Ghost stories elicit a special sort of fascination. Whether it’s a creepy tale told around a campfire or a tour of a (supposedly) haunted house, the concept of spirits beyond the grave is a riveting one. Other stories like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol or even the Ghostbusters movies show that ghosts don’t necessarily need to be frightening to be intriguing. Some ghosts are even portrayed as a friendly presence remaining behind to help the living. Haunted, the latest offering from Deck13, stars a young girl named Mary who discovers she has the ability to see and hear ghosts, who fortunately seem to stem more from this latter spectral category. The spirits she meets do everything from helping her pass obstacles to offering clues to puzzles and providing comic relief. They’re better at some of these tasks than others, but successful or not, they add a fun and unique element to what would otherwise be a fairly typical adventure.
The game begins in 1800s London when Mary hears her sister, Emily, pleading for help. This wouldn’t be an unusual occurrence, except for the fact that Emily has been missing for over a year, presumed dead, and is nowhere to be seen when Mary hears her voice. In her search for her sister, Mary is attacked by wild animals that knock her unconscious. There she is found by Ethan, a local handyman of sorts, who takes her back to his employer, a prudish and cold lady named Professor Ashcroft. Apparently one of Ethan’s duties is to provide the professor with fresh dead bodies for the strange experiments she is conducting. Naturally, Ashcroft is far from pleased when she begins cutting into the body and discovers that Mary is far from being a corpse.
Although Mary escapes the near-dissection with little more than a scar, her situation is far from bright. Ethan and Professor Ashcroft are every bit as friendly and hospitable as two people who regularly collect cadavers are expected to be, and Ethan is soon sent to find his axe to “finish the job”. While searching the room for a way out, Mary comes across her sister’s pendant, suggesting that these strange people are perhaps linked to her sister’s recent cries for help. She also manages to free a short, friendly spectral pirate named Oscar, who helps her realize that she somehow has the gift to see and communicate with spirits.
Oscar and Mary then set out into the city to find a mysterious oracle called “the Senate”, whom Oscar asserts will be able to help in their search for Emily. This is only the first stop on a long journey which takes them throughout London and on to Scotland by train, with a detour to Transylvania before they’re through. Along the way, Mary meets more ghosts who join her in the hunt for her sister, including historical figures like William Wallace and Confucius (although their ghostly personas are not nearly the same as history remembers them). Always two steps behind or ahead are the conniving Ethan and Ashcroft, who now seem to have sinister plans for both Mary and Emily.
Each ghost has a special power or ability of some kind to aid Mary in her quest. Oscar, for example, can handle objects that are electrified or simply too hot for Mary to safely touch. William Wallace is extremely strong, but can only manipulate objects that have been "touched by death”. This can be anything from an item involved in the demise of something else, part of a dead body itself, or anything in between. Confucius is able to change his “body” into the form of water or steam, which comes in handy far more often than one would expect. While inventory objects are still prevalent in Haunted and have their own bar at the top of the screen, most of the puzzles involve at least some interaction with these ghostly abilities, which are accessed by using the ghosts themselves like inventory objects, their respective icons stored in a separate bar at the bottom.
It is these abilities that really set Haunted apart from most adventures. Other than the use of your ghostly companions, the interface is fairly typical. You’ll guide Mary through a variety of locations, each of which has a number of hotspots. Moving the cursor over these spots changes it into an examine, pick up, interact, or talk icon, or a door to exit the location. Clicking an inventory item or ghost icon allows you to use them on objects in the environment, other inventory, or another ghost. Clicking on an area without a hotspot will cause Mary to walk to that spot, but double-clicking will make her run. These puzzle solving tools are entirely familiar fare, which makes the addition of the ghost bar a welcome sight.
Some of the puzzles Mary encounters are rather simple and straightforward, such as those that employ Oscar's abilities. After a while, every time you come across something either electrified or hot, you’ll find yourself automatically using Oscar on it even if you don’t currently see a reason to. The really interesting puzzles involve William and Confucius. It’s not always obvious when something is “touched by death”, and the game does a great job of giving you the subtle hints you need without hitting you over the head with them. Likewise, Confucius’s ability to change form comes in handy in a variety of completely unexpected ways, though Oscar blatantly gives one away when, in examining an object, he reminds you that “Confucius can change into steam as well as water.” It’s a helpful reminder but completely gives a big part of the puzzle away before you even have a chance to begin working it out for yourself.Continued on the next page...