It's a great novelty, but it's also a real success in terms of gameplay, thanks to outstanding scenario design and an irreverent sense of humor.
If you're looking for a new twist on ghoulies, ghosties, long-legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night, look no further than Ghost Master. Sick Puppies' real-time strategy game stands horror-game traditions on their heads, swapping the spooks and scares of Resident Evil and Silent Hill for supernatural management duties reminiscent of Dungeon Master. It's a great novelty, first of all, but it's also a real success in terms of gameplay, thanks to outstanding scenario design and an irreverent sense of humor.
The core elements of Ghost Master are simple. Reverse the stereotypical ghost story and you have a pretty good idea what this game is all about. Unlike in your garden-variety horror game, where you wander the halls of a haunted house waiting to be frightened into a fresh pair of BVDs, here you're some kind of dead civil servant (insert "are there any other kind?" or similar joke here) in charge of the rattling chains and disembodied footsteps. Problems in the small town of Gravenville have attracted the notice of the Haunter Committee, and you're sent to set things right by generally scaring the bejesus out of the flesh-and-blood types.
You do this by recruiting a team of ghosts for each scenario. This spook squad is drawn from six categories--sprites, disturbances, elementals, vapours, frighteners, and horrors--named for the chief characteristics and skills of their members. The sprites class, for instance, consists of minor spirits who mess up electrical appliances, like the cogjammer gremlin and the ghostly spider, clatterclaws. Elementals features aether and earthwall, who have the capabilities of air and earth elementals, respectively. Horrors represents the worst of the worst, such as the mortal-possessing ghastly and the headless horseman. Every sort of spook that's ever made type B-positive run down the walls in a fright flick is at your beck and call here.
Using your team in the field is a balancing act. Ghosts must be fettered to specific objects, so you can't spread them all over the map. Gremlins have to be attached to electronic appliances, such as microwaves and televisions. Apparitions, shadows, and wraiths are stuck to murder scenes. Weatherwitches and headless horsemen are linked to thoroughfares like hallways and roads. And so on.
Role-playing concerns also crop up. While certain types of ghosts are necessities in some situations, there's a benefit to using the same spooks in multiple missions, because they gain experience and become easier to control. They can also be upgraded with new skills, which are purchased in the ghoul room with the gold plasm awarded at the end of each successful scenario. Managing your spook squad is about more than just picking the right ghoul for the job.
Regular plasm consumption is another issue. This is the sole resource in the game, powering your ability to manifest ghosts and all their spectral abilities. Overtax yourself and you can run out of this vital substance, a dire scenario that ends the current haunt and throws you out of the mortal realm. Plasm is earned by scaring people, forcing you to keep a focus on screams and shudders even when the scenario objectives involve something more subtle than driving residents out of their homes.
Even with these physical anchors and resource restrictions, a lot of moving around is required. For starters, your victims don't stand still. Humans in the game communicate in thought balloons and gibberish voices, much like those in The Sims, and are rated in terms of belief, terror, and madness. Build their belief that something out of the ordinary is going on and you'll be able to terrify them or drive them mad. Affect either of the latter categories through something like an eerie laugh, a chill wind blowing through a sealed room, or a ghost playing peekaboo, and the victim will flee, forcing you to adjust your tactics. They even have individual fears, like lightning or insects, which can be revealed with powers like know aura and then used to your advantage.