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Haunting Ground review

Solid
AT A GLANCE

Nothing

Despite their exposed flesh and frail dispositions, survival horror heroines have traditionally kept a stiff upper lip when faced with dreadful scenes, as if they've seen it all as many times before as you have.

But direct Haunting Ground's Fiona Belli to examine a blood-slicked pillar and she starts in fright, heart rate quickening and vision blurring.

It's an early indication that while the game's events may never truly scare you - it's magnificently bizarre, but not as harrowing as a Silent Hill - they will terrify Belli, switching the fatal liability from you being frozen with dread to her being driven into a blind, near-uncontrollable panic by it.

In fine Hammer Horror fashion, she'll spend most of the game running or screaming, plunging through a Chinese box of locations - escaping from one cage only to find herself in another, every thwarted pursuer replaced by one even keener to pick up on the hunt.

This constant sense of dislocation produces an intentionally bewildering fugue of a ghost-train ride, as intricate settings are unfolded, then whisked away before you can plumb their secrets, with the side effect that your first playthrough may result in the most terse of the game's endings.

But the journey nearly outshines the conclusion: puzzles are refreshingly straightforward, sparing the atmosphere from being interrupted by referral to scribbled notes and the player from being interrupted mid-solution by one of Belli's pursuers.

Combat, or at least a fighting withdrawal to buy Belli time to hide, has evolved from the arbitrary hide-and-seek of Clock Tower into a desperate game of hopscotch, as you lure pursuers into dropped traps or expose their backs to a savaging from faithful hound Hewie.

The two's mutual survival, with neither girl nor dog able to withstand determined attack, is engrossing enough in its emotional connection to allow the mechanics to stay simple, despite the typically Capcom inclusion of a garden's worth of mystical herbs.

Further supportive items can be brewed in laboratories, but on the standard difficulty setting most serve little purpose other than to fill your inventory.

For a game with few concessions to the formulas that birthed it - kickable, fire-hydrant-red item urns aside - the busy submenus are such a throwback that being unable to access them during panic attacks is more of a blessing than curse.

In a genre suffering from a confused balance of fight-or-flight signals, Haunting Ground is a distillation in the opposite direction of Capcom's other recent entry: the Blair Witch Project to Resident Evil 4's splatter horror, a whole game spent in anticipation of something infinitely wicked coming that, if all goes well, never arrives.

Some elements of story and gameplay are left disappointingly underdeveloped, and the grand environmental puzzles of the opening section become all but absent in the later locations - but when Belli's running for her life, you won't stop to notice.

Haunting Ground is out for PS2 on 29 April

Some elements of story and gameplay are left disappointingly underdeveloped, and the grand environmental puzzles of the opening section become all but absent in the later locations - but when Belli's running for her life, you won't stop to notice

More Info

Available Platforms: PS2

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