• Geist Review - Nintendo Gamecube

    You are dead. Well, technically that isn't strictly true. Whilst investigating the Volks Corporation, something went wrong and now John Raimi is without a body - just a ghost in a machine waiting to be brainwashed for a project no one on the outside yet knows about. However help is at hand; a ghostly child called Gigi breaks Raimi out and now it is a race against time for him to figure out how to get his body back and prevent the sinister plot unfolding.
    This generation has been a somewhat strange one regarding Nintendo's external-party policy. Gone are many of the second-tier developers they used to rely on such as Rare, Paradigm, Factor 5 and Left Field, and stronger ties to established companies such as Konami, Capcom and Namco pursued instead. Which leaves Geist developers n-Space in an unusual position of being one of the few committed development teams left having their work being published directly by Nintendo themselves.
    In the context of the development of the game itself, this meant that Nintendo could directly oversee many of the aspects in the same way they did regarding Retro Studios and the Metroid Prime franchise. And whilst Geist is a good game in its own right, it is no Metroid Prime and despite the frequent delays for improvement, it could have been better than what has been delivered.
    From the previews and screenshots before release, Geist appeared to be a first-person shooter (FPS). Upon actual play, it is obvious it is as much an FPS game as, funnily enough, Metroid Prime was. Whilst there are many places where shooting occurs, Geist is more an arcade adventure with a first-person view. Blasting the opposition forms only part of the overall experience.

    However the average player may not fully understand this from viewing the first stage as it is pure shooting. Anyone picking up the game to try it out and just completing this part would be left with a sadly distorted view, and one which isn't representative of the charm, wealth of ideas and rewarding play experience lying just beneath.
    It is also shortly into the game where one or two of the irks about Geist become noticeable. The controls can be set to traditional or legacy, but they are a little wavy and it makes aiming slightly trickier than usual. There are also possible issues with the scenery models; on more than one occasion, a clear shot to an enemy presented itself, but the shot never made it because it thought some invisible wall was in the way.
    Gripes aside, the engine itself is more than competent and does its job. There is the occasional frame drop but this is compensated for by the sheer attention to detail, the quality of the textures, ragdoll physics and the lighting effects. n-Space have gone out of their way to make the environments as realistic and believable as possible, even down to writing on-board notes, wiring inside electronic equipment and reflections off walls and floor.

    As a ghost, Raimi cannot survive that long. The only way for him to keep going is to possess objects in each level. Examining each room will reveal anything of note and whether an item is possessable or not. Inanimate objects such as lights, drink machines, mirrors or even fans present no resistance to being inhabited. Once "inside" the item, they can be manipulated and operated. Utilising a particular item's functionality is the key to figuring out how to get about each level.
    Inanimate objects are one thing, but most of them are fixed in position and cannot move. The only real way to get about is to possess a living host, the Only problem being they are usually unwilling to submit to possession. By triggering certain objects close to a target, a potential host can be scared and lose their resistance to being possessed. Once inside a host, they can move and act as normal which allows Raimi to explore undetected to a certain degree. It isn't just about humans either; ever wanted to be a rat?

    Many levels are set out almost like a giant puzzle. The target is to figure out how to manipulate the objects required and utilise certain unique skills of living hosts to get to the end of each stage. Possessing certain key individuals may result in a partial flashback giving a hint on how to progress. The majority of these puzzles are clever, inventive and amusing, and rarely non-intuitive or illogical. Many a smile will creep over the face as another section of the overall plan falls into place.

    The overall concept of host and object manipulation in Geist is actually very well done. n-Space should be commended for coming up with a different take on the whole paranormal game type. Most of the direct scare-related puzzles, though, are linear; instances of being able to choose which object to use would have been nice. Despite that, much of the fun in the game is had trying to beat each level and figuring out just how to negotiate it.

    To that end, there may well be a certain degree of head-scratching and pondering over how to achieve some of the goals. Thankfully n-Space realised that excessive non-committal to any section of the game would kill Raimi because of his lifespan if not inside an object. Hence when you dispossess an item, Raimi's health returns back to full. A good touch, and one that prevents constant replaying of sections from being stuck on a puzzle and having Raimi die each time.

    In essence, one could say that the whole possession concept was defined by the old Commodore 64 game Paradroid, and Geist keeps alive this rarely used idea. n-Space has interwoven the mind control with functionality and the need to use certain aspects of each host to get around the obstacles faced. It also makes you think about the real-world aspects being explored; so next time your car keys go missing, it might be due to a spirit needing to possess them to survive.

    Going hand in hand with the puzzles is the involving and puzzling plot itself. Maybe developers are finally taking note and coming up with something original and different from time to time? Whilst the tale of One Man Against The Corporation isn't new, taking it from the perspective of being a ghost is. There is a sci-fi air to it all, which should appeal to the junkies, and the twisting narrative and disclosures at key points keeps everything ticking along nicely.

    Multiplayer-wise, the game takes a subtly different approach to the normal competitive options. Whilst the game types are standard (deathmatch, king of the hill and so on), the fact everyone is a ghost and has to possess a host makes the tactics different. Each host is equipped with a different weapon and you are stuck with it until death or you dispossess the host and take over someone else. This makes the action more varied and entertaining as there can't be an over-reliance on using the same weapon all the time.

    Geist is a game worthy of attention and play, but may undeservedly end up being overlooked and ignored in general. If you are willing to forgive some of the niggles with the engine, then underneath lurks a program full of idea, invention, wit and life (although the motorcycle section seems somewhat out of place). There is a lot of potential shown by what has been delivered, and it is a concept that could easily be expanded and improved upon with a sequel.

    Score: 6/10