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Another year, another Kickstarter that delivers: GhostControl Inc., by developer Bumblebee Games, has deigned to see the light of day. Pitched as a blend between classic X-COM and Ghostbusters, I backed it because it was pitched as a blend between classic X-COM and Ghostbusters. I mean, doi hoi.

GhostControl Inc. has actually been in development rather briefly, with the Kickstarter dating back only to July last year. This wasn’t particularly surprising: with such a modest funding goal, and with gameplay demonstrations that felt as functional as they did, as early as they did… I actually had a chance to play an early build at Gamescom 2013 (and leave my name on the Indie Table) which felt pretty decently developed for a game only two months out of Kickstarter. Point is: while only six months of development from Kickstarter to completion seems short — and it is — I could see it work for GhostControl Inc.. Whether or not it’s actually worked, however, is something I hope to find out in the next couple of thousand words.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, not a whole lot. Mechanical, pretty much completely.)

Opening

A little caveat before we start: as GhostControl Inc.’s (probably) lovely developers have decided to resort to somewhat more archaic methods of distributing patches and keeping their game up to date. Which is to say that, in the case of Kickstarter backers, they used the Kickstarter email messaging system to send out direct download links. I’m pointing this out here and now because — clever as this system is — I can’t be entirely sure I’m on the most recent version. I get a lot of email, okay! Right now I’m using… let’s see… ‘game version 1.0.2c’ and ‘database version 1.0.4′, whatever the devil that means. I’ll try and double-check if there are any updates near the end of the review, and see if that influences much.

Alright then. With that said, on y va!

Hey, I *do* like drinking beer and coffee! And I’m itchy sometimes, too!

I have two initial things to say about GhostControl Inc.’s opening screen. First, I’m a little disappointed at the casual sexism. It may not be entirely purposeful, but look at this art: two men in a high-octane ghost battle, and one woman off the side in a stereotypical boobs-’n-butt pose. It might not be a major thing in the game at large, but I’m trying to let this sort of thing slide less in 2014 onward.

I’ve been given to understand that the earlier title only had the middle guy and the ghost, but that doesn’t really make it much better.

And second, this menu is slow. Poorly optimized, that’s for sure. Clicking any of the buttons — options, credits, load game, exit game — induces waits of up to ten seconds at a time. Can I suggest working on this as one of the next patch’s major goals?

Speaking of the options and the credits: GhostControl Inc. does an interesting thing sometimes where, if you’re watching the credits and you hit Escape to cancel them, it actually just gets you the Options menu as an overlay. Which saves me a screenshot to show them both, so hey! Bonus.

Maybe more games should do this?

Starting a new game entails picking a city to work in. I can choose from London, or… well, right now, I can choose from London. ‘Additional cities’ was a Kickstarter stretch goal that didn’t quite make the cut, I think, although I’m pretty sure Bumblebee is working on adding Cologne and San Francisco in the near future. I do read some of their Kickstarter emails.

After choosing London — which, in fairness, I probably would’ve done anyway — I get to head-hunt my first (male) ghost hunter from a squad of six. I pick the face that looks the most like a smirking jackass, and attempt to name him ‘Steve Kandinsky, Master of Ghosts, Hunter of Spooks, All Major Credit Cards Accepted’. But the game won’t let me. I settle for ‘Steve the Ghost Master’ instead.

“That’s MISTER the Ghost Master to you.”

And we’re off!

Initial impressions

I start my adventures in feel-good bustin’ in Steve the Ghost Master’s main ghosting office, which is not a garage.

‘Holes in the ozone layer have caused ghosts.’ As far as background stories go, it’s not nearly the worst I’ve seen.

Through a rapid-fire series of popups and floating arrows, GhostControl Inc. attempts to familiarize me with this office. Click on the car to load hunters and equipment! Click on the desk to hire hunters! Click on the ectovault to empty the ectovault! Click on the garage door to leave your garage office! Click on the safe to save! Haha, get it?

