Haunting Ground is a survival horror game with a difference. It's not action packed but instead is more subtle in nature. It's not gory nor does it require the use of the lasers and giant machine guns. It follows the story of an estranged young girl and her dog trapped in a hostile mansion with dangerous characters and creatures all trying to prevent her from escaping - with her life.

I don't want to discourage the guys with this next comment but I really believe that this game will appeal to the female gamer out there. I'm not suggesting that this game is weak or will make you look like a sissy, it's just that it's the antithesis of macho shooters and fighters. If you prefer suspense over shock then this is your game.

Fiona is a well-endowed, pasty white chick that wakes up in the basement of a strange castle. She has no memory of how she ended up there but it's soon revealed that her mom and dad were killed in a car crash that she was involved in. Befriending a German shepherd named Hewie, the pair attempt to find their way out of the mansion where unimaginable dangers lurks around every corner.

Loaded with puzzles, traps and enemies the gameplay consists of exploration, puzzle solving, combat and stealth. The combat is limited to a few pushes and shoves. Most of the time Fiona will run and hide from her enemies. She may not be able to overtake them but she can avoid them by hiding under beds, behind curtains, door, boxes and any other place that offers sanctuary. If you use the same hiding space over and over you will eventually get discovered. It doesn't take the enemy long to catch on. Sometimes they'll find you right off the bat in a fresh hiding spot. This kind of randomness occurs throughout the game and always keep you on edge.

Fiona has only a few defensive moves. She can push, back step and execute a kick. She's no match for most enemies and should avoid direct contract with them as much as possible. It's best for her to hide or call upon Hewie to assist her. Keep an eye on her stamina and panic meters. If she begins to panic she will start running into walls and eventually knock herself out. She will also become catatonic, unable to run or otherwise defend herself.

The relationship that you forge with Hewie is uniquely strange for a videogame yet alarmingly realistic. Not only can you command Hewie to do things for you such as search rooms, pick up objects and attack enemies but you will also feel a sense of comfort from his presence when you're investigating the oppressive castle. Hewie will whine to warn you of an approaching enemy. With training such as ball throwing, shaking a paw, feeding and petting you will bond with Hewie in such a way that your commands will carry more authority but there are still times when your commands will go unheeded adding to the unexpected nature of the gameplay.

Exploring the castle is great fun. You never know what to expect. You will come across a variety of human characters such as Debilitas the hunchback servant and Daniella the goth-inspired maid. You never know who's on your side. You can explore the entire castle from top to bottom and all rooms in between with nary a load time. Even when you finally do manage to get outside you're still on the grounds and no closer to escaping than you were on the inside.

Music plays a large role in the gameplay. It indicates when an encounter is about to take place and it increases in intensity when you're being chased by an enemy. Even when you're hiding the music will indicate that the enemy is still searching for you. You're never safe, as it can find you at any time. Only when the frantic music fades will it be safe to come out again. The voiceacting is decent but it's marred be some of Fiona's drama queen moments.

The graphics are great. The castle is huge and well detailed with nice gloomy textures and gothic architecture. Hewie is incredibly well animated. It's hard to believe he's not real. When not in action he will curl around Fiona with his tail wagging. Your relationship with Hewie will affect the outcome of the game. You can replay the game with a higher degree of difficulty and change your relationship with Hewie for a different gameplay experience. This should give you another 20 hours of replay value.

Haunting Ground is not without some flaws. It's not perfect but most of these flaws can be overlooked when experience the gameplay in the spirit that it was intended to be enjoyed.

Preview by Vaughn

I'm sure the ad in the personals read something like - SWH (Single White Hunchback) with infantile mind of a child and body of an Adonis, seeks petrified female companionship in large Gothic castle setting. Dogs okay, but no cats. Enjoys gardening and endless games of hide and seek.

Okay, maybe not quite, Unfortunately Fiona Belli, the 18 year old female protoganist in Haunting Ground has no choice and makes the aquaintance of Delibitas - the single white hunchback - after she and her parents are injured in a car accident. Fiona is brought to the castle by a relative (???) and must figure out what happened to her parents while at the same time getting the hell away from the large hulking beast that is stalking her throughout the castle. Does he just want to play or is he dangerous? Luckily Fiona befriends Hewie, a four year old white male Alsation dog captured on the grounds of the castle and together they'll try and find a way out of the castle - while the inhabitants try to convince her to stay. After all, they keep insisting she is the true Heiress. Crazy days indeed momma!

Called Demento in Japan, this game is set for a release sometime later in 2005 in North America. Naoto Takenaka famed Japanese writer, director, actor, is the cinematic director and his making the move from movies to videogames to explore the horror genre. His goal is to portray a unique sense of fear and insanity never before seen in a videogame and so far it looks like he may live up to those lofty expectations.

We know that the game will consist of various encounters with Debilitas, which involves hiding from him when you can hear him approaching. Unfortunately for Fiona, this brute isn't as dumb as he looks, so expect him to check under the bed you're hiding under....Looks like he could teach the guards in the Metal Gear Solid series a thing or two about being thorough.....

Of course you aren't completely defenseless thanks to Hewie, who will attack Debilitas and any other castle creeps if they get too close to you. We aren't aware of any other defensive measures at this time, but as the game draws closer more info will come to light. You know the routine.

While the horror genre has its hits and misses, we're hoping the injection of new blood (Takenaka-San) might make a difference Stay tuned for more!

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System: PS2 (uk)
Dev: Capcom
Pub: Capcom
Release: TBA 2005
Players: 1
Review by Kelly