Haunting Ground review
Read this, then go play a different game.

The good:


The bad:



This game plays like a how-to on pissing off experienced gamers. It has a few small positives which get buried under a heaping pile of crap, to the point where I'm not even sure where to begin with this review.

The plot is essentially that you're a helpless British girl (literally - we'll come back to this) who is in a car accident and awakens in a castle where there is evidently cannibalism taking place. Or something. Eventually you find and recruit a dog who is often quite useless, but far more worthy of life than the protagonist. Commence a not-at-all scary adventure against semi-decent opponents through an extremely repetitive, confusing dungeon labyrinth. That's Haunting Ground in a nutshell.

The concept of having a dog that you control is interesting but ultimately flawed. Hewie mimics real canines by not always listening or helping out, which wouldn't be so bad if Fiona, our non-heroine, had any balls whatsoever. That's really the ultimate flaw with the game. Fiona is detestable and by the end (if you play that long) you'll be wishing for her death.

Here's the central problem. Fiona's character (by which I mean her personality) is extremely weak. When she first awakens she is scared and confused; okay, I can accept that. It would certainly be traumatic finding yourself naked in a cage with a cannibalistic, "special-needs" handyman who's built like a brick s**thouse chasing you all over. But humans, like all animals, have a fight or flight reflex. It stands to reason at some point in her terrifying adventure Fiona would wake up to the fact that, hey, people are trying to *bleep* AND KILL her and maybe a modicum of self defense is in order. Understand that throughout this castle there are any number of potential weapons. You have suits of armor holding swords, pikes and other fare. You have a kitchen with cleavers and knives. Broken glass and good-sized bricks abound. But does Fiona use ANY of this to her advantage? No. She prefers to run and hide, or occasionally throw small alchemic rocks at people. And remember, this is a game that aims for a degree of realism with the dog and his temperament, etc. So why is it that, in that final moment, when the enemy has you cornered and there's a brick or pipe RIGHT THERE on the ground Fiona can't pick it up and use it to defend herself?

Some would argue that this would ruin the central aim of the survival-horror game, which is about running and hiding. Fair enough... except that Fiona sucks at both. She can dash for about 15 seconds or so before becoming tired and slowing to a walking pace. There's maybe ten hiding spots in the game, most of which are awkwardly placed and largely useless. Rest assured that as the player you'll spend a great deal of time shambling (not running) from dim-witted enemies. This is made all the more bizarre by the fact that when Fiona finally does Panic her speed increases ten fold, to the point where you can't even properly control her.

Furthermore, puzzles cannot be solved while Fiona is being chased. It makes sense, but given that you're being pursued 75% of the time, you spend most of the game running in circles throughout the castle, only to backtrack for ten minutes once you finally lose your pursuer.

This is something of a personal pet peeve, I admit, but I absolutely despise games that try to make things more challenging by neutering the player character. Challenge should come from decent AI and proper game structure, not because your dumb-as-a-brick-which-she-just-won't-throw heroine can't pull herself together long enough to stay alive for more than twenty minutes.

Another problem... the "end" of the game drags on forever. And ever. AND EVER. You kill what you think is the final boss only to learn that another enemy still exists. You kill him, quite thoroughly I might add, but he doesn't die. You then kill him again. He still doesn't die. You think you're at the end of this nightmare, but actually, you're only about two thirds in. And then a statue falls on you and instead of slinging yourself out of the way and letting it crash down, Fiona takes the time to right it properly and ensure that it isn't damaged in any way even though the entire castle is collapsing and a flaming corpse is chasing her. But I digress....

The game isn't an total loss, I'll admit. The puzzles, while annoying to me, are probably fun for others. Controlling the dog and learning to rely on him is certainly original, even if it is frustrating. And the games first nemesis, the "special-needs" Debilitas, is actually rather terrifying (the game over screen that pops up when he catches you implies through audio cues that he is either eating or *bleep* you, or both). In fact a lot of the game seems to revolve around the sexual violation of Fiona which I will credit for being disturbing at the least.

But even that gets a bit strange... I have this sense that the whole *bleep* theme is more the fantasy of the creators than an actual aim at dissonance for the player. You see, Fiona's personality is that of a demure, extremely weak young woman. And yet her chest bounces harder than Lara Crofts, and the alternate costumes you unlock at the end of the game include a half-naked cowgirl outfit and a dominatrix costume, complete with whips.

This review has been written in a disjointed fashion to mimic the gameplay of Haunting Ground. If you're into helpless, over-sexualized British women running around with dogs, maybe this title is for you. If you're into video games, stay far away.

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