Do doggie companions make survival horror more fun?

As I continue my endeavor to replay all my horror games I haven’t covered on Boys, Bears & Scares yet, I take on Haunting Ground and Rule of Rose, two games in which the protagonist is joined on her horror journey by a doggy friend.


Following on the heels of my replay of Clock Tower 3, it’s another run and scream experience with Haunting Ground. You play a young woman trapped in a castle and pursued by a variety of baddies. You can run, you can hide, you can slow them down with some defensive items that hurt them momentarily, and you can even sic your dog friend on them, but you can’t fight them until boss battles. Sigh. You also have to manage your health, your panic meter, and the health of your dog Hewie. Double sigh.

If you examine things like gory messes around the castle, you panic a little. When it escalates, you become disoriented, your visibility is hindered, you trip, fall, and crash into things, and eventually the screen goes wonky. Provided you can get away from the threat in that state (you can’t), panic restores slowly over time, or you can take healing items to fix it. There are also health items for when you take damage, and health for Hewie as well. As you progress in the game, you’ll find different choker necklaces you can wear that help lessen the effects of dangerous stimuli on your health and panic levels as well.

Of course for me there’s a crucial element of the game: saves. You save at grandfather clocks, but you can’t save while you’re being chased by an enemy. There are also sinks and fountains where you can fully restore your health…as long as you’re not being chased.

Just like Clock Tower 3, there are hiding spots, and they only help so much. If you hide in the same spot too many times, the enemies find you. I did notice in this game however that if you really run around enough and create significant distant between yourself and the stalker, the stalker eventually disappears for a while. As if run and scream games aren’t already annoying enough, this one tosses in essentially harmless enemies that serve mostly to just draw attention to your location so the stalker can find you. Argh.

Next comes the item collecting. There are a variety of ways to get items. Some are just sparkling in the open for you to find. Others are in red vases you can kick to break. And still other items can be made at machines you insert plates into and then type words on. As usual, you’d have no idea what words to type to make crucial items you need to move ahead in the game if you don’t use a walkthrough.

As for Hewie, you find him tied to a tree early on in the game. He becomes your friend, but you do have to train him with commands mapped to the right thumbstick such as, “good boy”, “stay”, “go”, and the mean one, “No!” I tried to use that as little as possible, because I can’t be mean to dogs. Unfortunately, while you can kick vases and even enemies, if you accidentally kick Hewie (he tends to circle and get in the way a lot), he will lose a little trust in you. Do it too much and he will attack you! I’m proud to say Hewie never attacked me. He does seem to learn commands quickly, and you can also feed him jerky you find as health and as treats, but as much as he listens, he seems to flip you the finger when you really need him to listen to commands during puzzle solving. For instance, there’s segment that requires you to step on a series of discs on the floor to light them up in a certain order. You get Hewie to go to them, tell him to stay, and then as you’re running to the next lit disc, Hewie decides he just doesn’t want to stay anymore and you have to start the whole puzzle over again. NUMEROUS TIMES. I swear the game programmers do this shit just to fuck with us.

Also of note is that you can accidentally “lose” Hewie. If he falls behind and you forget to keep calling him to stick with you, he might end up on the other side of a reconfigured path you’ve taken, and you have to circle back to find him. Sometimes it can take an infuriating amount of time to actually find him considering walls and doors have shifted from their original positions, which heightens the chances that the stalker will come after you again because you’re taking too long to get anything done. Infuriating.

As for the enemies, there’s a new one in each chapter (which eventually ends in a boss battle). And just as you can’t heal or save while being chased, you can’t do anything involving your mission objective. So you end up running in circles, forgetting where you left off, try to shake the stalker, and then try to find your way back to where you were.

The first stalker is a big bald goon. The next stalker is a relentless bitch that slashes at you viciously. The third stalker has a damn gun and shoots at you and Hewie. It’s like trying to go out in public in the United States. The fourth stalker begins as a decrepit old man that crawls along the ground really fast. In the second part of his chapter he becomes young and studly with the ability to teleport.

There are a variety of frustrating elements in between trying to stay away from stalkers:

  • There’s a nightmarish hall with a perspective from in front of you and two dark areas on the floor. You have to tell Hewie to go and then follow him as closely as possible along the blackness on a path apparently only he can see. There’s a save before, but this leads to a boss battle, and then you have to cross back over it after the boss battle! WTF?

  • You’ll never know it if you don’t fallow a walkthrough, but after the first chapter there are powerful steel boots you can find for kicking enemies. However, they are in a bathroom you must visit before you move on to the next section and before the new stalker starts coming for you, because there’s no going back after that.

