you complete all four quests. It’s very short for an adventure game and the story is just kind of there. The characters had potential, but nothing is ever really done with any of them, including the core protagonist. It’s acceptable, especially given the length of the game, but I found the game lacking in all fronts. At the same time, I don’t know what they could have added content wise, as much of the game already felt like padding as is. In a day and age where you can get literally hundreds or thousands of adventure games for seven to twenty dollars, it’s hard to recommend Haunted unless you’re a fan of both Deck 13 and Viva Media. I mean, I’m glad I played through the game, but Haunted just feels slapped together. It’s easily forgettable and there are so many better games in the genre, even if you just look at 2012. If you do decide to pick up Haunted, you’ll find the game is passable and inoffensive. You’ll probably get your money’s worth, but most adventure game fans will want to look elsewhere for something that is longer, better looking, and more challenging. There’s just not enough substance or style in the game to give it a second look.
Control and Gameplay: Good
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
FINAL SCORE: Average Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Haunted is a pretty mediocre adventure game that looks and feels like it was made in the 1990s. It’s not a bad game by any means; it just falls short in most areas. It’s half the length of most games in this genre and both the comedy and puzzles are a bit lacking. The voice cast is top notch however and considering this game retails for only fifteen-nineteen dollars, it’s safe to say you’ll get your money’s worth out of Haunted if you decide to pick it. Still, even at that price point there are numerous adventure games released in 2012 alone that will satisfy a point and click fan more than this thumbs in the middle affair.