Saturday, January 08, 2011

Review: Phantasmogaria (PC)

Phantasmagoria was released in 1995 for the PC and developed by Sierra On-Line. Roberta Williams was responsible for game design and story. The game is a third person FMV based point and click adventure game, similar to Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within released by the same company the same year. In the game the player takes control of Adrienne Delaney, who together with her husband Donald Gordon, just moved into an old mansion previously owned by a famous 19th-century magician, who meddled around with occult magic rituals and unleashed a demon in the process.

The game doesn't start out with any direct objective or task for the player to solve, instead Adrienne basically just explores the house and its surrounding and thus slovly uncoveres the houses backstory and the story behind its previous owner. The games progress is heavily driven by its story and FMV sequences that slowly unravels as you interact with objects in the house or othe characters. Puzzles play only a very minor role in this game, so much that they are almost non-existant. The biggest difficulty in the game is generally finding the person or object that moves the story forward. Missing something important can happen at times as the house is rather large and navigation through it can be a bit troublesome at times as the game violates the 180° rule in almost every room. The game however does provide a build in hint system in the form of a skull in the bottom left corner of the screen that will tell you where you have to go next, so that endless searches throughout the same rooms can generally be avoided.

Mechanically the game uses a simple one-click interface for interaction with the environment, a traditional inventory is also provided and objects in the inventory can also be viewed up close in a 360° view that allows interaction with the object up close, but that ability is only really needed in two points in whole the game. Dialog trees are not provided and interaction between characters will follow a linear script. Interacting with a character multiple times in a row can often provide additional information. While the game is presented out of a classical third person view, the ability to freely walk around isn't provided, instead the character will stand on a fixed spot and only start walking when interacting with an object and in those cases you only really take a single step before the camera cuts away to a FMV closeup of the object interaction.

Graphically this game is a weird mix. All the backgrounds are completly computer generated with only the main actors being real and filmed in front of a bluescreen. This is quite unlike Gabriel Knight 2 which used either real sets or photos for backgrounds. However while the 3D background graphics certainly show their age, they still do a good job in helping setting up the atmosphere.

The savegame system in Phantasmagoria is a bit messed up. Instead allowing you multiple savegames, the game limits you to a single one. This makes going back to earlier chapters impossible, unless you kept a copy of an earlier save. You can however create multiple profiles, so that multiple people can play the game.

Overall I found Phantasmagoria to be an enjoyable horror adventure game, that however was rather short. On a regular first playthrough the game only takes a little over six hours to complete and while the story that you unravel is certainly interesting, it never really lives up to its potential as it comes to the finale far to quickly instead of getting more involved with the side characters. I also found that the game really overdid it a bit with its blood and gore, while the main game itself is very harmless, mostly involving just casual exploration of the mansion and the nearby town with a few rare and mild jump scares mixed in, the flashbacks to the magican and later murders in the game are really rather gruesome.

The last chapter of the game diverts a bit from the regular exploration, as it involves a lot of time based chase sequences and thus a lot of untimely deaths. The game however does give a you checkpoint at basically every step of the way, so the frustration never becomes to much and the hint guide will still provide some tips. I however would have liked a little more logic in the puzzles in that section, as it is often impossible to tell what will kill you and what won't until after you tried it. On the positve side of things however the chase seuqence is quite spectacular to watch and does a good job at creating urgency with the new much more nervose idle animations. Those that expect a happy end should however be warned, this game doesn't really provide one.

Compared to Gabriel Knight 2 Phantasmagoria comes out short in almost every way, while the FMV charm is still there, the story is less complex, the puzzles less interesting and overall its just less of game. However that said, while it lasts, Phantasmagoria is a good amount of fun and exploring a hunted house is definitively interesting. The game doesn't really have any big faults other then the lack of complexity and length.

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