The Sims recently passed the all-time best selling game mark. The two inch tall characters who work, sleep, romance, and burn their house down are the subject of a certified craze, one that every publisher and developer in the world would like to be a part of. So while the Sims may not be able to carry out their own trash or visit the bathroom without permission, they head one of the most successful franchises of all time. Go figure. You pay them $40 bucks just for the opportunity to be introduced, and you end up helping them take showers and screw in light bulbs, ultimately to the point of being the family counselor when the little one comes along. Oddly enough, there is something about babysitting with a volume control that people really enjoy. Enter Ghost Master, a game from Empire Interactive, set to release in October of 2002. You've got a house, and you've got people in the house. Only your Sims aren't the cute ones that stress out when the wall goes up in a blaze. They're ugly and nasty transparent ones that leave goo on the stairs and smell like the damp areas in the dirt basement, and no, I'm not talking about your roommate. You're the Ghost Master, and people, living human people, are invading your ghostly domain. It's time to make them leave. Under your influence is a fleet of the dead, all trained and skilled graduates of Chain Rattling 101, with which to make that happen.
Ghost Master is not a Sim, and Empire Interactive would probably cough a hairball if they heard it even suggested. There are similarities and clear influences, though, and that's not a bad thing. The humans wander the halls of their personal haunted house exhibiting blissfully simplistic moods, readable through a meter that you can take a look at whenever you feel nervous your scaring powers aren't taking a toll. Your army of ghosts, in a way similar to The Sims, are not under your direct control (though you can possess them if you like). Instead, you merely instruct your ghosts to do your bidding. Summon them into a room and tell them to scream, and they'll make a fair amount of racket. Assign them the task of haunting an individual, though, and they'll go about it in their own unique and heart-warming way. Leave them by themselves and they'll take an interest on their own, sort of the way the Sims would wander, talk, and dance about whenever their bladders were near exploding, without you straining your clicking finger. The people in the house, the humans you're scaring away, live their lives pleasantly unaware of your watchful eye and go about their daily routine unless you interrupt. You do so by having your ghosts float items, possess ovens, or simply appear and yell, "Boo!"
As the game goes on, you'll gain more powers and spells. Within each level are several ghosts, each with their own abilities and personalities, locked away in some unwholesome fashion. In the level I saw, there was the antenna repairman trapped in the chimney, the electrical specialist stuck behind a bricked up wall in the basement, and the Avon lady trying to persuade me to try on her makeup. You unlock the ghosts by somehow meeting one of their needs, at which point they join your team. You release the Avon ghost by drawing the human grandmother into the upstairs room with a ghostly scream, then getting her to try on the case of makeup on the counter in the process of investigating. The ghosts and animations are all presented with a sense of ominous style, often reminding you that your ghosts aren't always the most pleasant of ghouls. Get the man of the house to open a hole in the brick wall holding the electrician, and watch as Casper the friendly ghost reaches out and pulls the man's head and body violently through to his shoulders. It was actually sort of creepy.
In fact, there isn't a single element in Ghost Master that doesn't seem to be lovingly designed to fit the atmosphere of the game. The layout of the houses, the grand architecture, the ghosts that you find buried within each level ? they are all eerie and beautiful at the same time. Your minions range from the typical flying Ghostbusters ghost, to the insane old woman and the dead man still strapped to his electric chair. Ghost Master promises a wide variety of missions and monsters, locations like a typical haunted house, or an amusement park, or even a haunted fraternity.
Not to neglect the audio component of fright, Empire promises that Ghost Master will come with a full quality audio spread of screams, music, and zaps. From what I've seen, this is an understated promise. The video trailer included on the Press CD has one of the best-crafted audio soundtracks I've heard in a great long time (reminded me of the 7th Guest, to tell the truth). The music is haunting, the sounds are chilling, and the game is addictive. Built with a rich sense of humor ? there's a promise to include plenty of horror movie parody -- Ghost Master looks to be an entertaining and compelling turn on whatever genre it falls into. While I don't think it's going to be able to avoid comparisons with The Sims, Ghost Master has a unique enough sense of style to set itself apart on its own merits. It looks to stand on its own feet, scream with its own lungs, and by golly, scare with its own style. It looks solid so far. We can only hope that it stays on track to be released sometime near Halloween.
Aaron Stanton (06/15/2002)