Review: The bigger the bark, the bigger the tree will be. Since Fiona's in the company of Hewie a lot, and since he barks, and since I have a "tree"... I think you know where this is going.
Man. Mutt. Mulier. Creature. Canine. Chick. Predator. Protector. Prey. Survival/Horror has a new face. A new team. A new enemy. Capcom, the godfather of zombies, the keeper of lock and key, and the master of unlocking who opens that doorway, has at long last returned to the franchise that brought horror into the mainstream. Earlier this year, GameCube owners lapped up Capcom's number four entry in the Resident Evil series like the horror hounds they are. The game was announced four years prior, which had since seen numerous delays and revisals. Finally when Resident Evil 4 did rear its ugly mug from out of the darkness, the game was unbelievably great. But...there was something missing. Capcom had the ravaging townspeople down, an entirely redesigned first-person method for blasting bunches and bunches of brainwashed foes, a wide-open remote island to conduct the survival throughout this colossal mess, and much more. The ingredient that was missing from it all was that Capcom forgot all about the hair-raising scares. Living another day past evil masses and mountain-sized deformities in uniquely designed survival elements: good. Staring this danger in the face with a smirk on: bad. Having missed their big opportunity to provide horror nuts the scream of a lifetime already, Capcom's back for seconds to chill us with some whim-whams, heebie-jeebies, and one major mental patient. Say hello to Haunting Ground.
Becoming the heiress of your very own castle should be every young woman's dream. Sleep where you want, sleep how you want, sleep with who you want, and on occasion eat, drink, and play tennis. For the eighteen-year-old miss Fiona Belli, this dream fantasy of hers is more like a nightmare come to life. Awaking inside a rusty cage, covered up by only a bed sheet, Fiona has no memory of how she got here or even where here is. It is upon being introduced to a couple of the creepy house attendants and a recurring set of frightening flashbacks that she soon learns her parents are dead. Having crashed in an automobile accident along with Fiona, Fiona was the only one to survive the wreck. What Fiona isn't aware of is about the facts no one's telling her, like why was she taken to this castle and why her parents never told her they owned such a dreadful place. Upon leaving her cage, Fiona not only finds out a little bit about this mystery, but is also met by a large loaf of a man with bubbly eyeballs, limited speech, and a maniac's thirst for the fair-haired and skinned Fiona. Being sniffed out room by room by this enormously disgusting fiend named Debilitas, the only friend Fiona seems to have now in her quest to escape the morbid estate is a white German shepherd named Hewie whom she freed from imprisonment. Together with Hewie, Fiona's trapped in an elaborate game of cat and mouse. Want to play?
More recognizably for most people, Clock Tower began its name as a survival/horror entry on the PlayStation in the fall of 1997 -- more than a year after Capcom's Resident Evil got its head start and only a few months before Resident Evil would return to the fray in its gory encore. What most people don't know is, Clock Tower was originally a Super NES title that came out in 1995 at the end of the console's days. This series, initially published and developed by Human Entertainment (and from there just developed) and then turned over to Agetec for the reintroduction to PlayStation gamers (then known as ASCII Entertainment) was small potatoes of course compared to Capcom's big dog. In the PlayStation remake version of Clock Tower, you'd play as a reporter on the case of a giant scissors-wielding madman. The premise was not to fight with your guns, but with your head instead. Using the surroundings, you'd hide in places where the killer wouldn't find you while laying down traps to buy time for a clean escape. It was this idea that would permeate into two sequels. Somewhat of an ironic twist was the fact that the king of horror, Capcom, had actually acquired the rights to the franchise with the third installment's 2003 release (and with Human Entertainment then a defunct company, Clock Tower 3 was developed by Sunsoft). Even with Capcom backing up this neat concept, Clock Tower never has found a big enough fanbase to cherish it. Not that they'd want to -- Clock Tower has always mixed a good premise with mediocre game design. But that's now changing. Haunting Ground is a different type of horror game that secretes what good came from the Clock Tower brand (the hiding from a butt ugly brute, minus the trap setting) and makes a unique proposal for itself by strapping in a partner for the ride...a mangy mongrel named Hewie.