I click around these various things for a few seconds, trying to figure out what I’m intended to do here. Do I… do I hire people now? Is that a good idea? I have five hundred quid, which is going to become two-hundred and fifty quid in a week. And hiring people costs money, both immediately and over time. Or do I fiddle with the ectovault, maybe? Man, talk about your information overload. I…

The phone rings.

Oh, that’s nice!

By following the instructions Ghost Phone gives me and clicking on the car, I can see that my entire asset line right now is Steve The Ghost Master’s equipment: one vacuum cleaner turned ghost weapon, two toasters turned ghost traps, and one pair of overalls. Steve also has a whole mess of stats, but let’s not worry about those right now.

Clicking on the garage door brings me to the city of London.

As someone who once spent one week in London, I can confirm that this map is 100% accurate.

Hoo boy. More information. Floating gas pumps, and HQ markers, and a vacuum cleaner, and a pair of goggles, and…

No, you know what? I can see a little floating ghost in the top middle. Call me crazy, but that’s probably where my mission is.

I click the ghost, and a small window in the bottom left shows a red Volkswagen Beetle driving. On the main map, one of the three pairs-o-blokes — the blue ones without a name — move from the one HQ marker to the ghost. Those guys are GhostControl Inc., then? I’m assuming that makes the other two — Ghosts Begone and Ecterminators — my sworn enemies.

Anyway, I’m here. Ghostbustin’ time!

“Did anyone load their weapon?” Steve wonders aloud, fully voice-acted, to no-one in particular.

This tiny house holds a ghost. This cannot stand.

At first glance, GhostControl Inc.’s gameplay seems very much like X-COM by way of point-’n-click adventure. So, X-COM, basically. The whole affair is team-turn-based, as expected. In my turn, Steve the Ghost Master has two action points, denoted by the red squares over his head. He can use these to walk around, attack ghosts, or fiddle with inventory items. Other actions, such as opening doors and flicking on lights, are apparently free: Steve can walk up to a door, open it, walk through it, turn on the light, and then walk some more if his movement allowance is up for it. Annoyingly, you can’t immediately make a double-move: while both actions points can be used for movement, I have to completely use the first one before getting to see the movement range on the second one. Still, the upside is that there’s no such thing as a misclick move:

Steve would have to walk through the door first, because light switches for any room are located next to any door entering it. That’s just how Great Britain works, you guys. And light switches are important, because ghosts are hard to see in the dark. Compare this:

Alright… small house, but kinda cozy, nothing majorly untoward going on he-

To this:

A G-G-G-GHOST!

Capturing ghosts in GhostControl Inc. follows strict Ghostbusters rules: I hit the ghost with nondescript ‘beams’ of some sort of nuclear energy until it’s weakened — represented here by the ghost’s ‘energy’, which goes down on successful hits — before using a trap to capture it.

My first few shots go wide — beginner’s anxiety — and instead of draining the ghost, they actually damage parts of the house. Similarly, on the ghost-turn, the poltergeist I’m facing seems content to just ignore me and smash up the house instead. Damage to the premises is tracked with a bar on the right side of the screen, and anything that gets broken is coming out of my paycheck.

The beams in GhostControl Inc. don’t actually seem to allow me to wrangle the ghosts, though, so trapping involves getting a little more up-close-and-personal with the ghost than I’d strictly like. And I’m also not entirely sure what causes a trap to trigger? Steve places a trap right under the weakened ghost, but that does nothing on my turn. But on the ghost’s turn, when it moves away…

Suck it, *spirit*.

The tutorial (such as it is) suggests I return to the office to empty the traps. And that’s it. I’m on my own now, I guess.

I decide to prepare for my next mission by hiring some more ghost hunters, now that I’ve earned… eighty quid? For half an hour’s worth of work? Wow, ghost hunting is lucrative.

