A Hidden Gem
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Almost every horror survival game I can think of relies in some way on the player getting good at combat. Some like the Silent Hill series are more adventure driven, though combat is a huge part. Others like Resident Evil will have you blasting so many creatures you will be the customer of the month at the local gun store.
Haunting Ground puts you into a similar situation as these other titles with one major exception: you don't have any real weapons.
You play this PS2 title as Fiona Belli, a young girl who wakes up all alone naked in a castle dungeon. A huge brute is trying to feed you what looks like soup made from a human torso. It's truly a nightmare scenario, made worse by the fact that you have vague memories that your parents were recently killed in a car crash.
After the opening cutscene you are able to escape your cage, but now find yourself all alone in a monstrously huge castle where most of the doors, and especially the front gate leading out, are locked. There are some other people in the castle as well, like a beautiful but zombie-like maid who offers you some clothes and several other mysterious figures that pop in from time to time.
But your biggest problem, at least at first, is that aforementioned brute. He seems to wander the halls and finds you at the most inopportune moments. He seems to want to play, but he plays by ripping his dolls to pieces, and seems to think you are just another doll. Thankfully, when you see him, or hear his lumbering footsteps, you can take off running. You can't run forever however, as you don't have the stamina for it. There is no stamina meter, but you will notice Fiona start to slow as she gets tired.
The way to escape is to find a bed to duck under, or a shower with a curtain you can pull back, a room with an entrance you can block or if you are desperate even a dark corner or the shadow behind a door can work.
If Fiona takes too much damage she will start to panic, which makes the screen go all grey. If she is getting close to dying, she will run off in a random direction and you can't control her. This rarely if ever works to save her since she normally runs into a wall and falls over, so the best choice is always to have her avoid bad guys if possible. She can do a couple things in her defense like an anemic kick or a running tackle, but these attacks are highly ineffectual and waste almost all her stamina.
Thankfully, very early in the game she will meet an abused German Sheppard named Hewie. Freeing him, the dog will become your constant companion. And the dog is great. Not only is he rendered well and has all the typical behaviors of a real animal, but also he will add some teeth to your pitiful defenses.
You can give Hewie commands, asking him to venture into areas that Fiona can't reach. Sometimes Hewie can skinny up and get objects that Fiona can't, or even go through holes in the wall to open doors on the other side.
Hewie is also keen to know when danger is near. If you approach a hidden trap, he will bark at it to warn you. Also when one of the castle bad guys show up, he can attack them to give Fiona time to run and hide. You can discipline Hewie or praise him, though I would highly recommend praising him every chance you get, since his relationship with you to some extent determines how well he listens to commands. I find that asking him to shake hands, followed by a lot of praise, seems to make him like you quite a bit. You can also find balls to throw for him or jerky to feed him to make him very happy.
As with any adventure game there are many puzzle-type situations to solve, like finding the right key to open the right door, or using a machine properly to produce the desired results. Some situations even require you and Hewie to work together, which of course requires a strong bond.
The game looks great. The castle itself is rendered beautifully with realistic-looking rooms planned out the way you would think they would be in a real castle, like having a kitchen near a dining room. There are also some interesting lighting effects with candles flickering or bugs swirling around an outside lamp.
The music for the game is quite good, and it's great to hear the music change when danger approaches. Hewie is probably your best clue to approaching danger, but the music is a good second.
I had a ton of fun playing deadly games of hide and seek with Fiona and Hewie. If you really concentrate on the game, you can probably solve it in about ten hours, but those ten hours are going to be some of the most unique you have ever experienced in the survival horror genre. And who knew you could have this much fun in this genre without a shotgun or an SMG in sight?
John Breeden II is the Chief Editor of GiN. While a forward thinking man he admits to a fondness for older video games. You should have seen him at Videotopia. John can be contacted at : email@example.com.