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About the Story
In a world where magic is real and mind-bending nightmares lie waiting in the least expected places, the Fraternal Order of Ghostfinders, an international society of elite occult investigators, is humanity's strongest line of defense against the unspeakable horrors of the void. When your protege, a novice ghostfinder named Cyra, accidentally becomes embroiled in a hunt for a serial killer, you must use every means at your disposal to catch him before he catches her. A detective mystery game with a strong focus on piecing together clues and leads.
40th Place - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)
Number of Reviews: 3
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Ghostfinder offers a strong hook: modern urban horror crossed with procedural-show sexmurder. I can see a significant audience for this sort of thing, but let me confess up front that I felt like it leaned much harder on the sexmurder part, which is not something I particularly enjoy. Donít get me wrong, Iíve watched enough Brits seen off to depopulate a small county Ė whimsically in a village, ecclesiastically in a church, intellectually in a college, snootily in a manor, &c. Ė but forensically-described sexual assault and murder, of which thereís a lot on offer here (six victims), has a pretty different vibe. On the one hand, this is a personal preference, twelve billion CSI fans obviously have different tastes, and kudos to the author for offering a clear content warning that communicates exactly whatís in store. On the other Ė oh, this is probably spoilery: (Spoiler - click to show)part of what made Ghostfinder so squicky to me is that the serial killerís modus operandi is very very closely based on the real-world Golden State Killer, who was responsible for at least 13 murders and dozens of rapes, and who was arrested last year and just sentenced a few weeks ago as of this writing. True, the crimes were several decades ago, and the author clarified that the game was started before the killer was arrested, but it felt maybe a little extra ghoulish given the circumstances.
Getting back to the game, however! Ghostfinder has an interesting structure, where more conventional adventure-game sequences of going places, talking to people, playing cat-and-mouse with the killer, etc., bookend a large middle section thatís all about reviewing case files and Googling the secret database of your psychic investigation society. The adventure-y bits work but arenít anything too out of the ordinary Ė you interview suspects, run down leads, and interact with fellow members of the Ghostfinders who are fairly well characterized. The database is a fun conceit, though Ė you get to dig through files on each of the serial killerís previous murders, then search for particular names or places or things that you think warrant further investigation, which usually just gives you another document but sometimes opens up the possibility of visiting a new location or interviewing a new witness or suspect.
Investigation-via-Google is a fun structure Ė I quite dug Her Story from a couple years back, which took a related approach Ė and it does make one feel appropriately like a detective. Thereís also a twist because beyond the case file, one of the detectives also has been having psychic visions that put her in the heads of various characters, one of whom is the killer, so in theory you can cross-reference her journal with the conventional investigation to rule out and rule in various suspects. In practice, however, I didnít go too far down that path because Iíd pretty much already solved the case by the time I worked through all of the case files, so was basically just nodding ďyup, that fitsĒ while reading through the journal.
Anyway the database is an effective central mechanic for the game, but I think it does throw off the pacing. There are a LOT of case files to go through Ė all very similarly bleak in describing horrible crimes of rape and murder Ė so thatís a lot to digest all at once, and after reading each, youíll probably spend five or ten minutes inputting different options into the search bar. The writing style for these parts is fairly dense and procedural, which makes sense, but again sometimes made the game feel like a slog. All told it probably took me an hour to work through them all, during which time my engagement with the characters had pretty much fallen away, since theyíre not very active in this segment except for a few short sequences where the detectives run out and interview some suspects. I experienced a bit of whiplash when I got to the ending sequence and I suddenly was reminded that these folks existed! Thereís also a bit of wonkiness where sometimes, searching a name teleports you to an interview sequence, which was off-putting to me at first since I was worried that doing stuff in the ďreal worldĒ would advance a clock (Spoiler - click to show)it doesn't.
The writing is generally solid, with only a few typos or infelicities (though I have to share one good one Ė during the inevitable struggle with the killer, the protagonist ďhit(s) him again with the hammer, breaking his other jawĒ. Wow, he really is a monster!) I thought the fantasy worldbuilding was occasionally a bit clumsily-inserted or underexplained, but since the focus really was on the real-world procedural stuff, this wasnít a major area of weakness. Ghostfinderís solidly put together, and fiddling about with the database does convey a fun frisson of really being a detective. Despite some subject-matter choices that put me off a bit, I think itíll find an audience -- and I'm looking forward to hopefully less-macabre future installments!
Ghostfinder: Shift is a truly professional piece of IF. Set in a consistently well imagined and thought-out world of shifters and ghostfinders, the story features the player as an occult investigator trying to solve a string of horrific murders.
As with the world building, the writing is on a professional level all the way through, and meticulously detailed. With access to case files and your orderís private database, a choice IF interface allows you to draw connections and approach the identity of the killer. As such, the choice mechanisms here function as a way to solve the puzzle, rather than navigating a branching story.
Every aspect of Ghostfinder: Shift is impressive, but even though the puzzle aspect was well done, its writing is where it truly shines. However, as with every genre work, it does cater to a niche audience. I can easily picture a Ghostfinder series of novels in the adult urban fantasy section at my favourite book store.
So this one has a lot of good features and some that didnít mesh with me. Iím not sure Iím the target audience.
This is a long Twine game with a mechanic that Iíve not really seen in IFComp before. Thereís a long, mostly linear prologue where you meet all the main characters, then youíre given a bunch of journal entries/case files to go through. As you go through them, you can type them into a database to learn more, kind of like Her Story.
This is a game about a serial rapist/murderer. In fact, itís the third game Iíve played in this comp that prominently features a kidnapper/sexual assaulter. This game specifically seems heavily influenced by stories like those featured in true crime podcasts and documentaries, and by the Golden State Killer specifically.
+Polish: A lot of work went into this game.
+Descriptiveness: Has a level of detail similar to true crime podcasts.
-Interactivity: The main mechanic was overly difficult to me. Typing in things that I knew were important (like 'bulger') didn't always work.
+Emotional impact: It was an emotion I didn't like, but it did it.
-Would I play again? Not my cup of tea, content-wise.
The graphic depictions in one of the assaults and the extensive profanity/abuse definitely set me on edge, and I donít think Iím the target audience for it. Writing-wise, this game is good on the individual level, but some of the twists didnít make much sense to me, especially the ending sequence which changed the genre of the game completely.
The mechanics are interesting, but I think they could use more testing for robustness. I will say if you havenít played it yet that it keeps a running notebook for you at the very bottom, which I didnít notice until near the end.
Overall, the author seems very talented. This game was beta tested by several people, but I think the next game in the series could use a couple of more people, especially Twine authors who have done well in the comp before. Iím assuming there will be more in the series, and Iíd be happy to see that, especially ones with less sexual violence (for my personal taste, may not reflect all readers).