A review by slydos 12th October 2002
With "Gast" the swedish developer Idol FX presents us an unusual eerie adventure game for young children from the age of 3, which will surely not only be interesting for younger players. "Gast" has already been released in its scandinavian homeland by Levande Boecker (now Panvision) and publisher Mindscape will bring it to the other countries. While the french and english versions are already on the market, there is still no release date for the german version. Therefore this review is about the english language version.
Gast is a little ghost, who is the caretaker of an amusement park. But the park is dark and empty. The evil clown has stopped the park's clock. And with that the park turns into a nightmare because there will be no laughter of children anymore. Task of Gast is now to defeat the evil clown and to bring the park back to life.
Installation/startThe game comes on one CD together with the english manual in a DVD-box. The installation of the 315 MB ran fast and smoothly under Windows XP. It's possible to select software rendering during setup if you've got no 3D graphic card. You can also email your system configuration from here to the support if any technical problems occur. I noticed no problems.
After that you reach the start menu with the possibilities to link to the online help, to start or quit the game. It is a bit redundant to go to the main menu after that; start and main menu could have been pooled together. If we start a new game now, we first experience the intro. Here we get to know about the henchmen of the clown, a lot of eerie monsters and other beings, which now prevail the entertainment park. And those must be defeated by our little ghost, who is already trembling? Of course we will help him with that.
"Gast" is a 3rd-person game, where we control our little hero and also all other functions with the mouse. Gast's eyes are concentrated on our cursor and if we move it, then the small chap aligns himself with it and looks in this direction. He walks, if we click the left mouse button, but only a few steps. If he should go a longer path, then we must keep the left mouse button pressed and he floats in the desired direction. Yes, he's floating, because he is a ghost and has no visible legs. If he should hurry up, then one must press the shift key at the same time. Our small 3D-hero can move freely in all directions.
From the developers intended, already the orientation in the dark park with its shrubs and much coppice belongs to the puzzle part of the game. Gast must find the paths for himself, there are no arrows on the screen to show him the way to the next scene. Some passages are well hidden in the coppice and one must also walk around unclear corners to find a door or a path to a new location.
Sometimes Gast disappears completely in the darkness of the forest or a corner of a room. When he has found the way to a new scene, we sometimes must look for him too, because he is somewhere hidden below branches and leaves.
On the other hand we find objects and other creatures without much searching. Things, which we can take up or with which we can interact shine or twinkle magically. However Gast must always walk near such objects, so that the cursor changes into an animated grabbing hand. As soon as the grabbing hand appears, a dark voice describes us the item. We can then take up the object and it disappears in the inventory. The inventory has 6 item slots and can be opened with the right mouse button. If we want to take up a seventh object, then the voice tells us that the inventory is full, and we should drop this or another item at this spot.
So you should plan your inventory actions a bit. If we are near a hotspot, we can see objects, that we could possibly use here, in a blinking bubble. But these are only tips and one can also try other objects with very different results.
With other beings, perhaps a carnivorous plant, a giant spider, a vampire or the beheaded man, we mingle automatically at the first meeting just by approaching. Then one of the scary film sequences is played. When clicking on these beings again, they'll repeat their peculiarities. One can either affect them to co-operate or destroy them, depending on the applied inventory object. Some of them become so devoted by Gast's treatment, that they accompany him. Gast may use this company in other places profitably, but he can also decide to chase away the companion or vaporize it.
Inventory objects, which were used without success, stay at the scene, until you collect them again. Inventory objects cannot be combined but often used several times. Others are used up with the first application and then disappear from the inventory. Above the inventory, which opens as window in the lower right corner of the screen, there is one icon for saving the game and another to get to the main menu. There are 6 slots, to save your game together with a picture of the scene. That is insufficient regarding the non-linearity and complexity of the game. Saving, loading and quitting the game works simply and fast without stopovers.
Actually the handling is good for children, particularly pressing the left mouse button to move Gast. Although the game was done completely without written texts, up to the menus and a puzzle, in which a number combination plays a role, children in pre class age nevertheless need some help by their parents. Otherwise the handling is very solid and the controls are easy - by the way of course for older gamers too.
In "Gast" we find 3D-characters moving in a prerendered 3D-environment. The unusual, more or less isometric presentation and the changes of perspective actually suggest a 3D-environment and strengthen the surrealistic effect of this eerie adventure. Sometimes Gast is a completely tiny character in a large hall, sometimes we can look from very near into his frightful big eyes. In some places however the unexpected change of perspective lets us lose orientation and then we will often move in the wrong direction. However this, exactly like the not existing arrows pointing to scene exits, seems to be intended by the developers, in order to increase the difficulty level a bit. Idol FX speaks of "choreographic" camera changes.
The figure of our hero is simply built with a dark hooded cloak and without legs. Sometimes one also notices that he is somewhat transparent. Only his white face with the enormous fearful eyes can be seen, when he floats like a puppet through the locations. The other "inhabitants" of the dark eerie park do have extremities and move continuously, if they must follow the hero. There is e.g. a tomcat walking by jerks, who reminds of everything else, but not of a lithesome cat. Honestly said, if I wouldn't have known that it should have been a cat, it could have been just as well another animal.