  • There’s a part where you have to use a giant golem figure (sort of like Bigfoot) to walk around and put out fires through a maze of tunnels so you can pass through them to new doorways. The catch is you have to type left-right commands on plates…and you’ll need enough of them to do it all. And every time you insert a plate in the golem, you have to watch the video of him walking down the tunnels all over again. The only upside is you can press a run button to get him to do it faster. Do video game programmers not realize there are ways to just make him do it fast without you having to press a button?


  • One of the boss battles has you getting Hewie to attack the enemy while you push blocks through tracks in the floor—but the camera angles suck, and Hewie and the boss will fight right in your way as you try to get to the blocks.

  • The final stalker–the crawling old man who turns into a supernatural hunk? His chapter is a multiple “final boss” fight. The first time is pretty easy—you just have to lure the old man onto a conveyor belt, get Hewie to attack him so he stays on it, then quickly run across the room and kick a machine two times to get it to turn on. After you do some more exploring and collecting, which thankfully involves quite a few save clocks in the area, the second fight with the young version of the stalker is annoying. However, there are multiple ways to kill him, including turning on a fan to blow him into a lava pit, getting him to run over fire spots on the floor, having Hewie repeatedly attack him from behind, and also using your own throwing weapons if you’ve saved them up and not used them on other enemies throughout the course of the game.

  • finally, the third time you encounter the last boss is a hot mess. Literally. It’s the dude totally on fire and chasing you with a one-hit kill situation. At the same time, you have to listen to sound cues to know when to crouch to avoid being rocked by an earthquake tremor, which will both eat way at your health and slow you down. During this chase you also have to get Hewie to open a door to move on and then button mash to push away a statue that’s falling on you. This is where you’re most likely to get killed, because the hot lava dude is right on your tail at this point. Sigh. Good news is it only took me three tries to get it.


The plot of this game goes so deep that the clumsy game mechanics get in the way of appreciating the story that is unfolding. The combat in particular is so bad I would highly recommend using a Codebreaker if you want to smoothly experience the tale that unfolds without having to struggle through and replay endless battles without enough health items to stand a chance of surviving.

This is a horror metaphor for the darkest avenues of childhood—loneliness, sadness, bullying, mental and emotional trauma that causes violent behavior before a sense of morals has a chance to develop, childhood terrors and coping mechanisms, and most disturbing of all, child abuse of all sorts. Appropriately, you play a young, frightened girl dumped at a bus station at night on a deserted road. Before long, you arrive at an ominous orphanage.

This isn’t tank control horror survival. You move the character by pushing in the direction you want to go, and as usual, this controller schematic can lead you into spinning in circles because you keep changing course accidentally during screen changes. Passing through doors is slow going, but the name of the room you are entering is presented as a title card while you wait for the load. So it would be nice if the map actually featured the names of the locations, but it’s just a big, blank, useless drawing.

The game definitely captures a sense of isolation, for there is virtually no audible dialogue. The ambience is created through irritating old time melodies and textual subtitles, sort of like watching a silent film. This makes it feel very lonely, but also kills the creep factor because everything talks to you…including inanimate objects. Not so spooky when they’re not actually speaking. There are also lots of pauses as the game title cards describe to you what’s going on, sort of like reading a storybook, which plays a big role in the fairy tale freakishness of the game.

Both tragic and terrifying, the highlight here is the creepy laughs that follow you as you travel and chase after fleeing children in shadowy corridors. You’ll also just run into children playing in areas where you can talk to them to get a little more fluff from the story (all as subtitles). While plenty of the children are harmless, there are also evil children that practically stepped right out of the corn. They sometimes wear bags on their heads, and they torture animals. Serious warning. There’s a lot of gruesome animal torture.

The most frightening “children” are the deformed ones that attack you, as well as ones that have rat, pig, and goat heads. Eek! You find sharp weapons to attack them, but the aiming is really wonky. You have to constantly readjust your body position. The goal is to score the steel pipe, which has the longest range and can take down multiple enemies with one swing. They will totally swarm you, at which point it’s just better to run by them. Good luck getting around them in narrow spaces as they leap on you and you have to shake them off by jiggling the thumbstick.

A bucket on sticks serves as the save point, and there are enough of them around to be comforting. You can also talk to the bucket on sticks to get clues on how to proceed. Weird thing is there are certain points in the game where you’ll just be asked if you want to save, and it’s always right before you wake up in a save room with a bucket on sticks.

