Monday, 4 July 2011

Video Game Review | Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, dev. Capcom

You've never played anything like Ghost Trick before. You mightn't ever again.

Ghost Trick is that rarest of treasures in the industry today: an honest to God original experience. It's not a first-person shooter or a third-person button masher. It's not a cutesy platformer or a character action game revelling in its own grim viscera. If it reminds one of anything, it's the pixel-hunting puzzlers of yore, but even that old genre, as we understand it, bears only a passing resemblance to Ghost Trick. From the creator, writer and director of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, and the selfsame developers who so memorably brought that franchise to life, Ghost Trick is a thing to be held high; championed and celebrated for its daring in an era when only the biggest and the smallest studios can in real terms afford to bring anything even remotely novel to the table.


It won't be for everyone. In fact, I don't know that it'll be for many folks at all. The madcap whimsy of the Phoenix Wright series is in full effect here - in overdrive, even -  and at times, it's positively unbearable, particularly considering the poor pacing, and the unique mechanics of Ghost Trick which regularly require that you play through a scene multiple times.

But let's get into those mechanics, before we get too far ahead of ourselves. Ghost Trick casts you as a recently deceased spirit. You don't know who you were in life, or how you died, or what the circumstances might have been -- and there's no going back, either. The goal of Ghost Trick isn't to win your way back to the land of the living, by hook or by crook, but to uncover the whys and the wherefores of your untimely expiration. In so doing, you'll unpick the component parts of a largely ridiculous conspiracy, stop an execution, and save a handful of lives. Just not your own.

You'll do that because you're a ghost, and ghosts... have tricks. But of course they do! Sissel - that's our man with the sharp red suit and the shock of blond hair - is able to move from inanimate object to inanimate object, manipulating each as he goes in order to somehow save and so interrogate certain characters who happen to know something about the murder with which Ghost Trick begins: yours. You'll find most objects, when possessed, have unique properties: you might be able to switch on a light, for instance, or swivel a chair, but you can't switch on chairs or swivel lights. Gameplay in Ghost Trick is thus a process of travelling from core to core through a series of arenas to find just the right object, or rather series of objects, with which to avert disaster.

If not in explanation, it's a simple enough concept in action. By the end of the first set-piece - of which there are about twenty in total - you'll have a firm enough understanding of how to play Ghost Trick that the next ten tutorial levels threaten to wear out one's patience. Only when the Rube Goldberg machines get to be mind-bogglingly complex and certain other ghost tricks start factoring into the equation does Ghost Trick represent a real challenge. And by then, which is to say after the halfway mark, it feels like too little, too late.

I game a lot of games, and as such, I want very much for the medium to embrace a greater breadth of experiences. Ghost Trick is a genuinely new sub-species of game, and few things would give me more pleasure at this point in time than to say, to hell with all its problems: pile on in. Because the more folks that buy Ghost Trick, the more Ghost Tricks there will be - is there a single industry more defined by supply and demand, I wonder? - and if you can tolerate the exhausting introduction, what lies beyond all the hand-holding is a fantastic new mechanic I'd quite like to play with again, please and thank-you.

But I don't know that I can honestly recommend this first flourish. Perhaps it's a necessary evil. Perhaps it's merely paving the way for better balanced things to come. However, if the thought of eight hours of camp-as-it-comes anime starring a proliferation of household pets interspersed with four of tutorials which will surely bore you just to get to that amount of time again of actual gaming goodness... if that doesn't sound like the sort of thing you're likely to appreciate, maybe best not to bother with Ghost Trick.

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