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The Top 7… Playable ghosts

5. Phantom warrior

Haunted the living in: Demon’s Souls/Dark Souls

Demon’s Souls made death in a videogame a truly significant event, changing they way we thought of playing games, because we actually had to be cautious in situations that would cause no fear in other games. You began the game alive, but the first time you died, you respawned as a phantom. This meant your health bar was cut in half, and the effect was permanent until you either defeated a boss (a rare event) or found a rare item to use. Being a ghost wasn’t all bad; you moved silently, reducing the range that enemies detected you, and if other circumstances were right, you’d actually deal more damage. Still, seeing that half a health bar taunting you made you never forget that yes, you were indeed dead.

Dark Souls carried over some aspects of this mechanic, still keeping you vulnerable to enemy player invasions if you were human (in which case the attacking player appears as a black phantom). Dark Souls decided to play nice and no longer cut your bar in half while you were dead (or “hollowed“), but still allowed for players to invade/summon other players as phantoms. Both games had the nice touch of showing other players as ghosts within your own single-player game, fading in and out of existence as they fought enemies in their own worlds. You could even touch the bloodstain where a player died and see their spooky final moments in ghost form, providing some tiny semblance of a warning for your own possible fate waiting around the next corner.

The Souls games weren’t just about being difficult; mood was perhaps even more important, with the near-silent desolation and crumbling run-down architecture laying on an oppressive and depressing atmosphere. For some inexplicable reason, this mood was infectious in a good way, providing a strangely pleasing aesthetic of constant melancholy. Having your character play as a ghost, and having the world populated by the ghostly echoes of other players participating in the same daunting struggle, completed the vision of cold dreariness that has made the Souls franchise unique in gaming.

4. John Raimi

Haunted the living in: Geist

As ghostly protagonists go, mute scientist John Raimi doesn’t exude a whole lot of personality. On the other hand, he doesn’t really need it, seeing as he can just borrow everyone else’s. The victim of experiments run by the creepy, occult-fixated Volks Corporation, Raimi was artificially turned into a ghost and trained to possess other living creatures – provided they’ve been properly frightened first.

Freed by an empty-eyed little ghost girl named Gigi, Raimi attempts to escape from the facility where he’s held, something that requires a lot of scaring, a lot of bodily possession (of everything from bats, rats and dogs to shotgun-toting sentries and minigun turrets) and a lot of shooting as he runs afoul of guards and the assorted monsters that Volks’ experiments have brought into the world. Still, his floating, ethereal nature – which he sustains by draining life energy from plants, for some reason – lets him do things that haven’t been replicated in any other first-person adventure. Things like scaring hydroponic technicians with robot armatures, hiding in a bowl of dog food to frighten (and possess) its canine owner, and freaking out a female doctor while she’s in the shower, only to turn her into a badass, demon-wrecking commando later on.

Above: Look at it this way: if they kill your "host," they're really just saving you the trouble

Before long, Raimi’s mission becomes about more than just escape; not only does he have to save his friend Bryson, an undercover mole who’s been found out by Volks, but he’s also forced to stem the tide of a demon invasion he indirectly caused. Even at its most grave, however, his mission still allows for plenty of silly crap like hiding in steam gauges and trash cans to spook his enemies into letting him borrow their bodies, so Raimi still manages to leave an impression in spite of his status as the ultimate blank-slate protagonist.

3. Polterguy

Haunted the living in: Haunting Starring Polterguy

Above: Yesss, look at him

Polterguy was actually a pretty annoying specter, but it wasn’t entirely his fault. Born in the early ‘90s – a time when making your mark as a videogame character meant being all faux-rebellious and saying “radical” a lot – Polterguy was an undead teen in a flat-top and a biker jacket, and his mission was simple: make life miserable for the crass Sardini family, who were somehow responsible for his death.

As the terrified Sardinis moved from house to house, Polterguy followed them, tracking down each one in their progressively bigger mansions and possessing their possessions until they were too frightened to do anything but flee. With gameplay that felt vaguely like The Sims, he could jump into anything that happened to be nearby, scaring the Sardinis with hurled kitchen knives, illusory monsters that popped out of cupboards and appliances, and bloody, severed hands that crawled off table saws and chased family members around.

Other than his annoyingly chirpy “attitude,” however, Polterguy had one fatal flaw: his life force continually dropped, and it dropped faster if the Sardinis’ stupid dog barked at him. Whenever it hit zero, he – meaning you – would have to navigate a subterranean dungeon, gathering “ecto” and dodging fist-shaped traps until Polterguy had enough ecto to get back to the fun part of the game. Even so, the sick thrill of spooking the Sardini kids with their own toys made haunting them worthwhile.

Topics

Halloweek Top 7

25 comments

  • Mike3one5 - November 1, 2011 9:44 p.m.

    No Auron?? Or Tidus for that matter?
  • EBAX1 - November 1, 2011 4:59 p.m.

