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Reviews

Ghost Trick Phantom Detective

Worth playing? Of corpse it is...

Is there any mind more morbid than Shu Takumi's? The Ace Attorney creator cooks up day-glo worlds where hair is measured with protractors, only to invite the Grim Reaper along to the party.

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Fundamentally, Phoenix Wright is a game in which you win by sending crims to be executed. Remember: for every relieved defendant there's a victim mouldering in the morgue.

Takumi's love for the high drama of death sits uneasily with the player's desire for a happy ending. If only there was a way to have our murder cake and eat it...

Ghost Trick is the best of both worlds. Or rather, you try to turn the worst of one world into the best. Our hero, Sissel, can rewind deaths so that he can intervene in their unfolding.

That's our happy ending taken care of. But to rewind a death it must first play out in all its gruesome glory. Hello, high drama of death. And so we see assassinations, explosive mishaps, car crashes and even death by roast chicken.

Takumi's either a big fan of the Darwin Awards - collators of the world's most ridiculous deaths - or he's one sick puppy. Talking of which, not even cute canines are spared a bullet.

So as not to steal the limelight from the curious in-game tutor - a talking desk lamp - we'll keep the details vague. Episodes tend to focus on reversing a single death. Touching the deceased reveals their final four minutes.

Where Wright searched for contradictions in the crime scene, Sissel's job is to do the contradicting. Manipulating inanimate objects alters the sequence of events. Three questions arise: what to alter, when to alter it and how to actually get to it. With a limited reach, most of the puzzling focuses on navigating the locations.

DEAD END JOB
It's a novel twist on the traditional point 'n' click adventure. Instead of constructing a solution, you feel like you're deconstructing the Grim Reaper's own handiwork.

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As in the Final Destination films, death moves with lethal purpose through the most harmless of objects. A haphazard candle here, a dropped spoon there and another light is snuffed out.

It's a comparison the game makes itself - one standout stage tasks Sissel with sabotaging a Rube Goldberg-like mechanical death machine before it completes its deadly routine. Elegance helps mask the linear design.

Stages have fixed solutions and, in their four-minute time frame, relatively tight constraints within which to find them. Working out the order of manipulation, particularly the timings (for example, you might need to slam open a door just as a ball rolls past), is trial and error, but it's artfully woven into the design.

Bad decisions aren't treated as failures, rather an opportunity to learn more about the scene in question. Testing actions reveals the quirky consequences you eventually connect into the true solution.

ABRA CADAVER
Ghost Trick is surprisingly restless to boot, quickly branching out from straightforward rescues. We get dual rescues (where two corpses are juggled to save everyone involved), spying missions, kidnap prevention and an audacious prison number that has more in common with Metal Gear Solid.

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If the path is linear, we sprint through such vivid territory so as not to notice. That something as simple as reaching a telephone across the room (Sissel uses them to travel between locations) can become a major set-piece is a testament to Takumi's smarts.

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