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  20 Second Review: Ghost Master
On 10/03/03 by James 'Sweetjimmy' Long

Developer: Sick Puppies
Publisher: Empire Interactive
Release Date: 08/23/03
ESRB: "T" for Teen
Official Site:
Platform(s): PC

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you crossed Dungeon Keeper, the Sims, and a clich� B-movie horror flick? Honestly, I never wondered about it, either, but someone over at Sick Puppies obviously did. Now we have them to thank for this inspired piece of software: Ghostmaster (GM).

Every now and again something refreshing happens in the world of PC game development. Occasionally, a
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product hits the shelves and deserves merit for being a well-executed genre breaker. Yet, if there's one thing Black and White taught us, it is that fresh game design only goes so far when gameplay aspects are lacking. Luckily for GM, there is enough fun in this title to justify at least one or two completions. GM offers the casual gamer quite a few things to like but a couple of unavoidable problems keep it from being an excellent game.

The object to GM (for the most part) is to haunt houses and scare off the residents. This is done by managing a number of ghostly characters and placing them around the house. There is a large pool of ghosts to choose from but you're only able to take a few ghosts along with you through each mission. Some ghosts are scarier than others, but the bigger, badder ghouls require more "plasm" to upkeep during their horrifying antics.

To be as horribly clich� as possible, "plasm" is the stuff that screams are made of. The more you scare people, the more plasm you are awarded. In turn, the more plasm you control, the more specters you can release on your unsuspecting victims. The main role of plasm in GM is to give the game some form of management system and it provides the only real challenge in the game. After people have been scared in the same fashion for a while (or if you stop scarring them altogether) your pool of plasm begins to shrink and the humans become more skeptical. If you have unleashed enough ghosts to require more plasm than you have available in your pool you will get sucked dry and the game will be over. Almost every locale you visit is based upon a horror movie setting. My favorite would have to be the cabin scenario straight from Evil Dead, with one of the characters by the name of "Bruce Elm" (or should that be Ash?). Most of the time you'll just be expected to scare people away but sometimes you'll have certain
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objectives to meet. In the "Calamityville Horror" episode you must lead the house residents to hidden rooms where dead bodies rest. This can be done a number of ways, but I opted for placing a ghost in the hidden room and having him make chain-rattling noises. That got some attention in a hurry.

The supernatural creatures you're given in GM add a level of comedic value to the game more than anything else. Every ghost has a story and personality. Sick Puppies did a great job creating a diverse line-up of ghouls and they are probably the greatest facets of the game. Some of the ghosts have macabre themes and sport grotesque powers so I wouldn't really call GM child-friendly.Ghosts can be upgraded by using "gold plasm" points that you are awarded at the end of each scenario. The more screams, feints, and paranoia you incite, the more gold plasm points you win. Once you have enough gold plasm you can buy newer, cooler powers for each individual ghost. It's all in the name of good wholesome horror, folks.

In each setting you will also be able to unlock new ghosts that appear through the level. Unlocking each one requires some puzzle-solving skill, but most of them should come easily enough. It's important to note here that in many instances you can only unlock a bonus ghost by using a specific ghost's power out of your original pool. If you're unable to unlock them the first time around, you should be able to head back to the scenario later to pick them up. Needless to say, this will add some replay-ability to the game. To help you get the majority of them the first time through, GM features a button you can click to equip the most important ghosts to take with you prior to each mission. While spooking the unfortunate homeowners, there is a horde of cool features you can take advantage of. Being the all-powerful Ghostmaster, you can click on any human and see the world through his or her eyes. This feature in particular is an incredible implementation because it gives you a firsthand view of all the creepy stuff that is going on around you. Also you can read each resident's biographies to discover their deepest, darkest fears.

My primary complaint (and pretty much only complaint) about GM is the control scheme. I consider myself more than a 'casual' gamer and I prefer hotkeys. In GM key mapping seemed to be somewhat of an afterthought. Once you have six or more ghosts placed throughout a level, it becomes quite clunky having to click on their portrait to access their powers (especially while you're busy trying to maneuver the camera just so). A cycle button would have been nice to quickly move the focus between ghosts. Having an exclusive 'point & click' functionality really limits the amount of interface you have with the game. Fortunately, GM is a pretty light-hearted game and speedy action is not usually necessary to get the job done right.

GM won't be winning any "graphical game of the year" awards but it doesn't hurt the eyes by any means. The high points are the ghost animations and power effects. The humans also get some pretty funny looks on their faces as they are running in terror. Some house interiors sport pretty low resolution textures but exteriors and backgrounds all brilliantly rendered. The humans in the game are quite an animated bunch even if they do seem a little on the stiff (pun intended) side. The game's presentation is professional and well done.

