My Thoughts on Geist
Since I'm currently under lockdown, I have more time to play my games than I've ever had in years. Something I've always wanted to do with them is actually review them via blog posts on this site, which I thought could give us fun reads and a chance to engage with each other. Thing is, I was unsure of exactly what game to start off with until just recently. I was reading Grust's recent blog post on bad games that he quite enjoys and one of them, Geist, piqued my interest. I actually purchased the game several years back, but I quickly forgot about and never finished it until today. I remembered I had the game with me after reading the post, but decided to wait until I beat it to share my full thoughts on it. I thought since I've wanted to do something like this for some time, I'll just start with this one. With all that said, I would like to move onto the game and my thoughts on it.
Geist was a first-person shooter adventure game developed by n-Space and published by Nintendo exclusively for the GameCube. In the game, you take control of a soldier who's spirit/ghost has been separated from his body and must stop the Volks Corporation from conquering the world and regain your body. Though originally intended for release in 2003, the game was constantly delayed before it was finally released to seemingly little fanfare in 2005. The game was met with mixed reviews from critics and users and sunk without a trace of any plans to make into a series in sight. I initially purchased the game because of its unique premise; a first-person shooter where you can possess enemies and objects alike is something which has lots of potential for interesting gameplay scenarios. Unfortunately, while Geist does occasionally put its possession mechanic to clever use, the game is weighed down by an underdeveloped plot, poor gameplay, sluggish controls, dated graphics, and an overall lack of polish.
John Raimi, a scientist and member of the anti-terrorism task force known as C2M, is sent on a mission to investigate the Volks Corporation and rescue agent Thomas Bryson, Raimi's best friend. After an alarm goes off and the team are forced to fight through the Volks Corp. soldiers, the mission takes a turn for the worse when an agent is suddenly possessed by an unknown entity and kills the whole team barring Raimi and Bryson (and, though not explicitly shown or said, it's implied the agent committed suicide shortly thereafter). When Raimi awakens, he finds himself strapped inside of a spirit separation machine and his soul is subsequently forced out of his body. This turns out to be work of the head of the company himself, Alexander Volks, who is using the captured spirits to create new soldiers for Project Z. Raimi is saved by a young ghost girl named Gigi, who helps him come to grips with his powers and shows him a way out of the lab. Raimi then sets off on a mission to rescue Bryson, stop Volks and Project Z, and regain his body.
To give credit where it's due, I think the premise of the story is fairly interesting. A corporation grappling with elements of the supernatural, the way souls and bodies interact with one another, and the psychology of how we could change knowing we could be possessed at any time could provide for an intriguing look into spirituality. However, the overall narrative falls flat due to uninteresting characters and a lack of development, the most egregious example being Raimi himself. Outside of grunts and noises, he never speaks once throughout the entire game, which makes his conversations with other characters come off as awkward and unnatural when they carry most of them and any questions they do ask him directly are only answered through mimes. Compounding the problem is that when Raimi possesses another character, they'll also suddenly become mute even when they're shown to be speaking prior. If I were possessing someone else, I wouldn't suddenly stop talking because that could raise suspicions on if the host is truly in control. Most of the major plot development is revealed in the last third of the game and isn't given much build up, if it all. To be honest, I just stopped paying attention to what was happening because I just lost interest in the story and found it forgettable.
Geist's gameplay is where things unfortunately where the title really starts to fall apart. To try to start things off on a positive note, the possession mechanic is quite cool on paper and is occasionally put to clever use. The way it works is that possessable hosts are in one of three states: normal, cautious, and frightened, each signified by a colored highlight when in ghost form. In order to possess a host you need to scare them first, which is almost always a matter of possessing the right objects in sequence, then pressing A when the host is nearby to scare them. When the host is scared, you can then possess their body. When the possession is put to its best use, it's quite fun and can feel very rewarding. The most notable sequence for me is a section where you possess several automated turrets in sequence to escort Bryson to a motorcycle to escape the facility. You must think quickly since waiting too long will cause Bryson to be gunned down and the turrets don't all face the direction of the enemies, so you need to look for environmental hazards such as explosive crates and grenades to possess and explode to defeat certain enemies. When that's done, you possess the motorcycle to escape and are intercepted by an armed SUV, which is where you can possess and use to gun down pursuing enemies. The sequence is capped off by a fight against an accelerating big rig where you must shoot the fuel tanks and engine before it can hit Bryson. This is the best (or at least my favorite) part of the game, but sadly moments like these are few and far between.
