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.)
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!
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.
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.
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.
And we’re off!
I start my adventures in feel-good bustin’ in Steve the Ghost Master’s main ghosting office, which is not a garage.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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…
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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’.
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.
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!
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