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December 21, 2003
Ghost Hunter - Review
Release Date Distributor Developer Players Rating Difficulty
5/12/2003SonyStudio Cambridge1M15+Hard
Save Size Sound Format Vibration 60Hz Mode 50Hz Border Widescreen
418KBPro Logic IIYesYesSmallYes

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Check out the stunning visuals.
Since Ghost Hunter was first announced by the developer Studio Cambridge, it immediately became a PS2 game to keep an eye on. Studio Cambridge have a track record of producing brilliant-looking games which step outside the square of the standard game moulds; some of their previous titles include MediEvil (and the sequel) for the PSOne, and more recently Primal for the PS2. Unfortunately, while some of these titles have promised to be groundbreaking be-all and end-alls of adventure games, they have quite often fallen a little short, whilst still producing a great game nonetheless. In the same vein, Ghost Hunter is a creepy adventure game which approaches the survival-horror genre from another perspective, while somewhat stumbling on itís way there.

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What the f...
The story in Ghost Hunter begins with Lazarus Jones; a rookie cop whoís been partnered with Anna Steele on his first week of the job. On a routine patrol, Lazarus and Anna are called out to reports of spooky sounds at an abandoned school; abandoned due to some strange disappearances and a suspected murder. Of course (in a scary movie style) they decide to split up when they arrive at the school, and Lazarus is forced to search the basement. After hearing some strange voices and freaking out, Lazarus inadvertently lets out a whole bunch of ghosts into the world. A particularly evil ghost, Hawksmoor, grabs Anna and disappears, leaving Lazarus in disarray. A strange talking computer and ghost containment area in the basement of the school is Lazarusí only hope; the computer tells Lazarus that he must hunt down all the ghosts that he released in order to get Anna back from Hawksmoor. And so the journey beginsÖ

From the outset Ghost Hunter controls similarly to most other 3rd-person adventure games; you control Lazarus with the left analogue stick, while the right analogue stick controls the camera. The camera has its issues with tight spots and corners, but manually controlling the camera is not only more effective, but makes the game easier to play. That is, it comes in handy when Lazarus has his current weapon drawn, enabling him to aim and walk independently (albeit slower than running), in a similar control method to Timesplitters (but in 3rd person perspective). Itís safer to walk around the tighter levels like this anyway to prevent any sudden attacks, and it solves the majority of camera issues at the same time.

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Using the torchlight.
With a title like Ghost Hunter, itís pretty obvious that the game is going to involve a bit of ghost hunting. Lazarus is equipped with both real world guns (such as a pistol and shotgun) as well as ghost-effective weapons (such as a ghost rifle and sniper rifle). Once certain ghosts are sufficiently weakened by a combination of the two types of weapons, they can then be captured using a spirit grenade. Not only does this remove that individual ghost from the current area, but it also enables you to view them later on in the ghost containment area (and also gain new skills for later on in the game). On the topic of ghosts too, Ghost Hunter has been described as a blend of adventure and survival-horror; which is sort of true, but Iíd rather describe it as survival-supernatural. While there are loads of ghosts in the game, the whole scare-factor is lost once youíve left the abandoned school, and it feels more eerie than scary. Looking at other reviews for this game, many people have criticized it for not fitting exactly to the survival-horror mould, and pointing out things that you canít do in the game. However, itís the things that the game does differently, and what you can do that makes Ghost Hunter stand out from the crowd.

Rather than having one major problem with it, Ghost Hunter suffers from lots of small niggling problems, which soon start to all add up. Aiming has issues with the movement speed being a little on the slow side, and being unable to strafe or dodge while in first-person mode. This makes not only dodging bullets extremely hard, but also makes sniping extremely risky; you have to expose yourself (often taking afew bullets yourself) before you can aim let alone fire a shot off.

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My wife, and her teddy - Dave.
The game isnít very user-friendly on the first attempt either; while it has an in-game training mechanism (which introduces you to Lazarusí moves gradually), youíll quite often find yourself scratching your head wondering what to do. A notebook accessible in the pause menu contains hints and all messages received, to act as an aid when you undoubtedly get stuck in the game. Unfortunately these hints arenít the most helpful, and are often short statements which remind you what you need to achieve (quite obviously though) without any assistance as to how to go about doing it.

Looking at the visual quality of their games, it appears as though Studio Cambridge has a secret Ďunlockí key to the PS2 which releases extra graphical processing power. Ghost Hunter is a visual feast; characters and environments are highly detailed and textured (check out Lazarusí face and hair), backed up by remarkable lighting and transparency effects. The flying ghosts leave magical glimmering trails behind them, and give off a light-bending shockwave when captured by a spirit grenade, and astonishingly the frame rate never skips a beat below 60fps. Water is translucent and ripples; light beams part the forest canopy; bullet shells remain on the ground hours after being fired; the draw-in distance is as far as the eye can see; I could continue for hours on the visual effects in Ghost Hunter, but it would be more beneficial to see the game running for yourself. If the screenshots are paradise, then seeing it in motion must be heaven; it really is that appealing.

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More gorgeous visuals.
The creepy atmosphere behind Ghost Hunter is as much a credit to the audio as well as the visuals behind the game. Sound effects, from weapons and environments as well as enemies are right on par, and backed with Dolby Pro Logic II support. The style of music changes throughout the game depending on the current setting and situation of the game, but at times this ends up doing more harm than good. Many times Iíd be walking about exploring when suddenly the music would become more suspenseful; creeping around the next corner revealed some ghosts awaiting my presence. Perhaps delaying the music change until youíve actually seen the enemies would prevent this Ďspider-senseí ability to know whatís coming up around the next corner.

Studio Cambridge has once again produced an ambitious game, which looks and sounds the part but stops slightly short of their intended outcome. Ghost Hunter has several small annoyances which do detract from the game, but donít prevent the game from being a fun alternative to the more traditional survival-horror mould. It seems to have gotten a mixed response from gamers, and in the end it ultimately comes down to personal preference; so play it safe and try to give this game a quick tryout to avoid possible disappointment down the track.

Review By: Chris Gobbett

GRAPHICSSome of the best effects and visuals on the PS2 to date.
95%
SOUNDDolby Pro Logic II makes the ghosts sound eerily close.
89%
GAMEPLAYA fun romp through the stages, picking off ghosts along the way.
88%
VALUETakes a good while to finish, but with little replay value.
80%
OVERALLIf you like the sounds of a gorgeous, survival-supernatural game, Ghost Hunter will fill the empty spot in your Christmas stocking, with consistent gameplay and eye-melting visuals. Play-before-you-buy is recommended however, because certain faults may be too much for some.
81%

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