Picture Clock Rower 3 in its somewhat largely constructed England-based environment. Now take that open spacing, give it a nonlinear and free-of-loading interconnected castle, add in a dog as a companion, and that's basically what Haunting Ground is. Haunting Ground isn't your usual blood-boiling, blood-spilling passe horror entry. As such, this one isn't necessarily graphic (even though it does feature mature imagery) or even scary for that matter (then again, there are a few surprising moments). Instead of being horrifying, Haunting Ground works to the best of its ability involving players in what feels like some of the time to be a nonstop supply of tense situations. Playing as the precious Fiona, you're trapped in a castle that bears many rooms and many passage ways through its combining forms, including different ways to come and go. Inside and outside the castle, Fiona will navigate through the maze-like corridors along with her newfound friend, Hewie. The enlarged spaciousness of the castle and its expanding compartments houses only one problem and one problem alone that'll consistently stand in this duo's way. Debilitas is his name, and chasing tail is his game. Operating on his own terms to snuff Fiona out of existence while simultaneously she excavates every passable portion of the castle's insides and out, the given impression is to stay ahead of the stalker, and always to stay out of sight.
Stripped of fighting utensils, masking Fiona from her antagonist(s) has to be done in order for her to live. Off and on, the first force of nature Fiona must endure chase after chase after chase against is Debilitas. Now saying first means there's more than one. But never is there more than one adversary present at one particular time. Debilitas is the magnet to Fiona's refrigerator in the first chapter of the game, so to speak. Meaning, the second one will refresh itself with a brand-new enemy. So not to spoil the goods, I'll just stick with mention of Debilitas. In each act, as Fiona you'll basically be finding your way throughout the castle to connect the dots in its puzzling pieces as to progress here and there. That is of course as long as you're not found and then targeted like a moth to a candlelight by the attacker. When this does happen, there's really only thing that you can do: run. In pursuit mode, the freedom to unravel the riddles of the castle is automatically eliminated. These conundrums being brainteaser methods, such as using worded clues to print out keys to unlock a doorway or to push a series of misplaced boxes back into their correct positions. There's also Hewie to help obtain items encased by unreachable paths Fiona cannot approach, which adds some dimension to the process of solving puzzles otherwise on your own. Through the nerve-wracking stalking procedure though, what must be done is to try and find cover under a bench or a bed, in a closet or in a bush, behind a curtain or even absorbed in the thickness of a shadowy corner. Now here's the catch. The secret spot in which Fiona chooses to conceal herself can never be seen by the killer. This means if you try dipping into a large hole in the wall while the Debilitas creature is right on your back, it'll be impossible to escape his clutches as he'll know where you're headed. A second entangling element that'll rattle your nerves over time is that once Fiona uses up a spot to duck in back of, inside of, or beneath and Debilitas has lost track of her due to the clever disappearing act, the same trick cannot be repeated. If you've slid under a bench once already, don't expect Debilitas to walk right past the same site without knowing something's up. He'll peek his bang on a door and force it open or peek his head under a bench and force out Fiona to play with her like his very own toy. Hiding spaces aren't so plentiful when it comes to this process of elimination. It's neat to see the enemy's intelligence evolve over its own little game of manhunt. However, the game does cause more tiredness than scariness when later moments in the game start to close up on all (or most) of the possibilities of escape and of survival as the hunter frequently appears (placing Fiona into predictable circumstances) and the stability of Fiona shambles to pieces.
There is a side effect Fiona will experience each and every time she comes in contact with her pursuer. To stress the fact that Fiona is after all a regular human and not a killing machine, Fiona will suffer from increasing panic attacks if Debilitas (or the other parasites who are after her) finds her, comes near her, or threatens her in some way. After a few nasty run-ins with her body's decreasing stamina stages that are being affected here, Fiona will temporarily become uncontrollably lost to a filtered negative screen that thuds to the beat of a heart. Practically every attempt you make to further your distance from the freak will be nearly an inescapable one. Fiona will stumble around, unable to be accurately guided by the controller's commands any longer. Fiona is able to alleviate her status ailments either from washing herself in a water station or from pickups she'll come across along the way (found usually by breaking vases with her field-goal kicks). But since the washing rooms and supplemental products both are in short supply (and remembering that the hiding spots do become obsolete after a one-time use), Haunting Ground is a tough game to deal with if you're not careful.