Jack Haunt: Old Haunting Grounds is a traditional point-and-click adventure game developed by Evolving Poet Media and released for the PC. The game is the very first one made by the independent studio who advertises itself as a “pulp mystery”. They have made a game attempting to mix horror and comedy while delivering an entertaining adventure for gamers new and old. But is this claim true? Is this is a game that deserves to stand on solid ground or be buried?
The game’s story focuses on the aptly named Jack Haunt, a ghost who in his mortal life was a private investigator. One day while with other undead creatures, Jack enters into a gambling game. Just as his luck ran out in the mortal world, it too runs out in the supernatural one. Losing the game also costs him the haunting deed to his home which he haunts, lives, and shares with three other undead roommates. The loss of the deed results in the hapless ghost being ordered to vacate within 30 days but not before recovering his remains which still remain in the house he haunts. But he’ll find that won’t be easy and players will need to help him.
After the game begins, problems immediately start to show in the story. The introduction is very rushed and does a poor job of inserting players into the game, not to mention doing a poor job of establishing the story. As gamers play it further, they’ll find that problems only continue stemming from the underwhelming writing. It’s not at all like a pulp mystery and is written in a far more contemporary manner. Furthermore, character development is greatly lacking, most especially for the main character, Jack Haunt.
Even more frustrating is that there is no sense of finality should you reach the game’s ending due to the staggering amount of plot holes, unanswered questions and criminally short game length. By then, if the very anti-climatic ending doesn’t convince gamers of the story’s incomplete feel, then the blatant fact that far more time needed to be devote to mending its issues to make it more refined and polished should.
Jack Haunt plays like many traditional point-and-click adventures games relying mainly on the mouse for control, which is used to interact with an in-game interface and interactive environment. The developers have attempted to do something different as they made the interface and style more simplistic. The traditional control method of using a mouse is still maintained and functions well enough. Left or right clicking on interactive elements make an action sub-menu appear. Clicking on the appropriate locations will also move Jack to the next area.
The aim of Jack Haunt was to create a balance of challenge and simplicity. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work out. The simplicity unbalances the game’s overall challenge because far too much emphasis is put on it. Puzzles become incredibly easy to solve due to the game’s formula, destroying the two most common challenges in making adventure games enjoyable: deductive reasoning and experimentation.
Glitches are also a noticeable issue and are in hefty abundance. Some cases include the cursor, which is designed to light up whenever you highlight interactive elements, do not even function in certain areas. An even bigger one occurs should you start a new game with all the items and actions you performed in the previous game carrying over to the new one when they obviously should not. The glitches only make the gameplay more dissatisfying than it already is.
Not a lot can be said about the graphics except that they’re average at best. There’s nothing special about them at all and are very unimpressive to say the least. There was obviously some attempt to give the game a unique style mixing both a cartoon style and horror. This is obviously to emphasize the game’s attempt to mix comedy and scary undertones. The lack of effort to accomplish this results in a typical looking game that is fairly crudely drawn. Elements such as the location you play in looks generic instead of scary, the characters look uninteresting and the interface is visually bland. The whole look of the game needed improvement to make its visual experience more appealing to players. Instead, the graphics are yet another of the many things the developers chose not to truly develop.
In terms of sound, Jack Haunt doesn’t offer much and is very underused. As Jack Haunt is set in a haunted house it’s odd why it doesn’t feel like you are in one. The lack of sound in this game affects the overall feeling of the game, making what may have been a scary atmosphere a very bland one. Effects only manifest themselves at very rare moments, mainly when you perform certain actions or events occur. Should anything substantial happen, sound effects don’t play at all even when they’re definitely justified or would fit in nicely. Music is also lacking. The soundtrack doesn’t have much variety. They’re decently composed but one specific track especially becomes very repetitive.
Jack Haunt: Old Haunting doesn’t strive to do anything new with the adventure genre, nor does it seek to improve upon established formulas and push boundaries. With its underdeveloped nature, overly simplistic formula, lack of challenge and a poor story, Jack Haunt is a below average game. Even though the game costs a mere $5 to buy, even players may find that they’re being overcharged.
Such a mishandled project should serve as a learning experience for Evolving Poet Media. This may be their first game but if they’re to make better ones then Jack Haunt: Old Haunting Grounds should serve as a lesson for what they should not do in the future.