When you're considering the fundamentals of creating good horror, surprising your audience is a vital aspect. Predictability utterly obliterates a creepy atmosphere. Fortunately, like all good ghost stories, Haunt is generous with the curveballs. The first unexpected moment comes when you're addressed by Benjamin Muldoon.
It's not so much the fact that he's an entertaining eccentric trapped in a painting, more that he's voiced by Tim Schafer, the developer behind Brütal Legend, Costume Quest and Stacking. Schafer pulls off a characterful performance and the well-written script jives with the sense of humour he injects into his own work.
The surprises keep on coming at a giddy pace, the next one being just how polished and well-conceived the whole experience is. In spite of the fact that this is both a kids' game and available for just 800MP on XBLA, Haunt plies its trade with varied and inventive uses of the Kinect controller.
But unlike Rise Of Nightmares, which tried to break the 100m record before it could (literally) walk, everything here is reassuringly robust. The basic exploration controls don't overreach themselves - you simply point your torch in the direction you want to walk and then march on the spot to move forward.
Everything else is performed right on cue and you'll find yourself ducking and dodging, rummaging through furniture and even shouting to break through 'sonic barriers'. Like any self-respecting haunted mansion it's riddled with traps, and in Haunt's case each one introduces unique, one-time mechanics - at one point you have to remain deathly silent as you sneak past a wall full of snoozing portraits while another corridor has you freezing on the spot every time a spooky giant eye fixes its stare on you.
Combat is similarly diverse - each flavour of ghost has a certain selection of actions or gestures that are effective against it and it's about reacting to the cues quickly enough to maximise the damage dealt. You're never juggling too many mechanics at once, though, and health vials are so readily available you'd have to be trying very hard indeed to actually lose the game.
As a result, within three or so hours you're likely to be done, but what remains is a lasting warm glow - not just from rare muscle usage but also the satisfaction of a Kinect game that capably and effortlessly takes advantage of the technology. Kids will obviously adore it, but if you've ever enjoyed inching through Disneyland's campy haunted house, you'll be equally at home in Haunt.
A Kinect game with plenty of spirit
- Classic haunted house aesthetic
- Inventive, varied use of Kinect
- Tim Schafer is entertaining
- Doesn't overcomplicate the controls
- Rather short