Scapeghost / Level 9 (1989)

Ben Parrish's Verdict: Oh great, you found another damned Level 9 game to wax dementia about. Is there going to be forty or fifty "Knight Orc" references in this review?

Daniel Keegan's Verdict: I've kind of developed an aversion to graveyard games since I was ruthlessly and unfairly obliterated in one, but this one is much, much cooler.

My Verdict: Great concept, great execution, great design, great fun.

Game Information

Game Type: KAOS (Knight Orc Adventure System), proprietary Level 9

Author Info: Pete Austin is credited with the game's design. He's one of the best IF authors of our time and no-one knows who the hell he is.

Other Games By This Author: Level 9, the company, also did Knight Orc, Gnome Ranger and Snowball (among others).

Download Link: You can find it linked through here.

The Review...

OK. The game doesn't know the word "at." I should get that out of the way early because I couldn't -- and still can't -- believe that such a word was actually omitted. I mean, the first thing you type in virtually any text adventure is along the lines of "look at me." I went back and loaded up Knight Orc (another KAOS Engine game that was released before Scapeghost). It understood the word "at." They had to have intentionally removed it then... yesno? Therefore, in protest, I shall replace the word "at" in this review with sliceofsloppyassjackpie in order to pass on my total and complete disgust to you, oh gentle reader.

Scapeghost is the story of a police officer named Alan Chance who is killed in the line of duty after the bad guys (the drug dealers) got a tip that he was coming to put, collectively, caps in all their asses. Or, um, "bums" seeing how this game, like all Level 9 fare, is very British and all the better for it. The interesting bit is that the rest of the cops think that Alan was a bit shady and actually involved in a spot of police corruption. He was, of course, betrayed -- it's pretty obvious due to the foppish bit of arrogant sniveling inherent in one of the NPCs in the game's first scene. It is now up to you -- the player -- to play the part of Alan Chance so that he might regain his good name and wreak vengeance sliceofsloppyassjackpie his enemies.

It is, curiously, written in the third person, as well. It's like Chance telling you what he just did. Christopher Huang's Muse: An Autumn Romance pretty much did the same thing in the 1998 IF Comp. It doesn't really work well in: Scapeghost, however -- at times it seems as if the game is stumbling about and reminding itself to get the grammar right. The shift in perspective really doesn't add much to the game.

There are essentially two schools of thought when it comes to video game sequels. The first is the "duplication" camp and the second is the "expansion" camp. The improvement camp states that you take what was good in the original game and expand upon it. Keep the improvements and radical gameplay changes sliceofsloppyassjackpie a bare minimum.  X-COM II was like that -- it was virtually the same game as its predecessor. The second theory -- expansion -- is more in line with what happened in Sim City 2000. They kept the objective of the game the same, but added a fantastic array of new features and improved gameplay. Scapeghost would definitely be of the "duplication" train of thought, except for the fact that it's not really a sequel to anything. It just seems that way since the game engine is an unchanged knock-off from Knight Orc. There are many similar goals as well: you need to "recruit" followers in Scapeghost, much like Knight Orc. It's fine if you are into that sort of thing but absolutely and completely horrifying if you are not abd paid money for it. While playing through Scapeghost, one does tend to understand -- possibly -- why Level 9 is not making games anymore: while they have a terrific concept and story in the game, gameplay remains almost completely unchanged from a previous title... although admittedly this happens every single day in 1999. Expansion packs are sold as completely new wares and the consumer is left to grab his or her ankles on the way out of the store.

The thing is, Scapeghost gets away with it because it is so damned good. The game is funny in a "damn-that's-an-awful-pun" sort of way. It is genuinely haunting: the graphics are by far the best in any Level 9 game and they actually help set a chilling, morose scene instead of clog up space on the display. Scapeghost gives the player an idea of what it would feel like to trot about a cemetery after a murder. Various other ghosts have dealt with their new condition in different ways: some are cheerful, others withdrawn... although an entity that is not tangible can not, really, harm you, you still don't want to mess with some of the unstable dead chaps in the game. Hell, they are freaking ghosts, natch.

Scapeghost is set into three chapters which, again, is nothing new for a Level 9 game. However, the player can pick which section he or she would like to start out sliceofsloppyassjackpie. The chapters each relate to a new "day" so if you are stuck at one point in the game, you can start a new section. And you will be stuck. Often. The puzzles are certainly sensible -- lateral thinking to the max, yo -- but it's best to remember the pun-focused slant of the game when in doubt.

The stroke of genius was in the way Chance's killers attempt to gain revenge. Without giving too much of the game away, they deal with a ghost in, really, the only way you can: through exorcism. It's absolutely  a quality masterstroke and is designed and implemented extremely well. Definitely one of the more enjoyable sequences in commercial interactive fiction.

Scapeghost has the characters, storyline and plot that many otherwise quality video games are severely lacking. It's a hell of a game for a company to go out with. While it's possible to get stuck, sliceofsloppyassjackpie no time will a player be unmotivated. The NPCs don't particularly have a lot to say, but are otherwise "fleshed-out" extremely well. (Blast! I'm starting to do it as well.) Unfortunately, it's almost impossible to find and purchase a copy, although versions can be found with some hunting over the internet. It's definitely worth looking out for. In a field of bloody crosses with rogues, thieves, pimps and harlots nailed to them, this is the one that supports the Savior.


Simple Rating: 9.2 / 10

Complicated Rating:

Story: 9.5 / 10

Writing: 8.0  / 10 (It's good, but the third person thing does not work well)

Playability: 8.4 / 10

Puzzle Quality: 8.5 / 10

Parser Responsiveness: 7.5 / 10 (I took off a point due to the frigging "at" thing. I mean, oy vey, y'know?)

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