Also in the save rooms are rubbish bins that serve as item boxes. The cool thing about this game is that you can simply “drop” an item anywhere and it will go into the bin. It’s a feature you need, because juggling inventory and knowing what you can drop into the rubbish bin is hard to figure out. You quickly fill up inventory and then can’t pick up other items. The game doesn’t even tell you what you’re trying to pick up…it just tells you to drop something first, so you won’t find out what the object is until you deal with the conundrum of relinquishing your hold on an item you might need. Important to note is that you will pick up storybooks along the way, but you don’t actually have to keep them in inventory—one slot is taken up by “files”…and all the storybooks are in there, too. Kind of ridiculous—they should all just go into a separate files tab like most games so you don’t have to manually store them.

Of course, the most important feature of the game is your dog companion Brown—who, despite his name, looks like a golden retriever (he knows I’m talking about him). You find him all tied and bound and hanging upside down. Fucked up, especially because you can’t save him immediately. You have to leave him there and go find scissors to cut him down.

Unlike Hewie in Haunting Ground, the good news is: a) there’s no friendly fire, so you can’t accidentally hurt Brown while fighting enemies, and b) you don’t have to train Brown, and the interactions are streamlined. “Go”, “stay”, and “come” are the basics, and you can love on him a little if he’s close. The most crucial role he plays is in finding items, which is a little weird but essential to playing the game. You have to select “find” on an object in inventory then tell Brown to “go”. You have to then follow him as he sniffs out a different object. You must do this constantly to progress. Be warned. If you’re in a battle with those little devil’s spawn while in the midst of tracking an item and you want Brown to attack them (which is actually just barking to temporarily distract them), you have to go into inventory and turn off the find request temporarily. Ugh.

You will occasionally encounter bosses. The horrible, clunky combat control, which often has you swinging and completely missing even though you’re right next to the enemy, makes them a chore that could leave you wanting to quit.

The first boss is kind of lame. He’s an old geek in a sort of catcher’s mask. But it’s very easy to get caught up in a loop of him hitting you. You must wait for his long swing and hit him from behind. In this and every boss battle, make sure to keep Brown out of the fight or you might have to heal him too—call him off to the side and tell him to stay. What’s the purpose of having a dog that can go vicious for you if you can’t have him tear into enemies?

Another section has no dedicate boss, but there are these weird cone shaped creatures with duck bills that just peck the fuck out of you. There are two ways to encounter them. First there’s a section of hallways and rooms, and there’s one particular room you need to find. The map is useless, and this is one instance when there’s nothing to let Brown find to get you there. If you go into any room other than that specific room, you get locked in and encounter a duck bill you have to fight in a cramped space, and there is nowhere to have Brown stay to be safe, so chances are he is going to die. The next time you meet duck bills, there are a swarm of them! You need to run past them with Brown in order to get an item you need on the other side of them…then run back through them again. Ugh.

The next boss is a damn mermaid that dangles from a rope and drops repeatedly from the ceiling, screaming her head off and spitting acid at you that you’re supposed to avoid. It also leaves puddles on the floor that you get stuck in temporarily. Fighting her takes forever, but you can leave Brown in one corner where he mostly stays safe.

There’s then a horrible section that requires you to go fight two of each kind of animal child to open the next door…so you have to run around the house looking for them while dodging regular deformed children enemies. One of the animal kids you have to kill is in a room with a bunch of other animal kids, so you have to fight all of them just to clear the room so you can actually figure out which one is the one you need to kill.

The final boss is an enslaved hulk of a man in his undies who crawls around and jumps you. You basically have to get behind him and hit him in the ass.

You won’t realize it, but when you fight him again immediately after, you’re given a gun. But to get the good ending, you’re not supposed to shoot him…you’re supposed to use the gun from your inventory when he kneels, which he does pretty soon…something you’d never know without using a walkthru.

There are plenty of instances when you will be left clueless. For instance, at one point you have to check a wardrobe closet three times to make the teddy bear on top fall off. You would never know to do this without a walkthrough, and it’s crucial because it triggers a scene that gets you out of a locked room. After doing that, you actually have to wait for someone to arrive to let you out! It takes so long you would think the game glitched without a walkthru to warn you that the wait is not short. During another mission that has you locating a power room to turn the lights back on while dodging pig men left and right, the find command suddenly isn’t totally accurate and there are times you should ignore where Brown wants to go and go another way! How would you ever know this without a walktrhu?

Just as the game is nearing the end, the programmers found an obnoxious way to extend the play time. It’s a tedious segment with annoying, whimsical music playing on an old record while you go from room to room trying to talk to children that ignore you and then throw notes at you.

Also important to point out is that the game is quite glitchy. For example, you walk through the dog, you get stuck on baddies while trying to run around them when they attack you, and if they fall to the ground and you run into them, you push them across the floor!

And finally, as melancholy and depressing as the themes are in this game, for me the most emotional aspect is how the dog is used and what he represents. For dog lovers, this game will have a much bigger impact than Haunting Ground.

About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES. I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at
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