Despite being a central part of the game, possessing hosts is actually very uninteresting. Remember how I previously mentioned the process in which you scare a host to possess them? Well, that's all you do throughout the game and the order in which you possess objects to scare hosts is scripted. While it's pretty funny the first time you do it, unfortunately the only real differences between how you scare one person (or animal) are purely cosmetic. When you've seen how to scare one host, you've effectively seen how to scare them all and it quickly grows repetitive. There are times where the game tries to add a little more to the possession mechanic, but they're very infrequent and over almost as seen as they begin. There's a part in the game where you have to possess a fuse and roll it to a scientist who's too scared to go past the mechanical arms you used to scare him, but this and one section where you play as a mouse and need to avoid mouse traps with cheese on them are literally the only two times in the game something like this comes up, which really makes the possession mechanic feel that much more undercooked. The people you possess don't really anything more than a key for a locked door or a way to pass combat sections. There are a few boss fights in which you need to possess an enemy and turret gun without killing the required host and some neat puzzles where you need to turn mirrors to reflect light, but the mostly mundane uses of possession and the combat overshadow these parts.
Speaking of combat, this is easily the worst part of the game by a wide margin. While you have a fair number of weapons as your disposal (all of which inexplicably have infinite ammo), none of them feel particularly powerful or satisfying to shoot since they sound unsatisfying and the shooting controls are sluggish and stiff. Aiming just feels as though you need to turn the stick a little more than you'd like to and there's no option to adjust the aiming sensitivity, which is really baffling. To counter this, the game has very generous aim-assist to where if your crosshair is on an enemy the camera will focus on him and move the camera for you, which feels like a band-aid solution more than anything. Enemies barely react when being hit and since the guns don't have much recoil and infinite ammo, you can hold down the R button and not actually have to adjust your aim much at all, which makes combat really dull. What also makes combat boring is the enemy AI, which is ridiculously stupid. Enemies will oftentimes not respond when I kill their buddies from a distance, stand in one space and shoot at me from there when they do see me, make absolutely no attempt to run for cover even as I fire at them, and run right toward me not firing their weapon. Combined with the poor shooting mechanics and the fairly generous amount of health packs, this makes combat scenarios very easy and just not fun to play through, which for a game that's especially reliant on these sections in the last third of it is a big problem.
Sadly, Geist's audio and visual presentation isn't particularly good, either. While character animations during cutscenes look decent and the models look OK, the game's textures are oftentimes blurry and the game's environments are mostly bland. They mostly consist of rusted digging sites, worn down labs, and gray corridors, which makes for a limited color palette and causes the stages to feel interchangeable from one another. Near the end of the game, you do get to tour an actually decent looking crumbling castle with nice lighting effects and some actual color, but this is also brings out the worst of the game's biggest visual flaw: the frame-rate. The game's frame-rate is uncapped and can run at 60 FPS, but this only happens in empty areas with no NPCs. Anytime you add even one NPC, the frame-rate will drop and it gets worse the more NPCs are added, often dropping below 30 FPS. There are also many instances of stuttering and hitching in the performance, which disrupts the flow of the gameplay. In the aforementioned castle level, the open environment coupled with a fairly large amount of enemies and lighting effects causes the frame-rate drop into the single digits and I felt there was genuine input lag during these instances, which in a first-person shooter can mean the difference between life and death. On the audio side of things, it's decent, but nothing more. The music is mostly forgettable orchestrated tunes and they fit the game's atmosphere, but they're nothing memorable and the same can be said for the voice-acting. The weapon sounds just plain suck though, and during combat you'll hear enemies scream things like "Ah crap!" upon being killed, which sounds bizarre but can admittedly be unintentionally funny. I've also had instances of the game's sound briefly cutting out (and yes, the disc was clean), and things like this along with the poor frame-rate just make the game feel unfinished.
In the end, Geist is a mediocre game with little to offer. It's not awful; the concept for a potentially cool game is here, the possession mechanic does sometimes get used very well, and there is some initial novelty to using to scare hosts, but it wears thin really fast, the story is underwhelming, and it has a lot of mechanical and technical problems. For a game that's focused on possessing hosts, the ways it's implemented feels half-baked and quickly becomes repetitive, and most of the puzzles aren't much more than possessing someone to unlock a door or find a specific item for use elsewhere. The combat is below average and doesn't hold a candle to most shooters; even in 2005, there were so many better options for FPS games such as:
Project Snowblind Call of Duty 2 F.E.A.R. Area 51 Darkwatch Medal of Honor: European Assault Star Wars: Republic Commando Star Wars Battlefront II TimeSplitters: Future Perfect Battlefield 2 Battlefield 2: Modern Combat (console counterpart and completely different game to Battlefield 2) Far Cry Instincts Cold Winter
With this many better shooters released within the year of Geist's release and the fact that other games years later would do its possession mechanic better such as Driver: San Francisco and Super Mario Odyssey, I'm afraid Geist doesn't have anything substantial to offer today. It also lacks any difficulty settings and couple that with the ways you scare people being the same every time, replay value is very low. But if this game did end up being inspiration for said mechanic in those two games, then I'm thankful for this game's existence. And while I find the game far too flawed to be recommended, I do understand why it has its share of fans. Have a nice day.