    I thought of Paxton Fettel from F3AR
  • 510BrotherPanda - November 1, 2011 2:02 p.m.

    MISSILE WAS NOT KILLED BY A SHOTGUN. "Near-sighted Jeego" killed Lynne in the introduction with one. "One-Step-Ahead Tengo" killed Missile in Lynne's apartment with a SNIPER RIFLE. Also, was Princess Zelda from Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks excluded because it was just here still-living spirit, and not a dead ghost? I thought she got more "playability" time that Boo Mario...
  • GameManiac - November 1, 2011 10:33 a.m.

    Yeah, I expected Boo Mario. Glad I saw Sissel from Ghost Trick. I really need to play that game, since I'm hearing quite a lot of praise.
  • NanoElite666 - November 1, 2011 10:13 a.m.

    I remember once when I was a black phantom. Wound up catching the guy who's world I invaded literally with his pants down. Had absolutely no gear equipped when I ran across him, so needless to say the poor bastard didn't last very long at all.
  • Mechamorbo - November 1, 2011 8:58 a.m.

    YES!! I've been waiting for ages for Polterguy to be mentioned in any capacity on the site. I friggin LOVED this game as a kid. There were definitely flaws to the design, and the developers didn't really seem to hone in on what made the game FUN (my favourite objects to hop into were the ones you could control, like some of the kid's toys or the dishwasher, but there were only two or three of these per house), yet it was still loads of almost-sandbox-game type fun to be had. It's too bad they didn't ever make a followup to it, since there were a ton of great ideas in there that could have been fixed. Also, the backstory in the game's manual says that Polterguy blames the father for his death because he was knowingly selling cheap and faulty skateboard wheels. When they fell off his board, it caused him to careen into traffic and get hit by a truck. His kids are actually just little sh*ts and his wife is a bitch, so it's fine to scare them too. The end of the game reveals the dog to actually be a demon that you have to face in a final dungeon. It was the only part I could never beat, but I hear that once you defeat him, you someone win back your life... only to almost immediately die again for another stupid reason, I don't remember what. But Polterguy is all like, "F*ck it", and goes back to scaring the Sardinis
  • Darkshine34 - November 1, 2011 7:44 a.m.

    FFX. That is all.
  • Dmancapri - November 1, 2011 6:42 a.m.

    Wow. I really thought the Deku, Goron and Zora masks from Legend of Zelda Majora's mask would be on here. I mean you play a song and watch these guys die, then trap their spirits in masks!
  • Turboash - November 1, 2011 6:12 a.m.

    Ummmm... Lego Star Wars!?
  • macrodeath - November 1, 2011 5:45 a.m.

    Astral from Ghosthunter is the sexiest ghost in any videogame ever.
  • OtterPopAfterbirth - November 1, 2011 4:14 a.m.

    Does anyone else think that being able to drink a "ghost potion" in the sims to make a "ghost baby" sound suspiciously like an abortion?
  • Dmancapri - November 1, 2011 6:44 a.m.

    yes. Yes it does
  • Nap1400 - November 1, 2011 4:05 a.m.

    Hey, where's Spirit Tracks Zelda? She was awesome! But otherwise, I agree with this list.
  • GrandmasterB-Funk - November 1, 2011 2:54 a.m.

    as soon as i saw this, i was like, Ghost Trick better be at least mentioned, or i'll kill someone then as i started going, i was like, wait no, Ghost Trick better be first, or else i will kill someone luckily no one has to be killed! but yeah, ghost trick is amazing, i almost cried at the end it was so touching
  • CitizenWolfie - November 1, 2011 2:52 a.m.

    I know I pointed out Monkey Island in your classic Skeletons article but how about Guybrush Threepwood in Tales of Monkey Island?!? Although I guess he plays the same as when he's alive... I bet the Ghost Pirate LeChuck would be fun though.
  • codystovall - October 31, 2011 9:56 p.m.

    Wow so underused, developers should hop on it.
  • Jdub9064 - October 31, 2011 9:37 p.m.

    Completely forgot about Geist, never got around to playing that
  • shawksta - October 31, 2011 8:28 p.m.

    Awesome list, YAY Ghost Trick is aknowledged, Sissle was an awesome ghost. its hard, every great moment in Ghost Trick is eventually a spoiler, too many plot twists.
  • GhostbustTyler - October 31, 2011 7:55 p.m.

    I honestly think that Boo Mario should be lower and John Rami should at least be number 2 (haven't played Ghost Trick so I have no idea how awesome it is). Boo Mario conrolled clunky and wasn't as fun as it promised to be, not to mention the rarity of the power up. John Rami in Geist is pretty much everything you'd want to do as a ghost, scare people, and then possess and kill people. Now i admit that the plot and even some parts in the game are batsh*t crazy (like the possessing a motorcycle to help your friend get away)and the controls can be extremely frustrating at times, but it's still a great ghost game and provides more of a whole experience then Boo Mario ever did.

Showing 1-20 of 25 comments

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