As is to be expected with any genre, sometimes we see one-off endeavors pop up and fade away as quickly as they came. Such is the case with Haunting Ground, a survival horror game that was on the receiving end of some mixed reactions despite its novel gameplay. Originally released in 2005 for the PlayStation 2, this game was a change of pace for Capcom as far as survival horror was concerned. Rather than relying on shooting gameplay, Haunting Ground was more about filling players with tension, and it did a damn good job, too.
Speaking of tension, if you've yet to check out our previous entry in GameZone's 31 Games of Halloween, be sure to do so. It's all about Alan Wake, a game that offers its own brand of fear. For now, let's enter the confines of a brooding, ominous castle with a faithful dog companion at our side.
Why it stands out
When Haunting Ground was released, we had already seen survival horror take on a few different forms. Both Resident Evil and Silent Hill offered their own spin on the genre, and Capcom was drastically changing things up with the release of Resident Evil 4. Haunting Ground set itself apart, because rather than making you feel powerful and confident, it instilled a sense of weakness in you, borrowing from Capcom's Clock Tower series. That alone was enough to set it apart from the crop of survival horror games that made players feel like they could take on armies of enemies.
You take on the role of Fiona Belli, a young lady who finds herself in a castle she inherited following the demise of her parents. It isn't long before you begin encountering several terrors around the massive abode. The inhabitants who remain in the castle want you gone, and they go to some truly dreadful depths to make sure they get their way. These characters, many of whom are grotesque and disfigured, chase you around a number of environments within the castle, prompting you to run away and take part in a terrifying game of hide-and-seek.
Perhaps the most interesting element in Haunting Ground is Hewie, a lovable and loyal White Shepherd. Aside from shaking hands (seriously, he does that), this little guy is essentially your biggest asset. He'll attack enemies, cause distractions, and find hidden items. Hewie is such a pivotal part of the experience that your interactions with the dog and how you treat him can have a direct impact on the ending. While the partner AI isn't always perfect, Hewie is a more than competent companion who will save your ass countless times, especially when you take into account Fiona's complete lack of combat skills.
Is it scary?
Aside from the fact that old buildings are just really creepy, several factors make Haunting Ground quite scary. For starters, the helplessness you feel as you control Fiona causes dread to sink in from the moment you encounter your first enemy. In addition, having to hide and hope that the castle's inhabitants don't find you creates plenty of truly tense instances. Haunting Ground isn't so much about huge scares as it is about building fear progressively within you, and it does so pretty damn well for the most part.
Even though you've got Hewie by your side, you can't help but worry that something monstrous may pop up at any moment. Whether you're hiding or simply entering a new area, it's important to listen for any cues that may indicate that a threat is nearby. Case in point: You can hide from an enemy and think you're safe, only to come out of hiding and see that you weren't alone after all.
Why play it on Halloween?
The eerie setting, disgusting enemies, and nerve-wracking gameplay of Haunting Ground all combine to create a wonderfully scary experience worthy of being played on Halloween night. Unfortunately, the steep price that this PlayStation 2 original goes for online is kind of off-putting (fingers crossed for that rumored PlayStation Network version). Of course, if you've got a few extra bucks on you and fancy yourself a survival horror aficionado, this is certainly a nice investment.
If you enjoy built up tension in your horror experiences, Haunting Ground offers exactly that, and it does so in droves. Not every single one of its mechanics is perfect, but that shouldn't keep you from enjoying one of the more unique survival horror games of the past decade.
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