Platform: PS2, PS3 (for Japan)
Year of Release: 2005
A very good boy
Note: The following retrospective is spoiler-free.
Haunting Ground is classic Capcom at its best.
Far less popular than Resident Evil, this game nonetheless stays true to the pure survival horror the company is famous for.
Set in a remote Italian castle, you play as Fiona Belli, a teenage girl who wakes up after a car crash during a trip with her parents.
Over the course of the game, you’ll be underequipped and stalked by a series of horrific castle residents. With extremely limited weapons, you’ll mostly have to run and hide, even controlling your panic levels to stay alive.
But you’re not alone on this journey. The real star of Haunting Ground is Hewie, the white German Shepherd Fiona meets early on. He’s essential to helping you stay alive, and is easily the best thing about this excellent game.
Try not to panic
As well as your adorable canine companion, a unique element of Haunting Ground is fear. When Fiona is scared, visual and audio cues will let you know she’s starting to get stressed. If this fear builds (such as over a sustained chase, or when being attacked), she can have a full-blown panic attack.
When this happens, you’ll mostly lose control of Fiona. She’ll start to run on her own, and you can try to direct her, but she’ll often smash into walls or furniture and fall over. Of course, this makes her more likely to get killed, so you’ll want to avoid that.
Fear is also used in subtle ways. For example, discovering a nest of insects gives Fiona a flash of panic. This adds to the player’s own sense of fear in a way I’ve not seen in any other game.
An unwelcome guest
To avoid spoilers, it’s best if you discover the game’s enemies as they appear. But what can be said is that they’re a varied bunch, including the staff who keep the mysterious castle running. Each has their own behaviour and weapons, and are terrifying in their own ways.
A lot of the game is focused on staying out of their way. Similarly to Mr. X in Resident Evil 2, or Nemesis in RE3, they can arrive at awkward moments. For example, you might be in the middle of solving a puzzle, and suddenly have to find a hiding place.
And hiding places are abundant in this enormous castle: They include ducking under beds, inside wardrobes, and behind shower curtains.
While this might annoy players who prefer exploring at their own pace, the chases aren’t totally relentless. And it’s extra satisfying to lose your pursuer in some distant part of the castle and return to what you were doing.
Woman’s best friend
Hewie does a lot more than just look cute. You can direct him to attack your pursuers, which can give you vital time to escape. He’s also essential for solving puzzles, and can be directed to undertake certain actions.
But he’s still a dog, and isn’t able to do anything too unrealistic. The choice of German Shepherd was a good one though, as this breed is well known for their intelligence and ability to follow orders.
And a bit like Ada and Sherry in Resident Evil 2, just having Hewie with you can make you feel a little more secure. Sure, it’s up to you to direct him and keep the two of you alive, but not being totally alone is very comforting.
There’s even a trust system between Fiona and Hewie, meaning the nicer you are to him, the more he’ll be willing to follow commands as the game progresses.
Should you play Haunting Ground in 2020?
In my opinion, Haunting Ground is survival horror gold. Not everyone has heard of it, and it’s massively overshadowed by Capcom’s main franchise, Resident Evil. But it’s excellent at building a sense of fear, especially during tense chases.
Trying to avoid a panic attack and ducking into a hiding spot as your pursuer looks for you brings to mind games like Alien: Isolation. And the addition of an adorable dog companion is the icing on the cake of an already fantastic game.
Haunting Ground is only available on the PS2, so it isn’t the easiest game to get hold of in 2020 (it’s also available on the PS3 store in Japan only).
But if you do have the console laying around somewhere and can get your hands on a copy of the game, you’ll be in for a unique and very satisfying survival horror experience.