Tuesday, 22 February 2011

So Now, You're a Crossing Gate: Ghost Trick

When video games as a general rule have the player character avoiding death (or inflicting it); it's an unusual thing when a game starts with the Player Character dead from the get-go. You play as Sissel, a reawakened amnesiac spirit in a junkyard accompanied by only a red-suited corpse, a female detective with a bizarre hairdo, and a blue-skinned assassin in a suit, hefting a large golden shotgun. The detective seems to know something about how and why you died, but meets an untimely death. Fortunately you gain the power of the 'Ghost Trick'; the ability to possess and manipulate small objects, and the ability to rewind time to the 4 minutes before someone else's death. If you can save the detective, maybe you'll get some clues about your past...
Ghost Trick was directed by Shu Takumi, the same director behind the Ace Attorney series, and by God that legacy shines through in this work. That series was packed to the brim with over-the-top memorable characters, great storytelling, and an episodic feel that made it easy to pick-up and play. These design philosophies have been expertly transported into Ghost Trick; Sissel's musings are sarcastic and likeable, Detective Lynne is still worth rescuing every time she meets her end (even after the gunman in the junkyard, she has troubles staying alive), and storyline chapters are just the right length for you to finish one on the train, or before you go to bed.

However, the Ace Attorney series has stagnated over time. The initial three DS releases are actually re-released Japanese-only Game Boy Advance games - and replaying them now, the age shows a little. The more recent games rely mostly on the success of - and cameos from - the previous instalments; and while I am pretty damn excited for Ace Attorney Investigations 2, it won't offer anything in the way of a fresh experience. Ghost Trick is that breath of fresh air, both in terms of how it looks and how it plays.

Game play reminds me of a Rube Goldberg Machine. When rewinding someone's death, you have to manipulate items scattered around the room to alter the path of those in peril. A victim can't hear the assassin approaching due her headphones? Knock them into the nearby fish tank. Large wrecking ball suspended by a fragile clamp? Get the clamp to open, and watch havoc unfold. If you spend too long, or accidentally put the victim in even more danger, you can go back to the start of the 4 minutes at any time, with no penalty. The puzzles are logical and encourage you to tinker around with the pieces for happy successes, and the occasional hilarious failure.

The style of the game is also extremely noteworthy. Where Ace Attorney mostly used mugshots and still images to tell its story, Ghost Trick is an animated wonder. Stylised 3D models waltz across the 2D set with a whole lot of energy and flair. For character Detective Cabanela, just walking downstairs or answering the phone can be turned into a performance. The design of the locations has the gritty Film Noir aesthetic, but rendered in bold colours and anachronistic technology. The same goes for the funky soundtrack - mysterious grooves with an electronic flair.

The story is a gripping one, but it's filled with so many twists, I'd feel bad for sharing it and spoiling the experience. The ending is open enough to have a sequel if Capcom wants more money; and in a way they're fully justified. Ghost Trick is a total gem of a game, and is one of the best Story-Driven puzzlers on the DS to date. And that's no Trick.

A demo of Ghost Trick can be played for free online here! Awesome!

 This article has been hosted on The Yorker, and can be found here.

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