Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Geist (GCN) Retro Review

Something tells me it will be a slow week news-wise for gaming. That means nothing really as the exclusive content at SuperPhillip Central will get pumped out regularly anyway. That includes the newest retro review to haunt the SPC Review Archive, Geist.

Possession Is 9/10ths of the Law


Nintendo and Mature-rated games do not usually go hand in hand. In fact, Nintendo generally strays away from such material as they have fought long and hard to preserve their mostly family-friendly image. In the GameCube era, however, they did delve into some M-rated fare. Nintendo published two of Silicon Knights' titles, Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem and the remake of the original Metal Gear Solid, Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. Later on in the GameCube's life cycle they also published an effort by a small developer known by the name of n-Space, a supernatural shooter and the subject of this review, Geist. Does Geist stand a ghost of a chance in capturing players' attentions and imaginations?

You play as John Raimi, a man who joins a counterterrorism force infiltrating the suspicious Volks Corporation in search of a missing friend and mentor of Raimi. It all begins as a routine extraction mission, but when Raimi is captured by Volks personnel, he is forced to undergo various experiments all culminating with his spirit being torn out from his body. Escaping from his prison, Raimi, as a ghost, now has the ability to possess objects and certain living things. With this ability-- and the help of a mysterious ghostly girl-- he must find a way to recover his lost body as well as fulfill his assigned mission. The story of Geist has some intriguing plot elements and twists, but most of it comes off as cheesy thanks mostly in part to the voice acting. Some of it isn't that bad, certainly not cringe-inducing, but the actors present definitely weren't part of a nationwide talent search. My problem with the actual cutscenes is that there is no way to skip them initially. Only if you fail a mission and you review a cutscene can you skip it. This makes repeated plays through the game annoying.

To call Geist a first-person shooter is to make a bit of a faux pas. It's a misnomer. Yes, there are copious amounts of time where you are indeed firing guns at foes, popping caps, and causing bloodshed, but that's just a segment of the gameplay.  There is a huge emphasis on exploration as well as puzzle elements within the nine chapters of the game.

The shooting action is standard material, for sure.
Possession is a large component of Geist, as one might suspect from a game where you spend most of your time as a ghost. You can't just possess anything and everything all willy nilly. In fact, to capture human or other lifeforms you must put them into a state of severe fright first. Each device, person, animal, or thing you can possess emits a red aura. Some people and animals need to be alarmed to the point that their aura turns from normal to red. The early goings of the game offer simple solutions to how to coax your potential hosts into fear. Scaring a dog is as easy as taking over his dish and frightening the poor pooch when he approaches it. Some require a bit more finesse and multiple steps. An innocent girl in a shower can be horrified through possessing three nearby shower heads. She'll then to a mirror which you can take the form of to give her an eerie glimpse of herself as a zombie, shocking her into a red aura, perfect to possess.

It is important to keep key hosts alive. If they perish for any reason, you fail the current objective and must restart from a checkpoint. So as fun as it is to blast away your mentor and friend, it won't help you advance in the game. Sometimes you'll need to cycle through hosts to clear obstacles. Time slows to a crawl as you are a specter, and most of the time you cannot be seen (later in the game you encounter guards who can see and damage you while you are a ghost). Certain fields block you from passing through them in ghost form, but simply possessing someone with a solid body makes going through them a breeze. De-possessing someone is a smart tactic to see what enemies lie ahead, perhaps waiting for you for an ambush opportunity. 

"Hey, buddy. You got any more Cheez-Its?"
Not all is well with taking over hosts, though. My main beef with the possession mechanic is that there is typically just one right order of steps to possess a given person or living thing such as a rat or rabbit. I feel the potential of Geist isn't fully realized because of this. Could you imagine a type of gameplay where you had a choice of how you wanted to go about frightening a host? The possibilities would be incredible and open the game up to further experimentation.

The actual shooting parts of Geist feel great. It's a typical dual analog setup-- you use the analog stick to move and the C-stick to look around. Depending on your host, the left shoulder button performs a flurry of maneuvers such as crouching or sprinting. You have unlimited ammo with each host (who can only hold one gun at a time), but you must reload after you've relinquished all of the ammo in a clip. Unlike modern shooters of this generation, Geist doesn't rely on regenerating health. Hiding behind cover when you have been shot at to heal doesn't work in this title. Instead there are health packs plastered on walls around the various levels and boss battles of Geist.

Meet your maker, generic solider scum!
Unlike most shooters on the market, Geist actually does have encounters with stronger enemy characters-- bosses, if you will. Some are as effortless as strafe to avoid their fire while blasting away at the baddie's weak point. Others require more of your cunning. One boss is a battle between a human opponent. You can possess the dropped grenades that fall from the opponent's belt, roll them over to him, and detonate them to instill some explosive values onto the character.

Fi-fi-fo-fum all you like. Your days are numbered.
The single player campaign of Geist will last most player 7-10 hours. However, there are some good reasons to replay completed chapters. Strewn about the levels of Geist are ghost and host collectibles. Ghost collectibles can only be gathered by you in ghost form while host collectibles can only be nabbed by a worldly body. Ghost collectibles increase how long you can stay in spectral form without needing to possess something while every two host collectibles grabbed unlock bonus content in the multiplayer modes such as new arenas and characters to play as.

Speaking of the multiplayer, the options are pretty expansive for a console shooter, containing numerous options from whether or not to include power-ups like defense up and health increases to whether or not you can possess objects like explosive crates and gun turrets. There are about a dozen or so arenas in all ranging from small to large, one-tier to multi-tier. Oh, and yes, there is the inclusion of bots. Hallelujah. Three modes is the amount of match types to choose from including Possession Death Match, where a selection of hosts rest idly by in all corners of the map and the goal is to take a host and kill your opponent with them; Capture the Host, where the objective is to possess a host and bring him to your base; and Hunt, where a team of ghosts try to possess a team of hosts, forcing them into death traps while the team of hosts try to exterminate the ghosts. Geist's multiplayer is quite unlike any other shooter on the market. It's an enjoyable experience, especially with a roomful of friends.

With four friends, the fun ends 
when your GameCube breaks.
Geist was by no means a technical marvel when it originally debuted on the GameCube in 2005, late in its life. It wasn't a showpiece of tech then, and that fact certainly shows itself in the here and now. The character models aren't heavily detailed, the textures of the environments aren't too impressive, and the lighting is capable but nothing to write home about. The HUD is quite good, though, and clean. I do like how it shows the character you have currently possessed in the bottom left corner of the screen and what he or she is currently doing (i.e. shooting, running, walking, etc). Away from the visuals, the music of Geist is pretty competent. It kicks up when things get tense while it stays subdued when the situation calls for it. Like I said previously, the voice work isn't the best, but it gets the story across adequately and that's all that really matters. Overall, Geist is a pretty dated looking game. 

Possessing (see what I did there?) a high degree of innovation in a genre that pretty much strives on being by the numbers, Geist is a welcomed change from today's line of grey and/or brown corridor shooters and highly scripted affairs. It could have pushed itself to be more ambitious, but considering the developer behind the game, this project turned out well for them. This game didn't turn the industry upside down, nor really should it have, but if we see more shooters that try to push the genre in interesting directions, then I couldn't complain. Geist isn't the ghost with the most, but it is a commendable effort by n-Space.

[SuperPhillip Says: 7.0/10]

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