Ghost Master

Ghost Master
Platforms: PC, Mac
Publisher: Empire Interactive
Developer: International Hobo
Genres: Strategy / Management
Release Date: August 26, 2003
Game Modes: Singleplayer

There’s nothing particularly scary about Ghost Master. While it’s true you employ the services of various creepy spooks and sprites in an attempt to complete 15 hauntings, it’s more Ghostbusters than ghostly. While it has elements borrowed from role-playing games, The Sims, and other management strategy games, at its heart it’s a relatively simple puzzle game. While it’s incredibly playable and entertaining for 10 or so hours, it’s also limiting and linear.

5_1You command ghosts and need to use them to complete a series of  scenarios, from scaring the occupants to releasing ghosts trapped in the environment. Each of your ghosts has a set of powers and can only be “fettered” to specific earthly objects. Powers cost plasma, and that’s generated by human fear. There’s no balancing of resources in each scenario, since you don’t actually “spend” plasma. Instead, each deployed ghost reserves an amount for its powers, and once you’ve used up your reserve you’ll either need to scare some people to increase the plasma reserve or remove other ghosts from the haunting.

And in general, the game isn’t particularly challenging. While there’s a lot of information to look at—bios of mortals in the haunting detailing their fears and such—you can pretty much complete each scenario by taking the recommended batch of ghosts and employing them in their very specific ways. There’s no sandbox mode or random scenario generator to add some longevity, so once you’ve blasted through the hauntings, you’re pretty much done with the game.

Despite these limitations, it’s still a blast to get through. There are superb production values throughout, with appropriately bouncy music that channels Danny Elfman with a serious Theremin fetish, and there’s clever writing with a lot of terrific jokes. The hauntings are all parodies of various movies, with names “Poultrygeist,” “Full Mortal Jacket,” and “Deadfellas.” The voice acting—particularly that of the narrator that introduces each haunting—is very over-the-top in the right kind of way. And there’s just something undeniably entertaining about watching those wacky sorority girls or frat boys get scared out of their wits. They wander around in a daze, blathering on in Sims-like giggerish.

12_1There are a lot of terrific details. The interface is simple but functional. The 3D camera gets in the way, due in large part to the combination of small rooms and a lack of cutaway walls, but the ability to possess mortals and track their movement through the house gives the game a particularly voyeuristic thrill. It’s a sharp-looking game, with lots of colored spell effects and suitably silly ghost animations, with incredibly good cartoon ghoul sound effects. In the end, the game is a good example of a great implementation, complete with solid production, of an only marginally interesting idea.

System Requirements: Pentium III 500 Mhz, 128 MB RAM, 32 MB Video, WinXP

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