It’s always nice to see a game with a unique premise -- and Ghost Master, from developer Sick Puppies, has a doozy. In the game you control a collection of ghosts -- from fun-loving sprites and gremlins to the ultra-powerful headless horseman -- and you use them to scare mortals and aid restless spirits. But Ghost Master isn’t an action game. It’s a subtle real-time strategy game that, by all appearances, can be enjoyed by casual and hard-core gamers alike.
Ghost Master is also lighthearted. In the 14 missions that come with the game you get to visit a sorority house, an isolated shack right out of the Evil Dead movies, and the “Ghostbreakers” headquarters, complete with agents named Murray, Akroyd and Ramis. Usually the objective is simply to scare all the mortals until they flee in terror, but sometimes there are restless spirits you can rescue, provided you can solve the puzzle associated with them. For example, in one early mission you need people to discover a dead body that has been stuffed into the top of a chimney. So you use one ghost to make a room drop in temperature, which encourages the people nearby to light a fire in the fireplace, which causes a room to fill with smoke, which causes the people to call a handyman, who finds the body. The puzzles are well thought out and fun, and revolve around the powers of your ghosts.
There are roughly 25 kinds of ghosts in the game, and each ghost has a unique set of powers. Other than making rooms grow colder, ghosts can rattle chains (to encourage people to investigate a location), or levitate objects (so people are more likely to believe in ghosts and thus get scared more easily), or cause blood to appear (to freak people out). Of course, ghosts can’t just use their powers willy-nilly. Each power has a plasma cost, and you earn plasma by creating tension and making people scared (sort of like in Monsters Inc.). But plasma isn’t like a typical real-time strategy game resource. It’s more of a way to prevent you from always just using a ghost’s best power. Instead, you have to figure out how to use lesser powers to scare people so you can eventually tap into the higher powers.
Ghosts can also gain levels and learn new powers. Each power has a “gold plasma” cost, and you earn gold plasma at the end of missions, depending on how well you performed (you can also earn pumpkins, but they don’t seem to do anything). Sometimes a system like this can put a lot of pressure on players, forcing them to play early missions perfectly so they don’t get overwhelmed in the later ones, but Ghost Master is very friendly. After you complete a mission, you can “revisit” it any time, and if you gain more gold plasma than you earned previously, you receive the difference.
Where Ghost Master has some problems is in the interface. I think Sick Puppies intended the game to appeal to casual gamers, but then they didn’t make the interface friendly enough. For example, you can’t save your game during missions, you can’t pause the game to issue orders or take stock of what’s going on, and a lot of game commands don’t have hotkeys. Ghost Master is also a little stingy about giving hints for missions, and so some missions can be frustrating.
But, overall, Ghost Master is entertaining and enjoyable. Its 3D graphics are nice enough, and the soundtrack is a lot of fun. Plus, with the variety of ghosts and ghostly powers, there are many ways to complete missions, and so even though you could probably finish the campaign in well under 10 hours, there’s lots of room for re-playability, and you might find Ghost Master haunting your hard drive for weeks to come.