Anyway, I’m hiring some more hunters. Better safe than sorry, right? Let’s see who’s on the market for easy money…

There are six candidates I can choose from. All of them have different classes and slightly different stats, but I have no idea what’s going to be useful for what? After some deliberation, I decide to hire the accurate shooter ‘C.A. Pable’, as well as… is that a monkey? Is that a monkey scientist called Herr Kaschke? Dude, you are so on board.

Only later would I find out this is a reference to something specific.

I drive Steve to the vacuum cleaner icon, which turns out to be a ghost hunting equipment store. My intent is to get some more basic ghost hunting stuff for my recruits, but there are some interesting new weapons and traps on display here that seem to promise more tactical gameplay options later.

Pushin’ and pullin’ ghosts, aw yeah.

Similarly, the goggles icon provides non-weapon equipment. The gas pump icons allow me to refuel my car, because forgetting to buy gas is exactly the kind of detail a ghost hunting adventure needs. Finally, the hospital allows me to rejuvenate my hunters’ ‘sanity’ hit points.

Clever.

Three hunters deep, healthy and equipped and all fueled up, I’m all ready to go hunt more ghosts!

Except that I don’t have any missions, I guess? Are there any ghosts out there?

“Congratulations! You busted the one and only ghost in London, a once-in-a-lifetime experience! Now you’re unemployed again.”

No, but seriously, I don’t have any ghost hunting missions. I can use the phone on the lower right to look at my objectives, but that just says ‘manage to afford the better headquarters’. Which seems like an odd goal for a group of ghost hunters, but I suppose you can’t live in a garage forever. But affording the better HQ will be difficult if nothing happens. And if ghosts don’t show up within the next seven days, I won’t even be able to afford rent on this place.

Missions, it turns out, pop up randomly. Using the time control on the top right, I sit through a few hours of relative boredom fairly quickly. Then, suddenly, the phone rings like four times in a row.

Crazy ghosts *in a graveyard*? On it like white on rice!

I try to bring all three of my hunters on this mission, but it turns out my car only seats two. Whoops. I guess ‘get a better car’ can be on my to-do list, after ‘get a better headquarters’.

Let’s leave the horrifying monkey man in the garage for now.

Beyond that, bustin’ ghosts with multiple hunters works about the same as doing so with one guy. The movement point issue is a little more annoying here, in that turns don’t automatically cycle over if one guy somewhere still has one square of movement left. But it’s definitely good to have two guys’ worth of traps here.

Three traps are heavy, yo! *You* try lugging around three modified toasters.

Missions start piling up. Ghosts be everywhere. My bank account rejoices! My hunters… less so. The poltergeists are relatively harmless, but I quickly start running into Halloween Ghosts and Specters and Ghouls that do actually attack my hunters’ sanity directly. And if this game keeps the X-COM spirit intact, pretty soon, I’ll be thinking back about these ‘easy’ days wistfully.

So far I’m kind of enjoying GhostControl Inc., though not undividedly so. It’s a little obtuse, for starters: it provides a lot of information that I can’t parse or look up anywhere, and I don’t know what my overall goal is here. Repair the ozone layer? But on the other hand, I like the aesthetic and the setting a lot, and there’s some definite creativity on display in the art, the writing and the cringe-inducing puns. I suppose this could go either way.

Be back when London is 100% spook-free!

And when I’ve managed to convinced GhostControl Inc. that I’m not playing the demo version!

Onto page 2. >>

Pages: 1 2

2 Responses so far.

  1. Hi!

    Thank you for taking your time reviewing our game. We agree with some of your criticism and we have several of these items on our list to fix as well.

    For a start there is a manual now that can be downloaded here as well as version 1.0.7:
    http://www.application-systems.co.uk/ghostcontrolinc/downloads.html

    It needs more explanation on a stats level. This stuff exists in a raw version and will be added to it.

    To address the issues that you see:
    As you suggested there is a complex rules system underneath the game. We see three groups of gamers that may pick the game up and they are quite different. There are the ones who want to explore all the secret details. This is people like him:
    http://www.moddb.com/games/ghostcontrol-inc/forum/thread/lv2-mob-guide
    There are people who just want to play along.
    And then there are people who want to understand and would even pay attention to a manual (I guess you are in that group).

