Haunt the House: Terrortown Review—Of Good Spirits
You’ve always wanted to be a ghost, Haunt the House will make you realize. There’s a cathartic pleasure in gliding between objects and manipulating them to your will, watching mere mortals flee in terror. It’s a power fantasy, no doubt, but it plays out differently from a shooter, and your damage is mostly psychological. It’s a fresh idea, and it’s not an experience you can get anywhere else.
Haunt the House: Terrortown is a sequel to a 2010 free Flash game by indie developer SFB Games (formerly Super Flash Bros.). Whether this $3.49/£2.79 version of Haunt the House deserves your money is anyone’s opinion, but it does refine the visuals nicely, add a lot more variety and, most notably, allow for analog movement.
The purpose of the game is to terrorize every person out of the house and kill off a few key characters, an act which the introduction refers to as “tak[ing] back what’s ours.” This alludes to some sort of ghostly backstory, but the game never elaborates on this. The deaths of these characters are there to give you new playable ghosts to use.
The ghosts control much like a mouse cursor, moving responsively and smoothly, trailing wisps of white ghostliness behind them. Movement feels perfect. It’s extremely effortless to jump between objects with the controls. Possessing objects involves pressing X, then manipulating objects, either through direct movement (these objects are particularly fun), or the Circle, Triangle, or Square buttons, in order of scariness.
The atmosphere meter is the game’s form of pacing, but it feels artificial. The main appeal of the game involves discovery of the often silly and fun spooks, but getting to these involves spamming Circle-button actions to fill up your atmosphere bar, which are far more mundane than the higher-level spooking actions. As it stands, the Circle-button actions tend to be rather boring compared to the higher-level actions, and the bar only blocks your way to the interesting ones.
With playthroughs clocking in at 15-30 minutes, this isn’t a long game by any stretch, but it’s unlikely that you’ll witness every spook on your first playthrough, and trying out the different ghosts adds a little replayability. Another welcome feature: the game saves your exact progress automatically, so you can continue conveniently where you left off. There is a scoring system, but it feels a little disjointed. Points are lost for every human that jumps out of a window when they’re too scared, but the game’s responsive, fast-paced controls clash with the caution needed to keep people from running, screaming, out of a window in terror. It simply feels better to flit in and out of objects speedily and terrorize people with reckless abandon, and the game creates a conflict when it punishes your score for doing so.
Once you’ve haunted every object, the game loses its thrill, and the conflicts in the game’s systems can pull you in opposite directions. But ignore score and treat it like the toy it is, and you’ll find that Haunt the House is a unique, charming, and lighthearted romp that lets you take the role of a ghost. In the end, how many games let you do that?