There's little new under the blue light of the video-game screen, so it's up to designers to find small twists of plot or gameplay to keep things fresh. They'll often mix genres, which is a gamble: Do fans of first-person blasters want to take the time to solve puzzles and recover ancient jewelry, or do they just want to shoot some shit? Will those looking for more story get bored with the old load-aim-fire routine? Geist, the GameCube-only first-person shooter/action-adventure that's been buzzed about for two years, bridges the gap with almost as much success as another breakthrough from this year, Resident Evil 4.
You're John Raimi, some sort of tough government agent—no surprise there. You're sent into some sort of nefarious corporation that happens to have a massive, amazing lair that no one knew about. Yawn. But after just a few short fights, your soul is separated from your body, and the fun begins. Solving the potential boredom that stems from playing one character with one skill set, Geist allows you the freedom to inhabit people and inanimate objects. In fact, it requires you to. In order to complete specific missions, you must puzzle out exactly who and what to use. But it's not as simple as jumping into a host. Living things must be frightened to be susceptible: In one early scene, you must possess a series of inanimate objects (including a ladder and a fire extinguisher) in order to scare an armed soldier into letting you in. And just before that, you've got to jump inside a dog and tour the compound.
The fight scenes—your basic first-person-shooter stuff—provide a nice break from the puzzles, and the boss enemies can be maddeningly tough, which isn't necessarily bad. Then there's multi-player mode, which allows up to four live players and four 'bots to compete in various scenarios. Unlike other recent GameCube titles (hello, Star Fox: Assault), this mode doesn't feel like an afterthought.
Beyond the gameplay: Geist is easy on the eyes, and not just because of the partial nudity that helped earn it the coveted "M" rating. Though the refresh rate occasionally drags, objects are generally well-rendered. When you jump into a body, you get a great scene of your host receiving your spirit (which looks like one of those "Visible Man" models), including some nice pained noises. In an early psychedelic cutscene, you learn how to control your spirit, as plants, bunnies, and a crackly voice demand murder.
Worth playing for: It's the little things. The shooting is okay, but puzzling together what to do with each object to advance the story is most of the fun. It provides a sense of accomplishment most adults just don't get in day-to-day life.
Frustration sets in when: It's far too easy to skip right over vital objects. Items that can be possessed (or even just viewed for clues) give visual cues, but sometimes only if you pass them with the subtlest touch.
Final judgment:Geist has flaws and sticky moments, but it's weird and challenging enough to merit some serious game-time. The premise's promise pays off.