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4 Stars IFReview Rating The Ghost Train

IFReviewed by David Whyld on 2006-10-30 05:23 

Game Profile

Author
Paul T. Johnson

Idiom
English

Authoring System
Inform6

Release Year
2003

IFR Overall Rating
4 Stars IFR Overall Rating
Separator
I've played a couple of other games by the same author recently - House Of The Midnight Sun, which was very good but also flawed, and Jet Blue, which was okay but also flawed and probably contained one of the highest number of typos I've ever seen in a game. The Ghost Train actually comes between the other two but I missed it out at the time because, like HOTMS, it's a horror and I felt like a change of pace. But while looking around for a game to play recently, I remembered this one and decided to give it a whirl.

First Impressions
My first impression of The Ghost Train was that it was a bit too linear for my liking. It begins in a train compartment, with you and your fiancé, Ingrid, travelling home to see your family for Christmas. Nothing seems to happen for several moves, after which the train crashes and you, perhaps unsurprisingly, are the train's only survivor. You awaken at the side of the wrecked train, wander around for a bit, and then return to the scene of the crash… only to find the wreckage missing. All very eerie.

Stranger things follow. Your fiancé's necklace, which she was wearing on the train, shows up nearby, and you even hear her voice on an old phone. This is all very atmospheric and well written and bodes well for the rest of the game.

Unfortunately, the start of the game seems to be most polished and things seem to go quickly downhill. Later parts have a rushed feel to them, as well as making precious little sense. While I could get my head around the idea of the game to begin with, later on it just seemed to lose its way.

Problems
The most noticeable problems with the game are the constant grammatical errors which seem to litter almost every location. Frequently the game will put two different parts of a conversation on the same line whereas other times they are separated by a couple of lines space, or put apostrophes in the wrong place or just format the text in such a way that it often looks out of place on the screen. None of these are major problems and a few would be easily forgivable, but a decent proofread through the text could have picked up 99% of them.

One problem I came across was due to the unhelpful way the game described a creature that was trying to kill me. He was referred to alternatively as "ticket collector", "corpse" and "skeleton" yet examining any of those or trying to interact with them just hit me with one error message after another. I figured out what I needed to do, yet it wasn't until I checked the walkthrough and realised I actually need to refer to him as "ghost" (which he clearly wasn't) that I was able to deal with him.

A previous game I played by the same author - House Of The Midnight Sun - showed a high standard of testing for the most part. This game doesn't. There are strange errors popping up all over the place, not the least of which is a list of deaths I found in the chapel which I couldn't seem to figure out anything to do with. Examining it hit me with the strange error message I ONLY UNDERSTOOD YOU AS FAR AS WANTING TO EXAMINE THE LIST OF DEATHS, with EXAMINE being replaced with READ or GET if that's what you try instead. Perhaps strangest of all is the fact that I wasn't even aware a list of deaths existed in the chapel until I tried, following a prompt in the game, to locate some information on my fiancé and in response to SEARCH INGRID I was told "In the bookcase is a list of deaths".

One particularly frustrating thing the game does part of the way through is put some of the location descriptions in poetry (very bad poetry, and often riddled with spelling mistakes). The first time I saw this I assumed it was just some quote from a poem that the author had decided, for whatever reason, to include in his game… and I promptly ignored them afterwards. It wasn't till later in the game, when I'd exhausted just about every other option and was struggling to find some way forward, that I realised the poems weren't just there for decoration and actually served a purpose. Annoying? Oh yes.

Problems
Again and again while playing The Ghost Train I was forced back to the walkthrough. A couple of times it was a case of me not trying hard enough or simply missing a clue that was presented to me (nothing new there!); other times it was down to some very definite faults in the game design. Aside from the ghost being referred to as different names during the game, there was an error in the name of a church I had to research information on. The church is down as 'Gorgan' in the inscription I found, yet 'Gorgon' is what you need to type to find out any information on it. Whatever positive things the game has going for it, and it does have a few despite the largely negative tone of this review so far, they get lost amidst the sheer number of problems.

Some of the game's puzzles are easy to figure out. Some are difficult but well clued. Some are so vague as to be almost impossible. Even after seeing the walkthrough, I'm still not sure about some of them. Obviously someone managed to solve them so they're not as impossible as you might think, but it's hard to imagine many people having the patience to reason them out. Towards the end of the game in particular, the puzzles become generally less well clued as if the author either got bored or was simply trying to finish the game as quickly as possible. A conversation option towards the end of the game, involving Satan (or Salan as he's wrongly referred to on occasion), requires the player to ask a question about a subject that there's no reason to ask about.

Clearly whatever kind of testing this game went through prior to release was poor at best.

Overall
Despite the many, many problems with the game, I found myself enjoying playing The Ghost Train for the most part, but every time I thought it was going to turn into a really good game, I ran into another error, or another impossible to figure out puzzle, or a whole mass of typos one after one, and my favourable opinion of it dropped a notch. Any game that has me consulting the walkthrough on a regular basis isn't necessarily a bad game in itself, but when the puzzles I'm stuck on are down to guess the noun issues (like with the ghost/ticket collector/skeleton/ corpse) or misspellings (Gorgan instead of Gorgon), I start to wish I'd played something else instead. Fix the errors, a mammoth task in itself, and this would be a well above average horror game. As it stands, it's still good enough in its own right but definitely not anywhere as good as it could have been.

This is the third game by the same author I've played recently, and while I've enjoyed them all to one degree or another, they've all been particularly prone to bugs and guess the verb. Each has contained more than a few of each, this game being the worst of the three, and indicates an author too eager to properly test his games out before releasing them or one who simply doesn't think that bugs and guess the verb are a problem. Now if this was some talentless hack who couldn't write worth a damn, I'd just make a point of avoiding any future games he releases and decide I wasn't really missing anything, but the writing in the games is generally good, the storylines interesting, and my overall feeling is that the games are well above average. So it's a crying shame that he just can't pay a little more attention to detail and maybe even take the time to proofread his text. None of the games have been masterpieces, but the potential is certainly there… if the problems can be fixed.

4 out of 10

    David Whyld Profile

    IFReviewer Rating
    7 Stars IFReviewer Overall Rating

    Name David Whyld
    Gender Male