When The Haunted v1 was released, it was met with delighted fanfare due to its advanced visuals but ultimately failed to make a lasting impact with its gameplay. After all, there are many other full-featured offerings that involve you facing off against throngs of zombies/infected/demons/biological-experiments-gone-wrong for survival in a post-apocalyptic playground – not just in the modding scene, but the commercial gaming space as well. If one wants to make a mark with a product in the survival category, it’s got to come out swinging. The Haunted v2.0 does just that with a slew of new additions, including a completely retooled multiplayer experience – but does it hit the mark?
If there’s one thing that Haunted does efficiently, it’s drawing in players with its slick presentation. Right from the outset, the total conversion has achieved a high standard in character and environment fidelity that represents other mods’ loftiest ambitions. Once you get in-game, you’ll find everything looks just as good in motion as well. There’s nary a hiccup as you run around tearing asunder the pitted flesh of Hellspawn, riddling them with bullets or dismembering them with supercharged melee attacks. Any gamer part of the modding scene may be used to seeing an uneven level of quality throughout a mod’s content. This isn’t the case here; all the animations feel smooth and seamless. Strictly taking into account the game's assets, it’s hard to believe that all of this is free. Even though the character models take some obvious inspirations, they all feel like fit together in their own world – a rag-tag bunch facing off against their worst nightmares.
The premise behind Haunted isn’t a complicated one: demons from the underworld are spawning on your turf and it’s killed or be killed. There doesn’t need to be much more to it than that and even if there was, you’d be too busy frantically running away from the hellish horde to contemplate it anyway. The most appreciated additions in this latest version include the new multiplayer modes: Coop, Battle and Demonizer. The latter two involve player controlled demons, with Battle mode supporting up to 8 players in a team-based style akin to Left 4 Dead’s versus. The difference here is players control the spawning of all the demons on a map and have the ability to take command of any one of them at their request. The monsters gallery offers quite a variety of evil – eight monsters to choose from and two AI-controlled “traps”. In addition to this, there’s also an environmental effect to trigger in each of the two maps so far released. When everything is unleashed upon the survivors, it promises to be a hairy situation that will involve many close escapes.
Most players automatically connect the dank and dark claustrophobic spaces with the genre, but this mod’s take proves it can be just as thrilling in broad daylight with a wide open layout. Also, characters have the inexplicable ability to jump from any height without sustaining damage. As a result, you’ll find many routes to take throughout the level to outpace your demon stalkers. Sure, jumping off a five storey building to put a bit of distance between you and your attackers is a bit outlandish, but its fun and increases your mobility. In a mod that doesn’t play favors to those making their last stand in a nondescript corner, you’ll need every chance you can get to keep on the move. Survivor allies aren’t gone forever once they perish either – destroying their soulstone brings them back to life with all of their experience and upgrades intact.
While the first Haunted featured weapon and ammo pickups littered around the level, this new version actually features more weapons in an upgrade system. The monsters you kill occasionally spawn ammo boxes and upgrades exclusive to you (so your allies can’t ninja your loot!), allowing you to upgrade each of the four weapon classes thrice. Adding to this arsenal, there’s four hidden special weapons and dynamite in each level. The upgrade system is a welcome feature as it adds a sense of progression to the mod that feeds into the replayability. Melee attacks can also keep the monsters at a safe range when reloading, with the ability to charge your melee for a devastating insta-kill.
It’s hard to find fault in the survivor gameplay, but playing the demon side in The Haunted does feel a bit unbalanced. Demon players have a limit amount of ‘monster energy’ to use but can respawn as often, and as close, as they like to the survivors. The battle mode suffers the most from this – some may just choose to spawn as one of the more powerful ranged attackers constantly. As a survivor, once you think you’ve downed one player-controlled demon for a bit of a breather, he’s spawned anew right beside you again! It breaks some of the pacing that feels tuned in the Coop modes, and could be remedied with spawn/possession cooldowns or a buffer zone around survivors. Another minor gripe is that usually tolerable latency levels (100-200ms) can result in inaccurate melee attacks. This can be frustrating when you waste what you think is a perfectly timed charged melee attack and instead rush headfirst into gaggle of locust look-a-likes ready to tear your head off.
In its present form, The Haunted v2.0 already exhibits polish that makes it rise above similar prospects in the modding scene and provides a suitable getaway from Left 4 Dead and its commercial ilk. Looking forward, it’s hard not to imagine The Haunted hitting (virtual) shelves in the future if the developers keep this pace up. Simply put, a must download for any action fan.
**Editor's note: If you're having trouble finding a server and want to host your own game behind a router, port-forward ports 30000,7777 and 6500. Ignore the warning message in-game and people should be able to connect to your own listen server just fine. Enjoy!