Written by Sean Colleli on 11/8/2005 for GC  
More On: Geist
It’s been several years since Nintendo announced their partnership with N-Space, and the shooter that would be the fruit of that union. Geist has built up a lot of hype in that time, first because it’s a grisly FPS that the GameCube desperately needs and secondly because it promised a unique twist on the genre. Well, it’s finally here and I have to report that it’s met most expectations. Geist is certainly a new take on the FPS, and while it has a few shortcomings it’s an experience that no Cube owner should pass up.

The main concept behind Geist is in its name, the German word for ghost. N-Space took the age old idea of a phantasm haunting the corridors, put the player in the perspective of the ghost and set the whole scenario in a gritty sci-fi setting. Players take on the role of John Raimi, a biologist assigned to the government infiltration team CR-2. Raimi’s college buddy turned secret agent Thomas Bryson is undercover at the monolithic Volks Corporation, a research conglomerate based at an undisclosed location in Southern France.

CR-2 is sent into the Volks facility to hook up with Bryson and extract him and the information he’s gathered. Once Raimi and the team get in, things turn pear shaped and the real story begins. After being supposedly killed, Raimi’s “soul” is extracted from his physical body, leaving him a wandering ghoul. Luckily, a fellow ghost in the image of a little girl comes to guide him.

The first mission, the infiltration, plays out like a typical shooter. Shoot at bad guys, press switches, dodge, duck, dip, dive Anyway, you’ll be shot, hauled off to the experiment chamber, ripped from your fleshy shell of a body and thrown into what Nintendo was promising: a truly innovative and fresh way to play an FPS. While the fundamental concept behind almost every shooter so far has been to hoard ammo and guns, Geist does away with all that. The new object of the game is possession.

Numerous everyday items are all inhabitable, from a lethal auto-turret to an absently placed stepladder. While the latter doesn’t sound very dangerous (ha, I made a funny!), it and numerous other nondescript objects play an important role in possessing the many NPC’s in the game. Objects are readily available to jump into, but people take some psychological weakening before you can take control of their minds and bodies. And so the common household items become instruments in frightening the bejesus out of hapless guards and base personnel.

This is also where the game’s puzzles come into play. You’ll often find you need to set of a chain of paranormal events to make an enemy shake in their boots. Startling a scientist with flying soda cans will turn his surrounding aura yellow (as a ghost you can see supernatural things like auras), and then turning water in a bathroom sink blood red will finally freak the guy out enough that his aura is red. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there are some pretty interesting things to possess in Geist, and you won’t always be taking over people. A hint to Metroid fans: after invading the women’s locker room, look for a cool Samus easter egg.

Once in a body, you won’t plow through the whole game doom-marine style. You’ll certainly engage in heated firefights, but most of Geist is spent jumping from host to host, leaving some behind when they are no longer useful in search of a host with the right key or weapon. You can’t just wander endlessly, though. Raimi’s spirit is being constantly drawn toward the afterlife, as represented by a depleting red spiritual energy bar. Spend too much time outside of a host or item and it’s off to the pearly gates for Raimi, and then he’ll never accomplish his mission of retrieving his body and stopping Volks.This limitation keeps things fresh and simultaneously prevents Geist from falling into the dreaded shooter tedium of corridor roaming. You’re constantly on the lookout for the next inhabitable host. Geist is like its cousin Metroid Prime in that it’s a first person adventure, thought not to the extent of Prime. Geist is level based, but each stage is its own little adventure with plenty of puzzles, tricks, mini-boss fights and secret collectibles.

Along the way you’ll encounter the average FPS cannon fodder guards, bizarre creatures from the rift to the sprit world, and some sufficiently pretty graphics. Geist’s visual style is comparable to that of the TimeSplitters series; it won’t beat you over the head with beauty like Half-Life 2 and the technology is far from cutting edge, but it’s the little things that count.

Details in the world make Geist more plausible, like the way you actually see a host reach out and push a button to call an elevator. Every character has a distinct appearance like the ones in Free Radical’s parody shooters, though not nearly as cartoony or comical as Sgt. Cortez and friends. Textures aren’t as detailed or high-res as they could’ve been, but they were probably kept simple to balance out the framerate.

I’ve heard numerous complaints about the framerate, but I don’t see it as a major problem. It never bogs down completely, and the most I saw were some stutters when there were a lot of enemies on the screen. I personally don’t consider it a huge issue, and it certainly shouldn’t make you think twice about buying this predominantly great game.

