Title: Ghost Master
Publisher/Developer: Empire Interactive/Sick Puppies
Year: 2003
Platform: PC/Playstation 2/Xbox
Genre: Real-Time Strategy/Sim

There's something amiss in the town of Gravenville. Restless spirits are popping up everywhere, and the townspeople are on edge. It's up to you to find out what's going on... but in an interesting twist, you're not an angst-ridden vampire slayer or a wise-cracking ghost hunter, you're a ghost too! To be more precise, you're a spectral civil servant sent by the Haunter Comittee to investigate the goings-on in Gravenville, scare a few people with your crack team of haunters, recruit a few restless spirits to your cause, and generally see to it that Gravenville becomes a better, spookier place to un-live.

Ghost Master is a real-time strategy game with 3-D rendered graphics and a 3/4 overhead view. From here, you command your team of hand-picked haunters (from a pool of up to 40 different ghosts in six general power rankings) in 14 missions across nearly a dozen locations in the town of Gravenville.

Haunting is fairly easy to learn. Displayed on the screen, in addition to some camera control buttons, are the Haunter Pack, the Mortal Pack, and the Plasm Meter. The Plasm Meter displays your only real resource, plasm. You start with a certain amount of plasm, and can generate more by scaring mortals. The Mortal Pack displays more info about the mortals in the level, such as their personal information (including concious and subconcious fears, by which they are more easily scared), and their levels of Terror (measures how scared they are), Madness (measures their mental stability, or lack thereof), and Belief (measures their vulnerability to scare powers). The Haunter Pack is where you can check up on your haunter team (including their personal information, as well as powers and any special orders you have them following). In order to scare mortals, your haunters must be bound to certain locations in the mortal realm called "fetters". Certain types of haunters can only be bound to certain types of fetters (gremlins can be bound to electrical devices, poltergeists can be bound to children, while certain ghosts can be bound anywhere indoors, or to corpses or scenes of violence, and so on). Once bound to a fetter, ghosts can be given plasm, allowing them to use their powers.

The missions are pretty standard at first, and revolve around scaring everyone out of a location. But scaring folks off is not all you have to do. In certain levels, you might have to seek the help of hapless mortals in performing your missions, some of which may be familiar to horror movie buffs. In "The Calamityville Horror", you have to expose the corpses of several murder victims to an unsuspecting household. And in "Summoners Not Included", you have to help three youths find an ancient tome in a cabin in the woods and summon a powerful spirit (there are no zombies, more's the pity).

But be careful, because not all mortals are helpless: there's a fair supply of mediums, witches, and ghost hunters around who might show up and try to banish your spooks, rendering them unable to haunt for the remainder of the mission. On the plus side, you may encounter more ghosts in the levels, who will join up with you if you solve their problems and get them unstuck from their fetters. You can also earn "gold plasm" after completing your missions, which you can spend to teach your haunters new skills.

What the developers are doubtless hoping will pull you in is the variety of ways the missions can be accomplished. Need an electrical device operated, but don't want to wait for the mortals to do it? Attach a gremlin to it and have them use a power like Strange Behavior to make it go off on its own. Need a rainstorm or some wind? Use a ghost with weather control powers. Need a fire started? Have one of your ghosts do it, or go the more subtle route, and have a ghost generate some cold and encourage the mortals to start a fire. You can also learn a mortal's fears and exploit them, or raise a mortal's Belief with particularly "unnatural" powers (like telekinesis, or powers that cause your ghost to physically manifest briefly). Your ghosts' powers can have a lot of influence on the world, and the flexible solutions enhance the game's replay value a bit.

My Thoughts
Maybe it's just me, but this game reminds me of "Haunting: Starring Polterguy", an obscure Sega Genesis game with similar themes. But while "Haunting" had a considerably steeper learning curve, Ghost Master includes a very good tutorial mission. And while the scare powers aren't quite as creative as in "Haunting", the ways you can use them certainly are. If real-time strategy games or horror movies are your bag, you might like Ghost Master.

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