Frightful Fantasy Fun – Haunt Review
This game was reviewed on Xbox 360
Grab onto your flashlights, ghost hunters, as you’ll need them to fight off the darkness in Haunt, an Arcade Kinect title. Is this game of ghosts a suspenseful journey of frightful fun, or does it disappear as a simple bump in the night?
In Haunt, you’ll wake up in the dusty basement of a mansion, with no explanation as to how you arrived or why you’re there. Quickly, you’re greeted by the voice of Benjamin, the mansion’s ghostly owner who may posses any painting in the building. He explains that he needs objects called Phantaflasks, for some unknown reason, and asks you to help him recover them. This goal is the entire basis for the title, and is presented in a very barebones manner only bringing forth the most basic information and never going into great depth. It’s very clear that the storyline and dialogue in Haunt have been geared more towards children (focusing on humour and silliness than depth of plot), which is where the title will mostly be enjoyed. If you were looking for something dark and violent, or fairly well written, best to look elsewhere – this one’s for the kids.
The same focus towards younger gamers carries over to gameplay as well, playing like a love-child between Rise of Nightmares and Luigi’s Mansion. Players are given a flashlight at the very start of the title, and this tool is essential to play. Always on and never running out of juice, your torch can be shined more-or-less by moving either hand as though you actually held the object, and is used in both combat and navigation.
Aiming the light towards the edges of the screen will cause your character to look or turn in that direction, and to move towards your light you simply need to walk on the spot. If you’re in a hurry, you can increase your tempo to have your character jog. You can only move so fast in-game though, so don’t strain yourself trying to get a full sprint going.
Opening doors or interacting with objects are both done in two parts: first shine your light over the object (usable set pieces have a golden glow to them), then complete the action needed to use it. These motions could be pulling out a drawer with one hand, pushing open a door, or even speaking into an intercom using your Kinect’s microphones.
Players may opt to turn on a movement assistance feature, which helps to navigate the various halls of the mansion much easier. Players need only walk on the spot to automatically maneuver through the narrow walkways, pointing their lights in the direction they wish to go when faced with a fork in the road. However, this option does not work in open rooms; players must still manually explore them. For those who need to search every nook and cranny, you may duck to look underneath things like beds and desks – you never know where things are hiding! Overall, navigation is considerably easy, with very accurate tracking and straightforward, intuitive controls.
Continuing the for-kids trend is combat, which is fun yet simple. The main enemy in Haunt is ghosts, of which there are two kinds of encounters. In some instances, players may be attacked by a specter briefly in a one-time pass. To avoid taking damage, players need to follow on-screen prompts and complete various actions like ducking, sidestepping, or covering their ears. Move fast enough and you’ll be perfectly fine, and the ghost will disappear.
Should you be slow on the draw, you’ll loose a bit of your vitality. Fret not, however, as small purple bubbles of life can be found just about everywhere. On occasion, you may even stumble across a Vitality Vial, which will automatically revive you should your vitality meter run out.
Certain phantoms aren’t satisfied with hit-and-run tactics though, and will stick around until one of you falls. Players will need to go toe-to-toe with these enemies, completing tasks in predictable patterns. For example, with basic ghosts, players need to duck their attack, knock off their ghostly makeshift armor of pots and pans with a punch, and then shine their light on the dazed spirit to drain its life. Rinse and repeat until the ghost is done for.
Overall, combat is very fun, and there are enough ghost types to keep the game fairly varied. The one issue that presents itself in the title’s gameplay, however, is its difficulty – or rather lack thereof. It’s incredibly obvious the developers had children in mind, but the game is still immensely easy. While no kid likes to get beaten by a game, many players will end up losing attention to it, as there isn’t even a degree of challenge. Simply making the game less predictable would have made it all the more engaging.
In terms of the title’s visuals, Haunt provides a dark but cartoony atmosphere. The mansion where the game takes place is very shadowy, with a kind of rustic aesthetic, making it an interesting place to explore. Occasionally, the many objects littering the halls will come to life, with suits of armor attacking, or skull decorations painting sinister faces on the walls. Characters are designed in a very cartoon-like manor, with almost a Disney feel to them. Ghosts have a somewhat frightening demeanor, but mainly act in silly, playful ways. While the title is absent of horror or gore, the general setting still creates a very suspenseful environment, which will send shivers up your young one’s spine.
On the audio side, things are either a bulls-eye hit or a terrible miss. For the most part, sound effects and the score are fantastic auditory experiences. Hearing your own steps on a hardwood floor, catching the faint laughter of a ghost in the distance, the non-tonal sounds of a super tense string and percussion crescendo, all of these sounds help augment suspenseful gameplay and setting, sometimes even using silence to add tension to exploration before a ghost jumps out at you. The sounds and music of Haunt bring the title to life in your living room, and will be enjoyed both by the kid playing and the adult watching.
One downside to the audio, however, is Benjamin. His voice actor and dialogue are considerably annoying, either over- or under-committing to his part (e.g. delivering a monotone performance when he’s supposed to be scared), giving overly obvious and tasteless hints at your next objective, or making dry attempts to pull a cheap, silly laugh. While Haunt is directed more towards your children (who might possibly get a laugh or two from him), Benjamin generally gives a terrible performance that is reminiscent of bad children’s TV programs.
At the end of the day, Haunt turns out to be an entertaining, suspenseful Kinect title. With great audio, very responsive gameplay, and excellent graphics, Haunt is a game that players of all ages can enjoy (though children will definitely get the most from it). So stand up, grab your light, and get ready to go ghost hunting!
Final Score: 4.5 / 5.0 and some extra batteries for your flashlight.
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