When Haunt for Kinect was announced we regarded it as one of the first hardcore Kinect games to come out. The game was announced as a horror game and everyone thought it would be a core game for adults that would get a “mature” rating. Then, a few months later, the rating came in and it turned out Haunt received a “PG” rating! This caused an uproar in Kinect land as everyone immediately saw Haunt as a kiddie game that would only be fun for a younger audience. The question is: Is Haunt a core Kinect game that is fun for everyone to play, or is it really only for kids? I spend some quality time with the game and you’ll find the answer in this review!
Look mom, no rails!
The experience of playing Haunt can be most accurately compared to that of going through a Haunted House found at most traveling carnivals. The game takes place in a dark, eery lit haunted house that, even though the graphics are cartoony, really radiates that ambiance of a classic haunted mansion. The cool thing is that, just like with a traveling carnival, you get to move on your own through this house! The only other game where we have seen something like that so far is Rise of Nightmares and it is nice to see this sort of free-movement picked up in another game.
The movement through the house works quite well and the game mechanic used for this fits the theme perfectly! Holding up your right hand will act as if shining a flashlight, moving your hand around will move the flashlight and moving it into the edges of the screen will make your character look up and down and turn left and right. To move around you simply walk on the spot. This sounds like a very tiring thing but because the haunted mansion is built up out of small rooms and tight corridors you won’t be doing that much turning and walking. For those that might have trouble turning in those tight corridors there is even a simplified movement mode in which your character will automatically turn into corners. It all works surprisingly well!
The big question that most people probably will have is whether this game is scary or not. To answer this question I again will have to compare the game’s experience to that of a haunted house at a traveling carnival: The game will try to scare you in exactly the same way as those classic attraction will try to do. In the game you’ll find all kinds of cheesy stuff like pipes that suddenly spray gas at you, trapdoor that suddenly fly open, medieval armors that suddenly move and try to slash you, and a whole lot more of this stuff. The nice thing here is that there are plenty of objects in the game that could suddenly spring to live, but only a few of them do that. So the game is a little bit scary, but in a fun and silly way. It’s not the hardcore horror that some people might’ve been looking for, but it’s a great load of fun nonetheless.
A hauntingly diverse experience
Inside the haunted mansion you’ll be guided along by “Benjy”, the owner of the house who somehow got himself trapped in the paintings of the mansion. Benjy, voiced by Tim Schafer, will give you tips on what to do next and will comment on your performance. The voice acting is superb and the dialog is full of jokes and funny remarks. Getting to a next area is always a pleasurable experience, because on entering you are most often welcomed by another strong piece of dialog by Tim Schafer.
The gameplay of Haunt mainly consist of finding items to open up pathways to new area’s. The mansion itself is not so big, but you’ll find yourself quite often in front of closed doors and other obstacles and you’ll have to backtrack to find the right items. This is not so much of a problem because the developer used clever ways to have different events happen when you go through areas you’ve already explored: You never know what will happen next! Along your hunt for items you’ll also encounter ghosts that have to be defeated for you to be able to continue. These encounters won’t require you to move around but will have you perform a series of quick-time events to defeat them.
Haunt’s gameplay might seem a bit repetitive (find objects, defeat ghosts, move on), but this is fortunately countered by the three different themed sections of the house. Each of the vials you must find is hidden in a distinct section of the Mansion and each section has its own theme that changes the way you interact with the game! The three themes are “Movement”, “Light” and “Sound”. In movement you’ll be doing lots of dodging, jumping and ducking while for example in sound you’ll be screaming your lungs out to progress. Each section also has their own special ghost that must be defeated with either movement, light or sound. The fact that the gameplay is so different in each section is very refreshing and keeps the game from getting boring. When you are playing you’ll want to know what the next the section will hold for you and this will make you want to keep going on. I actually finished the game in just one sitting!
The game itself unfortunately is not very challenging and difficulty wise primarily aimed towards kids. In fights and moments where you have to quickly dodge incoming danger the game will always slow down and clearly indicate what action you have to take to avoid getting hit. You’ll get a second or so to respond so you’ll always find yourself having enough time to dodge, jump, punch, scream or do whatever the game requires. When hit by a ghost you’ll lose some health but during the game I never saw my health drop a significant amount and in the end I even received an achievement for not using any health potions.
Scary good use of Kinect
Haunt makes use of a wide scale of Kinect features and is with that a completely unique experience. The three themes of the house each use a different way of interaction with the Kinect sensor and with that each offer a different gameplay experience. The game even uses the Kinect camera function in an unexpected and clever way: At some point I walked into a room and saw a picture of myself hanging on the wall. Very spooky stuff and just a neat way to use all the functionality that the Kinect sensor has to offer.
Haunt does unfortunately also have its shortcomings. One thing is that some element of the game are very repetitive and take up a good chunk of time. For example, you’ll be opening lots of doors in the haunted mansion and each time you have to perform this action you first have to shine on the door for two seconds and then either push or pull away from you. The same goes with opening drawer, closets and chests. At first it seems neat that you have to make the exact movement you’d do in real life, but after some time this time-consuming and repetitive element gets tedious and maybe even a bit annoying.
The game is also not very long: I think I finished it in under three hours, and with almost no real replay value this is really on the short side. After finishing the game you are able to replay stages and compete for high scores on the leaderboard (get a higher score by finding more objects and getting hit less), but I didn’t really fancy going back and redoing the stages again.
Haunt turned out to be a fun game full of atmosphere and cheesy scare moments that makes great use of the Kinect sensor. The movement, the interaction, the clever way it uses about all that the Kinect sensor has to offer is absolutely great and the tracking is pretty close to perfect. While the game is definitely great for kids I thoroughly enjoyed it too, the continually changing gameplay and great and funny voice acting provide for enough entertainment for anyone to like this. The game does have a few elements that can get tedious and repetitive over time, and the game is far too short for my liking. But overall Haunt it is a satisfying and enjoyable Haunted House trip that hits all the right marks and has very few flaws. Haunt is a must-have for any Kinect owner, whether young or old.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Haunt
Scoring policy: What do these game review scores actually mean?