There are surprisingly many indoor and outdoor locations to explore in the nocturnal park area. While one can recognize the environment inside relatively well, outside usually everything is quite dark, covered by bushes etc. and sometimes very unclear by the unusual perspective - besides our hero is dressed in black and sometimes does not silhouette against the background. Outside cold grey tones dominate, autumnal bleak trees in a strange cool light, while inside fires crackle in the fire-places - a real Halloween atmosphere!
Beside the intro there are some more short film sequences during the game, mostly when Gast meets a new "monster". Unfortunately these films have a very bad quality, are blurred, dark and patterned by streaks. Well, they should serve to scare Gast and the players and that at least succeeded.
Gast's task is it to arouse the amusement park to life again. He can do that, by actuating the park's clock. For that he must go on the "final ride" at the end, a kind of roller coaster in the dark, and defeat the evil clown. To be able to begin the ride, Gast needs at least 3 stars, which he can get everywhere in the park, if he defeats e.g. one of the creatures. But he also receives stars, if he solves other puzzles.
Guest earns these stars e.g. with the solution of object/inventory-based puzzles, but there are also easy code and switch puzzles. A maximum of non-linearity and freedom is reached, because Gast can solve the puzzles with different methods and in arbitrary order. So e.g. he can destroy a rat with one object, but he also can cause it, to follow him with another object, so that it can be helpful in another puzzle.
If you come near a hotspot, a bubble shows usable objects, but those are only suggestions and don't show all actual possibilities. Depending on, which objects one uses for which puzzle, they are no longer available for other puzzles. So Gast can never solve all puzzles in one single game. But that is not necessary either. If one has collected a certain number of stars (the number is indicated at the upper left of the screen), one can try the "final ride". First you have to evade obstacles in a not so easy arcade sequence (for each collision a star is taken off) and then to strike the clown several times (one also needs a star here for each throw). If you're not able to accomplish this, the park will be from now on and ever in the hands of the clown and his henchmen, otherwise the children and with them the laughter can return.
Gast cannot die - he is already a ghost - but he can suffer a lot. That is indicated by an icon of his facial expression at the upper right corner of the screen. Each time, when he's frightened, hit by a rolling stone or falls from the cliffs e.g., this facial expression worsens. If he however finds some nerve food, he will recover again. Depending on, how often he was scared, the time of the "final ride" changes. The high measure of nonlinearity and freedom simply does not allow that one gets stuck frustrated at one place. Besides the desire is awaken to play the game again and to solve the puzzles in another way.
Because of the possibility to terminate "Gast", when the gamer considers it's the right time, I'm unable to indicate the total length of the game. Anyhow the "final ride" will surely be a somewhat longer task for the one or other not so fast-reacting gamer. To be able to experience at least once the positive end of the game, you can download a trainer, with which you can freeze your stars.
Exciting music and noise effects add a really spooky atmosphere to the game. Gast always exclaims a sound of frightening, when he is surprised or scared. This also indicates acoustically, that his condition changes.
The other game characters can speak with Gast, but the conversations are single-sided and run automatically. While the dark voice of the speaker and commentator (who reminds me of Christopher Lee) can be understood well, the partly very altered voices of the characters are often indistinct, too quiet or too high, in order to come along with as not english native speaker. Unfortunately there are also no sub-titles for this case.
In our neighboring country, the Netherlands, "Gast" just has been nominated for the CineKid Media Award 2002, which takes place in the middle of October. I think that "Gast" here deserves more than only a nomination (competitors are among others Alice in Wonderland by Emme, Harry Potter and Freddi Fish 5), because it is surely the most unusual and most innovative title for the range (and not only for this) of children games! Exploring the eerie environment and the many possibilities for puzzle solution is not only fun for children but will also entertain their parents well. But there are also minus points: sometimes the unusual camera perspectives lead to a loss of orientation, speech is often incomprehensible and sounds beepy, and the film sequences are of bad quality.
Rating: 77 %
80% - 100% excellent game, very recommendable 70% - 79% good game, recommendable 60% - 69% satisfactory, restricted recommendable 50% - 59% sufficient (not very recommendable) 40% - 49% rather deficient (not to be recommended - for Hardcore-Adventure-Freaks and collectors only) 0% - 39% worst (don't put your fingers on it)
Minimal system requirements:
- Windows 95/98/2000/XP
- PII 266 Mhz
- 64 MB RAM
- DirectX version 8.0 (on CD)
- DirectX compatible 3D graphic card, min. 4 MB RAM
- Monitor 800 x 600 resolution, 16 bit color
- DirectX compatible sound card
- 8x CDROM-drive
- 315 MB on hard disk
- Windows XP
- P IV 1,6 GHz
- 512 MB RAM
- 16x DVD-ROM (Artec WRA-A40)
- nVidia GeForce 2MX400 64 MB graphic card
- Sound card DirectX-compatible
Click on pictures to magnify