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Geist review

Given that Gamecube hasn't really had its fair share of first person shooters, you could easily understand why we were looking forward to this.

Geist's pedigree isn't exactly the best, but after so many delays to improve the gameplay, we were pretty confident that it would at least be a decent game. And to a point it is. Kind of.

On paper Geist sounds pretty tasty. You have your standard FPS action, but the developers N-Space have added a particularly clever gimmick - this time you're a ghost, and you have all the abilities that ghosts traditionally have. So there is a large scope for some original and interesting set-pieces.

The concept sounds clever, as do all the other ideas crammed into the game. That is until you look at the way it all hangs together.

You see, Geist is patchy and wildly inconsistent. It's trying to be too many things to too many people.

One minute you're playing a generic shooter, the next you're treated to - no, teased by - some brief flashes of brilliance.

You'll be convinced things are shaping up to be pretty good, but the next thing you know, you're suffering at the hands of some of the most idiotic and downright awful game design we've ever come across.

The first thing you'll notice is that it's not the most elegant game ever produced. The textures are muddy, the lights have a white glare effect similar to Perfect Dark and the controls feel sluggish, particularly where the look/aim analogue controls are concerned.

'Still', you'll think to yourself as you're sniggering at the awkward character animation, 'it's early days, and it's certainly not the end of the world.'

Sure enough, you'll play through the first level with that optimistic 'I've played worse' attitude. You'll probably be cursing the game's refusal to let you alter the analogue sensitivity, but you'll hold firm in the belief that it'll get better when the ghost bits kick in. And it does. At first.

Following your character's 'death' very early in the game (don't worry, this isn't a spoiler), you're whisked away to a computer construct, where your disembodied soul is taught the basics of possession.

As a ghost, the game looks far more alluring, with a grainy, bleached-out effect that, while not exactly stunning, is certainly pretty enough to grab your attention.

On leaving this haven, you're also introduced to one of the secondary characters - the ghost of a young girl called Gigi.

She then goes on to explain the finer points of your spectral form like slipping through gaps, possessing people and interacting with inanimate objects to scare the NPCs.

This new ability lifts your spirits as the concept promises a great deal of potential, while Gigi's character sparks curiosity about who she is and where the story might be heading.

So you keep playing. And although it doesn't take long to realise the ghost sequences are heavily scripted, the feeling of mischief, that you're actually meddling in the affairs of the staff at a military complex, is conveyed pretty well.

It's unfortunate that the ghost aspect of the game isn't explored further, because Geist is really at its best when it's not trying to be a first person shooter.

There are many segments in the game that revolve around possessing numerous people or objects, solving puzzles and completing objectives with characters that don't wield a weapon. In one sequence, for example, you have to clear an entire canteen of guards by poisoning their food.

On other occasions you have to use animal hosts to your advantage. You can possess a rat to move through small tunnels, for example, or take over a dog to scare the commander of the facility.

These parts feel much more like a classic adventure game rather than an FPS, and are actually rather clever, enjoyable and can give the game a unique atmosphere.

So it's a shame that there isn't more of this atmospheric action, as no sooner do you settle into the adventure side of things, than you will be forced into a gun-toting body for another slice of woefully inadequate shooting action.

In fact, it's virtually impossible to catalogue all of Geist's failings where the FPS action is concerned, simply because there are so many. However, there are specific, niggling things about the shooting that are simply inexcusable.

Firstly, the weapons feel completely insubstantial. The fact they all have infinite ammo isn't really a problem, seeing as battles hardly ever transcend more than a handful of rooms, but the fact they feel so light, so weak and so pitiful is very disappointing.

Even your final weapon is incredibly puny - and forces you to use its secondary grenade function (accompanied by a truly awful 'peew' sound) if you want to make any headway.

Also, the problems with the controls are really highlighted when fighting. For example, headshots aren't as simple as they should be because you're fighting the less-than-subtle controls, which makes fine tuning your aim a case of luck over judgement and turning on the spot sluggish and unwieldy.

Thankfully though, the difficulty level (or rather, lack of) is such that it's excusable to a point which, unfortunately, is something that can't be said for other aspects of the game.

The final nail in Geist's ghostly coffin is its almost astounding patchiness. Throughout the course of the game, you're witness to a myriad of different ideas. There are so many disparate concepts, and unfortunately they never really gel.

The result is a mess, and although these concepts work in theory, it feels like they've been put into the game with little regard as to how they're supposed to fit together, let alone how they make the player feel.

The environments, for example, differ so wildly you never really understand what the hell is going on. One minute you're fighting through a train, the next there's a distinct sci-fi feel, and after that you're in what looks like ancient Greece, fighting giant stone statues with laser-eyes.

The result is a mess of a game that never really flows properly, with a pacing that's all out of whack. You'll be flying through the game at one point, the next you're wandering around aimlessly, looking for something - anything - you can interact with in order to progress.

In one case, we spent 45 minutes looking for a can of soup we didn't even know we needed until, purely by chance, we saw our cursor highlight it in passing.

It's not just the vagueness of your objectives that's disappointing, either. There are a number of small details that seem tacked on for no reason.

There's a stupid little rhythm game that crops up for a couple of minutes. Or there's the truly irritating Simon-says-style game where you have to hammer rivets (yes, rivets) into panels. With all that's gone before, these games seem completely out of place.

If ever there was a case for the importance of taking a single core idea and exploring it fully (even if it means a shorter game), then this is it.

Second Sight, for example, did it perfectly - Free Radical built the game around its core ideas of extra sensory perception, possession and telekinesis and wrapped it up in a superb plot.

Geist simply has a handful of ideas, some of which are brilliantly executed, some of which aren't, and they've simply been slapped on top of a very average shooter.

It wouldn't be quite so bad if, after all these disappointments, there was an engaging storyline to keep your interest, but there isn't.

Initially, it's intriguing - particularly when it comes to learning who Gigi is, how she came to be and the exact goings on in the mysterious corporation you're investigating - but the more the game disappoints, the less you find yourself caring.

By the time you get to the final boss encounter, you won't care for the characters, you'll grow frustrated by the clumsy, disjointed way the tale is told, and ultimately you'll just want it to end.

Which is sad, because it means that many of you will never get to see those brief moments of brilliance that are hidden in the game, but we simply can't come up with a good enough reason for you to go looking for them.

The truth of the matter is that it looks like N-Space, the developers behind such classics as Mary-Kate and Ashley: Magical Mystery Mall and (our particular favourite) Rugrats: Search for Reptar, in this case couldn't transfer their skills from toddlers and shopping to ghosts and guns.

Geist will be released for Gamecube on 15 October

A melting pot of the brilliant and banal. Sadly, the latter outweighs the former. A real disappointment

More Info

Available Platforms: GameCube

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