The Kinect has had its highs and its lows and a whole lot in between. Each time I get the opportunity to review a Kinect game, I have no small amount of trepidation. I’m always afraid that I’m going to find yet another game with inconsistent gesture detection standing in the way of my enjoyment of a great concept. Thankfully, the delightful Haunt managed to avoid this common pitfall, making it one of the must-own titles on the system.
The game starts with a voice encouraging you to stand up after taking a nasty spill. You quickly learn that the gentleman speaking to you is Benjamin Muldoon, a specter trapped in a portrait (and wonderfully voiced by DoubleFine’s Tim Schafer). Benjamin will serve as your guide through the mansion, as he can appear in any painting within his home’s hallowed halls. Unfortunately, there are other dastardly ghosts, Chargers, Brutes, Throwers and more, that stand between you and successfully completing tasks for your host.
Early on in the game, three particularly nasty ghosts each steal a Phantaflask from Benjamin’s machine. You won’t find out what they are for until much later, but you’re tasked with recovering the missing objects. Each thieving poltergeist has escaped to a different wing of the house with distinct atmospheres and thematic puzzles.
The game plays out very much like a point and click game as you wander the rooms looking for key objects to enable progression toward the Phantaflask. Throughout, you’ll have to dodge obstacles and combat ghosts with your fists, feet and special abilities. Wandering the halls is handled smartly. Simply point your flashlight, which serves to mimic a right analog stick’s camera control, and walk (or run) in place. This is far more fluid than the movement found in Rise of Nightmares, for instance. The gesture controls are all tracked well, save the one used for deflection. The responsiveness was spotty and there isn’t enough a tutorial to get you started, especially since it is the one gesture in the game that has a very limited window to execute.
The other gestures, whether it’s jumping over obstacles or dodging Chargers, are very generously timed. I never felt like I had too little time to react. I also appreciated the non-traditional gestures like swatting bats away from your face and holding your nose. The game even has some very clever uses for the camera and microphone that, while not unique, are integrated into the game seamlessly.
There are a number of things to find tucked away in the mansion. Finding “vitality” in chests and cupboards fills your health bar, and extra lives come in the form of Vitality Vials. You’ll also find 13 collectible newspaper scraps that fill in the back-story. Nothing is too deeply hidden, so as long as you fully explore each stage, you’ll nab it all.
Visually, the game takes a page from Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction. There are some minor jump scares, keeping you on your toes, but everything is very colorful and kid-friendly. The ghosts look like something Peter Venkman might go after, and Benjamin’s lazy eye is good for a chuckle. Tim Schafer is the star of the sound design, giving life and personality to Benjamin. He did a superb job with the role and I welcome more voice acting from him in the future.
Probably the biggest thing standing in the way of Haunt’s success has nothing to do with the game. It arrived to very little fanfare on January 18th and, had we not received a review code for it, I probably would have missed it entirely. This is the exact type of game Microsoft should be pushing for the Kinect. If you’ve got one, it’s absolutely worth the 800msp price of admission.
Review copy of the game provided by publisher.