Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh
DOS - 1996
Also released on: Windows
Description of Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh
As far as horror fiction goes, there's a lot of good stuff; Ramsey Campbell, Stephen King, Richard Laymon, and Dean Koontz, four of the best horror writers around. There's also a lot of good horror movies around; Night of the Living Dead, Phantasm, Hellraiser.. I could go on for ages. Unfortunately, there's just as much, if not more, mediocre stuff about. Let's face it, you could knock up a plot on the spot. Just chuck in two or more of the following; a haunted house, demonic possession, an ancient indian burial ground, a masked psychopath, and hey presto, instant shlock horror. So was expecting the usual dial-a-plot stuff from Sierra's latest adventure, Phantasmagoria II: A Puzzle of Flesh. What I actually got was somthing that was genuinely chilling, and very very scary indeed.
In Phantasmagoria 2 you play Curtis, an ordinary everyday joe. Ordinary that is, until his past comes back to haunt him... big time. Before Curtis got his job at Wyntech, a research and development company, he spent some time in a asylum; something to do with childhood trauma. But he's alright now. Isn't he? Maybe not, because odd things start happening to him. He starts hearing voices, and seeing things. And then things get really nasty; a colleague is murdered in a particularly gory fashion, and Curtis becomes the prime suspect. And if that wasn't enough, he has to cope with the attentions of both his girlfriend and Teresa, his S+M loving colleague. Then things get really complicated.
It's up to you find out the truth, over the space of five CDs, one for each day. You'll need to gather information about what is really going on a Wytech, and keep Curtis alive long enough to get to the bottom of things. Fortunately, there is a 'quick resurrect' option should you manage to splatter his gibs everywhere. Each day you'll need to complete a number of puzzles in order to progress to the next day; these range from simple things like finding Curtis's wallet, to managing to break into a guarded basement. Things aren't easy, but on the other hand, they're nowhere near as illogical as in Leisure Suit Larry 7, one of Sierra's other adventuring titles. You'll have to be very observant, if you want to progress; one of the passwords to a computer is hidden in the MD's office; if you can spot it.
Phant 2 is one of those games that uses copious amounts of Full Motion Video to chronicle important events in the game. In fact, when you do almost anything, you get a video clip, showing the results of that action; be it hacking into a computer, or triggering a hallucination. Fortunately, the acting is of a very high standard; amongst all the characters, I couldn't spot a single piece of dodgy acting. And Sierra have also taken the 'proper set' approach, rather than the blue screen approach, which sometimes looks a bit dodgy. This means that all the characters are filled on real sets, rather than just standing them in front of a blue screen, and adding computer generated scenery, and it shows. The production quality is comparable to the likes of the X-Files, and the storyline is easily worthy of an X-Files episode. The truth is a real shocker. And while this is definitely an adult game, the gore isn't really excessive, as it was in Harvester.
But I do have a problem with the game. Sometimes, the game's linearity lets it down. You can't actually change the change of events at all; no matter how many times you play, Curtis will always end up doing the same things; you also can't choose what you say to the characters. There's no way of turning down either Curtis's girlfriend, or Miss S+M. In comparison to this, Access's The Pandora Directive let you influence the storyline; it was up to you whether you managed to save the girl or not, and how you treated people directly affected the ways events progressed. In Phant 2 however, I felt more like a passenger than a participant.
Also, you aren't always given any real clue as to what you're supposed to be doing. The day only ends when you've performed a certain number of actions, and on the first couple of days at least, you could end up trying to find that one action that will let you finish that day. Furthermore, you can't complete the tasks in any order, as you can in Discworld or The Pandora Directive. On one day, if you try to visit your psychiatrist, you are told your appointment isn't till 5:30. What this really means is, you've missed some piddling little trigger, preventing you from continuing.
If you can put up with the aforementioned frustration, you'll find a deeply compelling and very scary adventure game. Personally, I thought it was a little to linear for my tastes, but you might considering giving this a go. Just don't say I didn't warn you.
Review By GamesDomain
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Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh was also released on the following systems: