Posted by Dave Letcavage
A Ghost of the Past
Nintendo doesn’t have much of a history when it comes to publishing mature-rated games. In fact, they had never directly released an M-rated game before they published the critically acclaimed Eternal Darkness for the GameCube in 2002. So when it was announced that Nintendo was working closely with developer n-Space on Geist – a supernatural first-person adventure – you can imagine people were paying attention. Unfortunately, when the game released to mediocre reviews, it seemed as if Cube owners chose to ignore it completely. That’s unfortunate because while Geist suffers from a bit of an identity crisis and a handful of technical issues, the sum of its parts come together to create a one-of-a-kind experience that just may leave a haunting impression on your psyche. Maybe it’s time for this under-appreciated spirit to take possession of games players craving a break from the ordinary.
In Geist you’ll play as John Raimi – a scientist assigned to the counter-terrorist team CR-2 – as you’re sent to extract an undercover agent from a mysterious facility owned by the Volks Corporation. It seems that they’ve been suspected of secretly developing a chemical or biological agent and it’s your mission to secure a sample. But as you know, situations like this never seem to work out as planned. After rendezvousing with the undercover agent, things take a turn for the worst as most of your team is killed, and you end up the victim of a procedure that removes your spirit from your physical body. You’ll then haunt the gloomy halls of the facility as you attempt to recover your human form and uncover the secrets of the Volks Corporation.
There is a general misconception amongst many gamers that Geist is a first-person shooter, and while there are a good amount of intense shooting stages throughout the campaign, the focus is more on adventure mechanics and the power of possession. You’ll switch back-and-forth between these two distinct play styles – rarely utilizing them in conjunction – which can sometimes feel as if you’re playing two separate games. The shooting stages are about running-and-gunning while the adventure segments slow things down and require a little more brain power. This is mostly a good thing as it keeps things fresh and engaging throughout, but to be honest, it would’ve been nice to see these mechanics develop into a single cohesive play style by the end of the game.
Shooting sections control exactly like your standard FPS, although they aren’t as finely tuned as you’d expect. At times, aiming can require a high level of precision yet the C-stick is extremely sensitive, making things complicated to say the least. It’s not a problem to shoot an enemy up close but targeting the ones at a distance can prove challenging. You may be able to attribute a few deaths to this inaccuracy but it’s more annoying than it is problematic. Plus, the focus of the game is the far-more-satisfying adventure aspect which occurs when removed from a living host.
When you’re in spirit mode the game controls nearly the same as the shooting segments, except you won’t be able to carry a weapon and you can hover a few feet off the ground. To advance, you’ll have to possess the personnel throughout the facility, but before you can do so you’ll need to do some serious damage to them…psychologically. This can be done by possessing inanimate objects and manipulating them to scare the daylights out of your victims. You’ll even have the opportunity to possess animals such as dogs, bats and rats to gain access to areas which are restricted when in human form. It’s worth noting that you can’t possess every object or living thing in the game, only the ones necessary to the situation at hand.
The campaign is quite beefy and consists of nine levels, each of which is divided into stages. These stages serve as checkpoints and are generally implemented to change between play mechanics. At the end of each level you’ll be greeted with a boss battle or an action sequence. Most of these bosses can be defeated by strafing around the room and firing intermittently but there are some memorable moments and a couple of sequences which require some serious trial and error. The standard enemies you’ll face off against are generic guards, but you’ll also run into a few creatures along the way. Unfortunately though, the AI is incompetent and painfully predictable. An enemy that is under fire is far more likely to either rush you or stand completely still than it is to take cover. They’ll still provide a challenge, but just don’t expect them to outsmart you or react to your developing strategies.
The graphics in Geist, for the most part, hold their own. It’s the limited polygons in the character models and some fuzzy textures that are an eyesore. Occasionally they look so dated and clunky you may feel as if you’re playing Goldeneye or Perfect Dark on the Nintendo 64. Also, you can’t escape the unstable frame rate present throughout the campaign. It’s not clear if these blemishes should be blamed on the game engine, the technical limitations of the GameCube or if they were simply overlooked by the developer. Either way, they definitely detract from the experience, but luckily not enough to affect the gameplay.
Geist even brings its unique play mechanics to its various multiplayer offerings. There are three different modes: Possession Deathmatch, Capture the Host and Hunt. The first is your typical deathmatch fare with the inclusion of the possession feature. These arenas are littered with stationary guards that you’ll need to possess in order to eliminate your foes. Capture the Host is a variant of capture the flag where players will have to capture bodies instead of flags. Hunt is a team based game of spirits versus humans. These modes are all surprisingly fun and reminiscent of multiplayer-based shooters from the days of the Nintendo 64. You can also add bots to the equation if you’re looking for a heavily populated battlefield, or simply looking to play solo.
When you first access multiplayer there are only a few arenas to choose from but there are many more to unlock by collecting Host Collectibles throughout the campaign. Collecting these hidden emblems will reveal a slew of new arenas and playable characters. Some may see this as a positive point as it will add replay value to the single-player offering, while others may find it a chore to be forced to earn more levels.
All the issues aside, Geist is a good game, just not a great one. There are many technical problems and a slight unbalance between the two play mechanics, but the originality infused to the story and adventure elements is almost captivating enough to see through those issues. There is a level of inventiveness present here that isn’t witnessed frequently in modern gaming, and it's experiences like this that’ll make you wish more developers would take risks instead of vomiting out the exact same type of game over and over. If you’ve ever dreamt about having the power to be invisible and scaring the living daylights out of unsuspecting victims, then Geist is able to provide enough hauntingly memorable moments to recommend a visit to the Volks Corporation - just expect quite a few frustrations along the way.