Sunday, February 13, 2011


Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective


The first comparison that people make is to the Ace Attorney games. They were created by the same person, they're both murder mystery "point and click" adventure games with fantastic characters and an amazing storyline, filled with humor and drama and completely insane and satisfying twists. And while the gameplay is completely different, it's similar to Ace Attorney in the sense that the main gameplay mechanic is something that I've never really seen done before.

The basic idea is that you're a ghost, you were recently killed, you've lost your memory, and you're trying to figure out who you are and why you died. You have four basic spiritual powers at your command. First, you can possess just about any inanimate object as long as it's close enough to you. Second, you have a limited ability to manipulate those objects -- you can make a wheel roll or a door open, and so on. Third, you can travel from place to place through phone lines. And finally, when you possess someone's corpse, you can travel back in time to four minutes before they died and change the course of destiny.

And despite the inevitable comparisons to Ace Attorney, the two games are really different. Ghost Trick doesn't ask the player to take evidence and piece together the story. The story just happens, and it's up to you to complete smaller objectives that keep it moving -- finding information, traveling to important locations, saving people's lives, and so on. But the player is really limited to how he can move and what he can do, which turns seemingly simple tasks into complicated logic problems. There are five objects in the room that you can reach, and two of them can do something. With this information, how are you going to move where you need to go, and how are you going to do what you need to do? The puzzles are really well thought out and the solutions are really satisfying, especially as you get later into the game and you have to deal with all of these weird Rube Goldberg situations.

The most interesting aspect of the game is timing. All of the levels have a ridiculous number of moving parts -- things that roll back and forth, things that spin, things that knock into other things and tumble around, to say nothing of the human characters who move things around of their own volition. So it's often not just a matter of knowing what to do, but also doing it at the right point. Especially when you're playing through the four minutes leading up to someone's death, you may find that there's not much you can do when you first arrive on a scene, and you just have to wait for the right opportunity to hitch a ride on something someone's carrying around or telling a ball to roll so that it can get someone's attention, and so on. These aren't static scenes that will wait all day for you to do something with them -- everything's always in motion.

Now, I'm not fond of overly particular timing puzzles in adventure games, so if you're of a similar mind, I want to assure you that such things aren't much of a problem in Ghost Trick. The timing is mitigated by two factors. First, you can freeze time whenever you want, and you move from place to place when time is frozen. So even when you're in a situation where it's down to the wire and you only have seconds left to save someone's life, you can take all the time you need. Secondly, if you miss a critical moment, you can rewind time as much as you need. It kind of feels like a time travel story, because you're constantly rewinding and fixing the timeline over and over again as you play.

All in all, the game is just a complete joy to play. It tickles the logic centers in your brain with its unique puzzles, it's a joy to look at with its amazing animation and art style, and the story really lives up to the standard set by the Ace Attorney games with its jaw-dropping revelations and its satisfying conclusion. The only real trouble is that describing what makes it great would spoil the surprise, so you're just going to have to take my word for it and play it yourself. It's all about exploration and discovery, and it's wonderful from start to finish.


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