You might have noticed — during my review of The Mystery of Haunted Hollow — that I recently proclaimed there were things I really wanted to say about a game’s ending, and yet did not do so. Spoiling a game’s ending during the course of a review — and then dissecting it — is basically tantamount to an attempt to deliberately sabotage that game’s sales, and certainly isn’t exactly professional conduct either. It’s also rather inconvenient for any people whom potentially wanted to play through that game, as they now can no longer experience the story for themselves in a manner that the developers intended.
This doesn’t mean — however — that I can’t produce a follow-up addendum to the original review that covers all of these issues, as this knowledge may well prove useful and informative to our reader base. Especially since the game’s marketing material makes some promises regarding the plot’s ending, most of which I feel are inadequately addressed by the time the credits arrive. Now it probably goes without saying at this point, but you really shouldn’t keep reading this anymore if you don’t want to have The Mystery of Haunted Hollow’s ending completely spoiled (as well as some other things).
NO — SERIOUSLY — STOP NOW, THE SPOILERS WILL BE COMING FAST AND FURIOUS!
With that covered, let’s start with the grand truth you learn at the game’s conclusion: you’re actually dead, and all those ghostly specters you’ve been seeing are — as far as I can tell — merely shattered figments of your own memory. Not to knock the concept of “ghost doesn’t know he’s dead” — as The Sixth Sense certainly was a good film — but up until now you’ve learned nothing about yourself at all, except that the town seemed familiar. Worse yet, the revelation that you’re the only ghost in town — despite all of the weirdness you’ve been through so far (more on that later) — doesn’t even come as a result of you learning how you died.
Instead the only reason that you suddenly find out you’re dead is because the final scene involves you walking up to a tombstone with your name on it, after which you find a note — apparently written by your family — explaining that you’ve been dead for ten years now. Before you ask: no, the note does NOT go into how you died either — or any other important matters like that (despite claims made by the game’s website) — it merely details that your family was leaving behind all of the odd notes you’ve been finding. Sadly there exists a fairly universal, though admittedly not oft spoken, rule regarding virtually all ghost stories: wherein these wandering phantasmal entities are — without fail — extremely belligerent, for they wouldn’t be stuck haunting the Earth otherwise.
Either they’re driven relentlessly onward by a need to finish some important task left unfinished during their lifetime, or — having failed entirely to realize they were ever dead to begin with — they now find themselves rigidly incapable of moving on as a result. The Mystery of Haunted Hollow’s protagonist sure has this belligerence down pat — seeing as how, early on, he rejects a ghost’s advice to turn back — but this selfsame stubbornness means that he should later on equally reject the tombstone’s unsubstantiated claims. When someone — whom is still operating under the belief that they’re still alive — is suddenly told “You’ve been dead for ten years now”, they’re not exactly going to believe that proclamation without some hefty proof being brought along for the ride.
At this point I would like to display a passage from the developer’s website, so that I can begin discussing some of the other promises — beyond learning the protagonist’s past — that Point & Click LLC has failed to deliver on:
“Enter a world of mystery, suspense, and horror elements. You begin your adventure in Haunted Hollow. Familiar ghosts & spirits haunt you, and awaken memories from your past. Puzzles & riddles must be solved in order to find out who you are, and what happened in this forgotten town. Explore haunted shacks, mansions, desolate schools, and churches in an eerie setting that will make your brain implode with a shocking twist ending.”
First of all I would like to say that the ending — despite the complete lack of build up, or foreshadowing — was not actually a shocking twist in the slightest, thanks to a great blunder on the developer’s part. Whenever you start a new session you are asked to decide upon your protagonist’s name, which — in a move that will leave the player asking why such info was ever needed — will seemingly never come up during your adventure. Thus it is that — after spending the entire game not ever once having your name come up, something that could have easily been done to otherwise throw you off — you can guess a mile away who’s name will be on the tombstone as you slowly begin walking towards it.
Anyways — with that covered — there’s another major thing you will fail to learn from the above list of promises: chiefly being the history of your long decaying hometown, and why it’s now little more than a rotting junkyard. The only piece of info given regarding the town’s fate is a note you find proclaiming that everyone had to move away because the money dried up, but no explanation is ever given as to why that happened. Generally in writing such a declaration would be considered foreshadowing towards answers yet to be delivered, rather than instead being used as the final explanation of a dead town’s fate.
Personally I’m still wondering why a town so heavily abandoned — given the place’s extreme state of decay — would otherwise have electricity still flowing, as evidenced by a solitary still-powered computer you find inside a school building. Although I never once asked myself if the main character might be dead, I certainly questioned his sanity when he was freely willing to use this machine that was somehow running despite all logic. Even if I was belligerent enough to ignore otherworldly warnings to turn around, I would still have to think twice about typing in data — that I even received from a painting which turned into a ghastly skull upon being touched — if I was in a haunted town to begin with.
The game is actually full of such puzzles that would otherwise rightly cause a sane man to turn around and flee in terror, and I certainly hope the developer’s explanation for these isn’t that the protagonist’s not scared of them because he’s dead. Let’s remember again that he didn’t know he was dead until the game’s conclusion, meaning that he must be crazy suicidal to go around touching things like glowing pentagrams placed on walls. While it’s stated early on that he’s wondering why this abandoned town seems so familiar to him, you’re going to need a far better motivator than that to ever willingly delve into much of the weirdness this protagonist regularly is asked to muck about with.
Finally — returning back from my tangent — the last problem I had with the game’s ending is that it bizarrely throws a “To Be Continued” at you, all after you see yourself going towards a light that is — quite literally — placed at the end of a tunnel. Generally speaking a ghost — whom just finally learned that he’s dead — going towards the light would be a story’s absolute ending point, thus making any notion of a plot-sequel utterly irrelevant. Perhaps the developers meant that they were planning to instead make more games of this type (which isn’t really what the statement truly means), or perhaps they meant that the protagonist was going to have a learn-all flashback in their next game as he passes on. While the second interpretation could certainly do much to clear up the game’s gaping plot holes so far, it would still mean that nearly all of the developer’s promises for their first outing otherwise went utterly undelivered upon.
Anyways, that generally sums up the various problems I had with The Mystery of Haunted Hollow’s poorly handled ending. The game itself basically played competently enough, but the ending otherwise left me frothing in utter rage for all of the above provided reasons. I do — however — still wish Point & Click LLC the best of luck with their future endeavors, yet urge them to think more about their writing the next time.