6 August 1999 | geekboy-10
Click here to be spooked
Roberta Williams' Phantasmagoria was widely hyped as "the scariest and most frightening computer game ever devised". Well, I have a thing or two to comment about the media's hype towards this game and Mrs Williams' alleged writing talent.
There is little to be said of the plot. Considering the sheer amount of gaping plot holes and lacking characterisation, it's easily apparent that the story took second place to the opportunity to show off some video effects.
Unfortunately, not even video effects can save this one. Doing an etheral horror movie on a computer game budget can only result in one thing: that the audience either walks off in disgust at the cheapness, or laughs their ass off.
The latter turned out to be my experience with this product, as Mrs Williams' horrible dialogue and no-brainer story unfolded before my eyes. You'll have to look closely to spot any originality -- perhaps Mrs Williams was a little *too* inspired by such classics as The Shining and the CD-ROM classic The 7th Guest. Both the haunted mansion theme and the recurring spook images are nothing new, and are certainly not revitalized in this story.
Another gripe I have with the game is the length of it. While it comes on 7 CD's, there is little to be done in any of the locations of the game, save for clicking on a few hotspots and being "rewarded" with robot sequences of Adrienne opening various things or testing out furniture. It is not until late in the game that the "rewards" actually begin to be able to live up to what the game box states--mainly by providing actual FMV sequences of Carno's wives being murdered. But even here, the design team skimped out by providing the movies in low-key quality, obscuring much of the gory detail--which, be fair, is necessary in a horror product. (The same problem afflicted a similar title, Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within, where not only were the FMV sequences in low resolution, but the option to turn off the alternate scan lines was also missing.) Interactivity seemingly wasn't the order of the day, and I would estimate that any experienced adventure game player could play the game from start to finish within a time span of a couple of hours. I realize Mrs Williams intended the game to be accessible to adventure game newbies--but, honestly, if she was targeting newbies (who mainly occupy the adolescent age group), why go for the horror genre?
It is not until you pop in the final CD that the game actually lets up and starts going a little wild. There is one scene in particular, during the chase scene, in which Adrienne's flesh is shown being ripped off her skull. (Incidentally, the manual writers thought it prudent to mention in the readme file that Adrienne was going to be chased by Don in the 7th chapter--giving away a major plot point beforehand. Hello?)
If anything, Phantasmagoria is good for a few laughs. If you're spooked by this game, then may I suggest you stick with Williams' more famous line of games, the King's Quest series? At least in this series, she doesn't need writing talents.