Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh
Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh is the second in the popular series of horror-related games by Sierra. This "sequel" of sorts doesn't have any relation to its predecessor beyond the title and genre. The stories differ greatly, and this game has completely different characters than the first.
In Phantasmagoria 2, you are Curtis Craig, a normal guy with a steady girlfriend and a cramped apartment, and, oh yeah, a slight history of mental problems. Throughout the game, you will need to work on your relationships and resolve your mental issues by interacting with your coworkers and your pet rat, Blob. You'll also have the help of your psychiatrist, Dr. Harburg. If you're good enough at working through your problems, you may come face to face with the strange force that created the schizophrenic man you've become.
You'll play Phantasmagoria 2 mostly from the third-person perspective, watching videos of Curtis as you help him to interact with his surroundings. The typical point-and-click controls are easy to learn and use, and any items you'll need to manipulate will be highlighted for you. The one and only place where the controls were not intuitive -- and it was a problem -- was in the final chapter, when I had to right-click on a certain area to proceed (and you never use the right-click feature anywhere else in the game). Eventually, I mistakenly right-clicked and got through the "trap." But Sierra should have given me a better clue earlier on that I might need to click the right mouse button on some game objects. The best control feature was the "instant resurrection:" in certain tricky spots, you'll have the option to try the scene again without reloading your saved game.
The puzzles in Phantasmagoria 2 weren't, for the most part, really puzzles, but seemed more like tasks with video rewards. Some of these tasks were tedious, and a great many were also fairly obvious. In most cases, you know what you're trying to do, and you just need to figure out the sequence of events that will get you through the task at hand. For example, you need the wallet from under the sofa ... you have a granola bar and Blob, your rat friend. Hmmm. Maybe if I throw Blob under the sofa, he'll grab the wallet and I can tempt him with the food to get him to bring it to me. This is okay, but why can't I move the sofa or crouch down to get the wallet? This is one problem with the gameplay; there are many such tasks that have only one solution, and it isn't always what common sense might dictate.
While most of the game's storyline flowed pretty well (for a story centered around a schizophrenic), there were times when I said to myself, "Huh?" The worst of these times concerned the ending sequence that seemed to come out of left field. I won't give away the story's conclusion, but suffice it to say that I didn't expect what happened, and it only made a tiny bit of sense upon reflection. But also, there were so many hallucination scenes, dream sequences and flashbacks that I never really knew where I was or what was happening in the big picture of the storyline. I just kept clicking, hoping that clarity would eventually form out of the chaos.
The majority of the story is told through the use of videos that you watch (and don't interact with). Usually, these videos will be the "reward" for a correctly-performed sequence of events or the correct solution to a puzzle. I was able to skip through videos I had already seen and also replay any videos I missed by using the nice video playback feature.
I found the video quality to be slightly grainy at times, but otherwise fine. One disappointment was the blackout that occasionally happened while a video was loading. It kind of pulled me out of the game when my screen went black and I lost touch with the action. One thing I liked, though, was that the still scenes usually had some kind of motion going on. For instance, when talking to Dr. Harburg, she would now and then straighten her hair, adding to the realism of the scene. The acting itself was well done overall, but occasionally bordered on the melodramatic.
The sound effects in Phantasmagoria 2 were well recorded and added realism to the scenes: the water cooler bubbled, the telephone rang, the computer beeped when I got new e-mail. Everything you would expect, but it's funny how many games leave out the little things that make for a believable environment. The music fit in nicely, but never got in the way. Usually it enhanced the feel of different areas: e.g. in the S&M bar the music was loud and rowdy, while in the restaurant it was more subdued.
The CD booklet explains game controls, options and some strategies, but no story is mentioned and nothing else of real value presents itself (unless you need tech support). I would have liked at least a rundown of the characters and a short background on Curtis.
This is a graphically violent game. It is suggested for ages seventeen and older and includes an option for "less intensity," where you can make the real gore only accessible by password. Still, though, it's violent; much of the violence is shown during hallucinations or dreams, and therefore seems slightly less real than it would otherwise. Many of the violent scenes seem to have been added for pure shock value alone, having little to do with the game action or story.
486 DX4-100, 12 MB RAM, SVGA video card, 16 MB hard drive space, sound card with DAC, 4X CD-ROM drive, Windows 95, mouse
Recommended P-75, 16 MB RAM
Reviewed on: P-120, 16 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM drive, Diamond Stealth 64 video card
Overall, Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh was an entertaining game, although not one of the more challenging. I would recommend it only to those with a strong stomach, a love of the macabre, and some time to kill -- but it might not be enough of a "game" for the experienced gamer.