The latest in Sony’s PlayStation Mobile initiative, Haunt the House: Terrortown sees you adopt the role of an ethereal being named Ghost and challenges you with the task of scaring people for, well, no apparent reason really.
Ghost’s story begins in a clock tower that serves as the game's central hub. With the mysterious music, cutesy Frobisher Says-esque graphics, and spooky narration, it starts off very promising, but once the tutorial is over, you’re on your own. The controls are simple yet effective. You manoeuvre Ghost with the left analogue stick or d-pad and let out a short moan with the X button. Unusually, there are no touch screen controls when played on the PlayStation Vita.
Haunt the House’s main feature is interacting with objects and possessing them, using them to your advantage to scare the people nearby. This fills up the ‘atmosphere’ meter at the bottom of the screen. The higher the meter, the more actions you can perform with specific objects. For example, possessing a trombone with a low atmosphere meter will only permit you to wobble it about on its stand. Fill the meter up, however, and you’ll be able to release a blast of musical terror.
There are four areas to haunt: the theatre, cruise ship, hospital, and museum. Each location has specific objects to possess and 20 people that you need to scare towards the exit. The sheer amount of different possess-able items is impressive, especially given that when your atmosphere increases, there are new options for you to explore. In each area there are two ‘trapped souls’, which are relatively simple to spot. A high atmosphere meter allows you to perform a specific action when possessing a nearby object, which kills the soul masquerading as a person and sends them to the clock tower, where they’re stationed next to a bell.
Unfortunately, scaring people isn’t as much of an art as you might expect, and it didn’t take us long to realise that spamming the first available interaction of an object is the fastest way to earn a full atmosphere meter. Also, there’s no way to tell just how scared a person is, and while the atmosphere meter allows you to scare them in new ways, the new methods don’t appear to send them to the exit any faster. If you possess a skeleton with the person between you and the exit, more often than not they’ll run straight past you and back round the building, only seeming to leave when they want to.
To make matters worse, with a distinct lack of sound or visual effects complementing your progress, it’s not always obvious when you’ve successfully scared people out of the building. At the start of our first playthrough, we were unsure how we were doing, but a quick glance at the onscreen tally demonstrated that, unbeknownst to us, at least half of the people had already fled.
Indeed, the game is particularly poor at explaining its mechanics. We only discovered that people could be killed or terrorised into committing suicide via the scoreboards, and we had absolutely no idea that it was possible to change character until we'd made some serious progress into the campaign. Furthermore, the title can be completed in just over an hour, and the lack of gameplay variety hardly inspires replayability.
There's a likeable premise lurking within Haunt the House: Terrortown, but the game is far too obtuse to take advantage of it. Some players may have fun exploring the tiny title, but the developer needs to ensure that its future releases boast better communication and more content, or risk scaring consumers away.