Worth mentioning is the excellent camera control system. Moving the viewpoint around is totally painless. In addition, you can quickly focus on a specific human or ghost by clicking on their HUD portrait. Another great feature is all of the perspective options you have. You can see the game through the eyes of a ghost or human (as I mentioned before) and you can also view every character in a zoomed 3rd person perspective. This puts you right into the middle of what's going on and adds a level of atmosphere you won't see from the Sims. You can see the expression on each human's face as they react to the ghosts appearing before them.

There is little audio in the game that detracts from the title. The human screams are well voiced while the normal speaking voices sound like a Sim's version of pig Latin. The music in the game is more reminiscent to traditional black-and-white monster movies than the intense horror flicks of today. The narrator's voice sounds vaguely similar to James Earl Jones (that is a big plus in my book). For all of you Audigy/Soundblaster Live owners, GM sports EAX capability and allows for excellent environmental sound effects. You are going to need a Subwoofer to fully appreciate the resounding thunder thrown out by the weather witch, though.

In a Word: Refreshing.

Word to the Publisher: Great job at delivering a unique product guys!

Full Reviews:
  • GameSpot - 8.8/10
  • PC.IGN - 7/10
  • GameSpy - 85/100
Final Score: 84%
#1 - nemarsde - 10/03/03 @ 06:33 AM EST
Any plans for a console release? This is something that'd keep my sister entertained for hours.
#2 - sweetjimmy - 10/03/03 @ 09:31 AM EST
it's definately coming to the xbox but not until next year (probably march).
#3 - Bulldog - 10/03/03 @ 11:48 AM EST
PS2 too I believe.
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#4 - Aphex242 - 10/03/03 @ 02:39 PM EST
Eeeet looks neeefty!

Definitely gonna try it out.
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#5 - Talon - 10/04/03 @ 01:48 AM EST
FALSE ADVERTISING! That took me more than 20 seconds to read. :P
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#6 - nemarsde - 10/04/03 @ 06:51 AM EST
Yep, I'm looking around for Christmas presents - can't you tell? Well, seems as though this one's not going to make it to console in time, so I'll have to keep looking.

sweetjimmy, enjoyable and informative review BTW.
#7 - Rincewind - 10/04/03 @ 12:17 PM EST
i got this game for pc, i had a blast playing it though some of the later missions get slightly repetetive.

/ there's really a huge amount of ghosts, all quite characteristic and many need to be unlocked in small sidequests.
you'll quickly find that you'll get a core team of your favourite ghosts you'll try to use for every mission and since you can teach your ghosts new skills after every mission this isnt a bad thing at all.

/ one of the biggest downsides is that while you can go back to replay missions you still wont be able to use any ghosts you gained in the later missions.
so you'll only be able to use your full set of ghosts in the last missions.
#8 - sweetjimmy - 10/04/03 @ 12:49 PM EST
#9 - Megahurtz - 10/04/03 @ 01:49 PM EST
#10 - Rincewind - 10/04/03 @ 03:04 PM EST
it's all about placement.

you see every ghost has to be linked to a certain place or object named a fetter.
ghosts with powers over electrical objects like gremlin type ghosts need to be bound to electrical appliances.
ghosts that were brutally murdered in life usually are attached to objects of violence and murder like axes and deer head trophies.

so placement of ghosts is one important factor, you dont build them like units you just go onto a map with a team you selected before the mission and then you use them as efficiently as possible.
like binding a ghost in some tiny room in the back of the house wont do much but binding them near the front door will make sure he'll have a lot of people to scare.

the people themself are another factor, if someones terrified of spiders binding a ghost with animal powers near them will do a lot more than binding a murder ghost near them.

i could go on forever but in this game you usually have all the time of the world, it's not a quickly build a mass of units and attack kind of game at all.
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#11 - Anon@ - 10/05/03 @ 06:49 AM EST
hey this is like a game of the Sega Mega Drive called The Haunting where you had to scare the family out of their house....but this time 3d. Hmm i mite just go buy it looks kewl!!
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#12 - Anon@ - 10/05/03 @ 10:28 AM EST
I remember that game #11, it was a lot of fun :) Guess ill check the demo of this new game
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#13 - sweetjimmy - 10/05/03 @ 01:06 PM EST
I never played the Haunting... Nice call!
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#14 - nemarsde - 10/05/03 @ 06:07 PM EST
Ever watched Jan de Bont's The Haunting? Fucking terrible. (Swearing is appropriate in this case.)
#15 - xplosiv - 02/09/07 @ 03:31 PM EST
well i got this game recently like for no apparent reason..dl it from steam cus my interent was going down for fixing so iwanted an offline game.

i love rts games and until i can be bummed to replace my xh disc or get sumthin like starcraft this game actually keeps me on the right track, it does have an rts element, yet obviously aint rts but you have to think and have some tactics to it and approch ppl differently which i think is wicked so this game is actually a fair supplement for rts....yet lol will never replace any..

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