    The challenge is not to spoil it for the explorer type people, whilst explaining enough for the people who want to know, whilst not throwing too much information on everyone with constant tutorial messages.

    My personal point of view is that we should allow people to read everything they want to read and whoever wants to keep it secret for themselves should just ignore it. That said we will have more detail in the manual and the smartphone will feature a Ghostipedia covering several of the topics that you thought were lacking explanation.

    Ghostipedia and manual will address the following topics:
    - Ghost abilities/behaviour (cursing, conjuring up of other ghosts, teleports and so on).
    - Harm to hunters
    - Rules for level up or stat increases (they are not random indeed)
    - Relation of hunter stats to interacting with equipment and the mission context

    Some of that is covered on pages 25 and 30 in the manual.

    As far as the story goes: In the beginning, you start out as a single ghost hunter in a garage, [...] and to turn GhostControl Inc. into the go-to brand name for fighting the supernatural!
    Yes, you’ve got it. We are changing the way that news messages are displayed, because right now they disappear too quickly when a phone call comes in. They actually tell you a bit more of a story but of course there is also absolutely absurd nonsense as well.

    For the phone calls: If you read them well you can find that they actually indicate what type of scenery is waiting for you. It has hints like “garden shed”, “tube tunnel”, “restaurant” etc. in the text. Should you go to a graveyard mission during the night? Well, you can if you have the right team.

    Text and shoutouts in general: They have their humor but that is not universal. Some like it some don’t.

    Not responsive menu: We’ve never had that. Do you alway have that wait time when you push a button?

    Update mechanism: Yes, there is none and there should be one.

    The game has five phases internally. From what I read I assume you are in phase two or three. It is more complex later on and the ghosts will start behaving differently.

    I have bookmarked your review to remind us when we think we’re done to double check if we’ve covered most of what you found disturbing. But it has been on the list. We have already introduced three levels of difficulty in 1.0.7. If you play “hard” it is very obvious that you need to come up with a strategy to survive. But maybe you can’t without knowing the things you’ve highlighted and that I tried to explain in the manual.

    If you find the time to look at the manual let me know if that answers most of your questions.

    Volker

    • Jarenth says:

      Hey Volker. Wow, that’s some comment. If I’d known you’d be so okay with my baseless bile-spewing, I’d have linked you my review earlier.

      I am totally a manual reader, yes. I play tutorials too. For fun! I just read your manual, and it looks pretty okay. It definitely gives a clearer overview of gameplay, stats, debuffs and the like.

      I actually quite like the idea of having to discover new things. Really, I’m totally on board with that. You don’t have to tell me everything when I start out. But right now, your game isn’t telling me anything. I didn’t know what ‘Fork’ on a weapon did until I read the manual, just now! The Ghostipedia that you talk about sounds like a good thing in this regard. I’m okay with item, ghost and effect descriptions unlocking as you find them, or something in that regard. As long as they’re actually there.

      I got the general gist of the story, yes. I was actually halfway paying attention to the phone news — pausing the game as it came up — so if I decide to go back at some point, I’ll definitely keep reading that.

      The unresponsive menu was a constant for me.

      Overall, I was purposefully trying not to be too negative. I like what GhostControl Inc. is trying to be, and do, which is the reason I gave you Kickstarter money to begin with. And it definitely has potential! So I would love to one day play the GhostControl Inc. that has clear descriptions for people who like descriptions, that has story and world-building built in, and that has clear tactical challenges that require good understanding of weapons, ghosts and teamwork. And if you manage to turn GhostControl Inc. into that game, I will happily review it again to commend your hard work. I will certainly keep an eye out for more Kickstarter mails.

      (As for the personal preference-things: yeah, I review games from my own mind set. You’re right, shoutouts and voice acting and art and all that is highly subjective. I assume readers understand that too, so they can take my criticisms there with a pinch of salt.)

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