Haunting Ground is a new survival horror game from Capcom who seem to be specialised in this genre. Let’s see whether I got some shivers this time
You play Fiona Belli, an 18 year old girl that’s well foreseen with ears, legs and other things we men like to see jumping up and down (which makes us think the devs came short of some things during the making of this game). she wakes up to find herself locked up in a cage while in front of her a horrible giant seems to be cooking “something”. In an unguarded moment, she manages to escape and finds herself in a huge castle.
Hér castle as it will soon be revealed; through flashbacks, you get to know that she’s the only survivor of a car crash with her parents and a strange man tells her she inherited the castle. Fiona doesn’t like it however and decides to leave. But this clearly isn’t to the liking of its present inhabitants. Your task therefore, if you wish to accept is, is to get her out. And you’ll quickly notice this isn’t so easy seeing that she’s of invaluable value for the others that live there, something that will become more and more clear as the storyline continues.
But don’t despair! Before long you get an allie in the form of a lonely white dog called Hewie. Together you’re always stronger so now you can start your search through the castle to find a way out. You’ll often have to hide for the other occupants and if you use one of your hideouts too many times, it will become useless seeing that you’ll immediately be spotted. Variation is the key. The gameplay aspect with the dog and the hide-and-seek are the 2 main things in this game.
The storyline is well done and knows a very strong start. Unfortunately, towards the end you really get the feeling the devs wanted an easy way out. Still, it remains fun and your attitude towards Hewie as well as your own actions will decide which ending you get to see.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the tempo of this game is a lot slower than what the average gamer is used to these days. Most of the time you’re solving puzzles and avoiding your enemies. Don’t expect any Resident Evil-like action where you get an arsenal of weapons to kill lots of zombies, there are no hordes of zombies present. Your few adversaries are Debilitas, the rather retarded giant, Daniella, the maid, Riccardo, the butler, and the strange and old Lorenzo. Next to that there are lots of booby-traps spread around the castle and you’ll have to try to avoid them or take them down with the right lever. Still, I caught myself multiple times killing Fiona on purpose just because the death scenes are so cool.
When you get noticed, you get the choice to run away or first kick some ass before… running away. Your attacks are limited to a nicely aimed kick forward, giving Hewie the order to attack, and the use of some items that are found here and there. These latter are fairly useless though and only come in handy in combination with Hewie’s attack.
To escape you can use so-called hiding spots. They’re spread all over the castle and when looking around carefully you’ll find lots of them. As said, often using the same ones will make them useless after a while. The enemy will immediately discover where you’re hiding and you’re back to square one. However, if unnoticed, after a while you’ll get a “coast clear” message and can continue your quest.
This is a very nice concept but it does have its flaws. Several hiding spots can be used a dozen times without ever getting noticed, but others – more crucial ones – will have you detected even from the first use. Another downpoint is that you can’t manipulate levers or other objects when running away. Getting an opponent caught in a booby trap isn’t an option.
A second gameplay asecpt is Hewie the dog. After having rescued him from a certain death, he’ll stay on your side. You can earn his friendship and trust by giving him compliments and snacks and when he does something wrong you can correct him as well. It’s véry important to get his loyalty as he quickly becomes an unmissable allie. You can order him to attack enemies, get him to help defuse traps and pick up items that you can’t reach yourself.
Still, also here some problems occur. Although the dog’s AI is pretty good, he does tend to let you down from time to time. Nothing more enervating than standing eye to eye with an opponent and giving Hewie the attack commend to see him sitting nicely, waiting to get some food. “Damn you Hewie, first the act then the snack!” Hewie also warns you about coming foes and booby traps. If he starts to growl and refuses to go further, it’s time to open your eyes…
Next to Hewie’s level of friendship, there are two other stats you need to keep your eye on, Fiona’s stamina and panic level. Stamina is her physical condition; if you let your run all the time, she’ll get exhausted and react slower which gives the bad guys the chance to catch up. Her stamina will also drop quickly when getting injured. To bring her condition back up you can have her reast or give her kamille. Also there are some recovery points present where both the panic level as the stamina return to normal. However, her panic is more important than the stamina because it has a more direct influence.
Fiona can panic when confronted with gruesome things or suddenly being eye to eye with an opponent. When this level gets too high, she’ll freeze to the floor and literally can’t move any longer. Also you’ll sometimes not be able to call up the inventory and some grey filter will appear over the screen which makes things less obvious. If the screen turns red and you start to hear horrifying sounds you’ll know the end is here. To drop her panic level, you can use lavender or the recovery points.
Saving is done with the clocks and I suggest to do it regularly. The game doesn’t know checkpoints and it’s extremely frustrating to see Fiona die after playing for 2 hours without saving. Another downpoint is the backtracking: walking from here to there and back to search for items to be able to solve puzzles. Seeing the huge castle, solving one quest can take a looooong time, something that after a while really starts to annoy.
In total you’ll get about 10 to 15 hours of gaming fun, but if you want to see all end movies and really go to the bottom of things, you can add at least a couple of hours extra.
Graphically this game is a jewel. Although not really a fan of the horror genre, I must admit Capcom has succeeded to create a constantly threatening atmosphere. This thanks to both the graphics and the sound. Things are sharp and detailed, the animations – most of all those of Hewie – are very fluid. The game also doesn’t know loading times between different locations.
A small disadvantage is that the animations of “Fiona opening door” and “Fiona closing door” are a bit too long. When I’m being pursued, I just hit the door after me, I most certainly won’t take 10 seconds to nicely close it and look a bit apathic before starting to move again. However, you can avoid this downpoint by just leaving the doors open but you mustn’t forget that this is in the advantage of the enemy as well.
Also the camera angles are disturbing at times. The chosen angle can make it hard to get Hewie to go in the correct direction and this can lead to unnecessary frustration.
The sound is also an important part of this game and tells you when you approach a dangerous situation. You can also betray yourself by load footsteps, making noise, or calling out to Hewie.
The game supports Dolby ProLogic II which enhances the experience. The voice-acting is pretty decent with a little tendancy to over-acting but for once this isn’t bad. The sometimes psychedelic background music does tend to bore after a while.
Some cut-scenes use the game engine while others are pre-rendered but all are of excellent quality. It’s clear Capcom has put a lot of work in them.
Haunting Groun is a game that some people will most certainly dislike while others will find it sublime. Graphically it’s without a doubt a hit and also the sound is well done. The question remains however whether new concepts like Hewie and the developed “Hide&Seek” can compete with the slow pace and little action. It’s very easy to call the game boring and at times it even is just that. Adventure and survival fanatics however will probably have a lot of fun with this title.
In short: this is a good game for a select group of gamers but it won’t appeal to the large audience