The sound is a real treat for the ears, if only a morsel. You’ve heard most of the sound effects before, but that doesn’t diminish their effectiveness. Voice acting is all very professional for a title of this nature, although there isn’t enough of it. Cutscenes are fully voiced, but talking to characters in the word is like playing Zelda; you’ll get a word or two accompanied by a text box. Admittedly, adding dialogue for all the text would’ve probably required a second disk, but it’s a minor gripe nonetheless. Music is much like the voice work. There is a collection of really great tunes to accompany the action sequences and some creepy sneaking-around pieces for exploration, but the final number of tracks is rather short. You’ll be grooving to the hectic and well-scored battle music, which reminds me a little of Perfect Dark, but the music ultimately needs more variety. This issue is most noticeable in multiplayer, where the list of levels is longer than that of the music tracks.

Speaking of multiplayer, I’ve rarely been so pleasantly surprised. I was expecting a churn-out, because somewhere in the Ten Commandments it says that “thou shalt put a multiplayer in all shooters.” I think it’s the seventh commandment. But I digress. N-Space put a good amount of effort into the multi aspect of Geist, and for a split-screen affair it isn’t bad. I expected the possession aspect to be clumsily tacked on, or worse totally omitted, but it is actually well integrated.

There are only three modes to choose from, but the ghost scenario makes them all feel like new. Possession deathmatch is the most conventional; there are idle hosts scattered throughout the level, and all the players start at ghosts. You can then float around inspecting the hosts, checking out what guns they have, and make your choice. A bevy of powerups is also available, from jump and speed boosts to the “hijack” pickup. Hijack is especially fun. After grabbing this one as a ghost, it lets you kick a fellow player out of their host and steal him. So, if your friend has the rocket-launcher guy, you can piss him off buy snatching his host right from under him. Deathmatch points are scored by fragging the other players while they inhabit a host. You can’t cheat and dump a nearly dead host in a firefight, though; hosts must be left vulnerable for at least three seconds after dispossession, and if the host is taken out within those three seconds, your opponent is still awarded the kill.

Capture the host is a clever reinventing of the stale capture the flag mode. In this scenario there is only one flag base, but it flashes two different colors. Possessing any host and dropping him on the base at the right time will gain one point. Players can score extra points by racking up kills while in the host, and then depositing him at the base for an accumulated kill total. This mode was confusing at first, but played in a big arena with four friends it becomes hectic and thoroughly enjoyable.

Hunt is the third multi mode, and is wholly unique to Geist. In this mode the ghosts are completely visible to the opposing human team who happen to be armed with ghost-killing guns. The humans attempt to send the ghosts to their maker with repeated blasting, while the ghosts try to inhabit the humans and make them commit suicide. This is accomplished by walking the human players into the convenient traps and hazards throughout the specialized levels. More conventional means, such as firing a grenade in close quarters, are equally effective. All the while the humans try to force the ghosts from their bodies by hammering the A button. Humans also have limited movement control, giving them some ability to avoid deathtraps.

The multiplayer is a meaty addition to an already intriguing game that has a lot of potential as a franchise. It is unfortunate that Geist had to come so late in the GameCube’s lifecycle. I see Geist becoming a cult hit, with a following of core fans that explore its every corner and write petitions for a sequel. There’s certainly room for a Revolution iteration. As a shooter, the game’s somewhat flaky control scheme could be turned into a dream layout with the new controller, and the ghost element opens up a whole new door to some very exciting possibilities. Nintendo owns the rights to Geist, so I’m confident we’ll see John Raimi and his ghastly exploits on the Revolution sooner or later.
Nintendo and N-Space have created a haunting shooter experience that turns the traditional FPS on its ear. Some minor control issues, slight framerate stutters and a brief musical selection prevent Geist from being perfect, but the intriguing story, innovative multiplayer and spectral gameplay keep the game fresh and make it a must-have for GameCube owners.

Rating: 8.6 Very Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Sean Colleli has been gaming off and on since he was about two, although there have been considerable gaps in the time since. He cut his gaming teeth on the “one stick, one button” pad of the Atari 800, taking it to the pirates in Star Raiders before space shooter games were cool. Sean’s Doom addiction came around the same time as fourth grade, but scared him too much to become a serious player until at least sixth grade. It was then that GoldenEye 007 and the N64 swept him off his feet, and he’s been hardcore ever since.

Currently Sean enjoys a good shooter, but is far more interested in solid adventure titles like The Legend of Zelda or the beautiful Prince of Persia trilogy, and he holds the Metroid series as a personal favorite. Sean prefers deep, profound characters like Deus Ex’s JC Denton, or ones that break clichés like Samus Aran, over one dimensional heroes such as the vacuous Master Chief. Sean will game on any platform but he has a fondness for Nintendo, Sega and their franchises. He has also become a portable buff in recent years. Sean’s other hobbies include classic science fiction such as Asimov and P.K. Dick, and Sean regularly writes down his own fiction and aimless ramblings. He practices Aikido and has a BA in English from the Ohio State University. He is in his mid twenties. View Profile

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