Jack Haunt: Old Haunting Grounds
First posted on 11 July 2013. Last updated on 11 July 2013.
EvolvingPoet Media (or Evolving Poet Media) is an indie game development studio located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and cofounded by Kyle Sloka-Frey and Joey LaLand. Jack Haunt: Old Haunting Grounds is the company's first major commercial game release. It is a pulp mystery adventure game starring the titular character as a former private eye who is now a ghost. Despite its budget production, the game is an encouraging, if not solid, offering from a small but talented studio.
In this third-person point-and-click adventure game, you play as the ghostly character of Jack Haunt. Jack is dead, perished in his own house where previous occupants have also mysteriously succumbed. The house is now home to 4 ghosts, including Jack. Having lost his haunt deed somewhere, Jack has 4 weeks to vacate his house. Come the last day, Jack needs to find his earthly remains before his house (along with his spirit) is destroyed forever. You, as the player, must use all your detective skills to help Jack out of his unearthly predicament.
The game is currently only available as a digital download. Clicking on the executable file begins the game without any setup. The game plays in a native resolution of 1024x768 pixels but scales up to match higher screen resolutions. The game can be played in either full screen or windowed mode. There are no options to adjust in-game sounds (including volume) and graphics settings.
Clicking on the opening screen brings up the title screen where you click again to start the game. You are then given the option to select either New Game or Continue. Selecting New Game opens the game with an optional animated introduction, telling the backstory of Jack losing his haunt deed and having to vacate his haunted house. A brief tutorial follows explaining the game's interface, namely how to use the map, how to manage inventory items, and how to interact with other characters or objects in the environment.
The game begins with Jack hovering downstairs in the hall of his house. Drawing from his experience as a private eye during his previous life, he feels he is up to doing a little detective work to locate his own remains. He is aware that, as a ghost, he cannot (yet) make contact with objects in the physical world. Soon after, however, Jack sees an advertisement about making ethereal to physical tethers that will enable ghosts to interface with the physical world. The doorbell rings. A salesman from Ghoulie & Sons appears at the door and talks to Jack to swap his watch for a tether. With the tether in hand (proverbially speaking), Jack can begin his quest in earnest to look for his remains before time runs out.
The game does not support manual saving. Rather, the game automatically saves your progress whenever you exit the game. Since you cannot die in the game, there is no need to reload from a previous save solely to backtrack on your progress.
The game is built using Construct 2, a HTML5 game creator from Scirra. The graphics are all hand drawn. Although somewhat cartoonish and cheesy in appearance, the unique art styling is effective in complementing the atmosphere of the game. Further, some of the rooms in the house change in appearance to reflect the different periods of the story. You will see the house in its present state, a haunted state showing spiritual infestations, and a past state in its glory days with Jack still alive.
The plot is well structured and evolves as the game progresses. There are a total of 4 other major characters (the other 3 ghosts and the convenient salesman) to interact with and in excess of 200 objects to find (not all of them are useful) in the game. There are even a few side quests to solve. The puzzles are minimal, however, largely due to the brevity of the game. There is a code puzzle to solve before entering a crypt and before performing a resurrection. Otherwise, the puzzles involve searching for the appropriate items and then using them at the appropriate times. The game features a built-in hint system, with subtle hints being given out gradually within the dialog.
I quite enjoy the noir humor in the game, which itself has a lot of personality. There are no speaking parts. All conversations are done via dialog boxes at the bottom of the screen. Sound effects, however few, are effective, such as the ethereal sounds of haunting wind, ringing of a telephone, and knocking on a door. I expect to hear grizzly ghost themed music, but instead I hear a jazzy, funky, and lively musical score. The stringed and percussion instruments create an upbeat tune that is quite enjoyable to hear.
In sum, Jack Haunt: Old Haunting Grounds is a commendable debut major release from EvolvingPoet Media. The game will take you about 3-5 hours to complete (contrary to what the developer claims), depending obviously on your gaming skills. The game is also suitable for all ages. If there is to be a sequel, perhaps a longer game with more puzzles will address some of the shortcomings in the current title. Still, as a budget release, this game is certainly worth a try.