Return of the Phantom

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a game by MPS Labs
Platform: PC (1993)
User Rating: 9.0/10 - 2 votes
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See also: Visual Novel, Old School Games, Cult Classic Games

Question: Why is it that suddenly everyone is doing games based on late Victorian horror and mystery stories? Answer: No idea... apart from the obvious answer that people seem to want to buy them. The hype surrounding the film Dracula, and the run away success of Alone in the Dark, obviously have something to do with this but were they the cause or symptom of this new interest in the darker world beyond our understanding? Who knows and. frankly, who cares? Let's leave the speculation for the feature writers and turn our attention to the game.

MicroProse have already had one foray into the world of mystery with The Legacy. Now they're at it again with Return Of The Phantom. Not that Phantom should in anyway be connected with The Legacy, in game style it's much closer to Rex Nebular. The game starts out in the present day in the Paris Opera during the premiere of Don Juan Triumphant, the opera that had been written by the Phantom himself a century before. Unfortunately. Opera lovers' enjoyment of the evening's performance is somewhat reduced by a large chandelier falling on their heads. This sort of thing is not good for publicity - though it does wonders for a hang over - but. fortunately for the management, that starleading light of the Surete. Inspector Raoul Montaud. happens to be present. Isn't it lucky that, whenever there's some catastrophe, a leading detective just happens to be around? Bit of a bind for them though. I guess.

The gallant Gaul (and I don't mean Asterix) is soon on the trail of the mysterious Phantom of the Opera whose love for Christine, one of the stars of the Opera, has tortured him for a century. Mind you it's not been a bundle of laughs for her either, being kidnapped, carried off to the catacombs and forced to listen to the Phantom's interminable singing. 'Listen darling, this is one Andrew wrote for me. He thinks it'll be a hit. He got that nice Mr Stilgoe. who used to sing funny songs on Nationwide, to do the words for him.'

Inspector Montaud's attempts to uncover the mystery surrounding the 'accident' not only lead him into the heart of the theatre but also back in time itself. You see. it all gets rather complicated and I don't want to spoil it by giving away too much of the plot. Let's just say that events in the present are mirroring events in the past (rather like in Eastern Europe really) and are being influenced by them. So to go forwards the good detective must go backwards. Oh yes. there's more to police work than just filling in forms.

The magic of the theatre

Some of the best graphics around at the moment can be found in the world of the graphic adventure, probably because these games rely heavily on drawing you into a story. MicroProse are aiming to beat the current high standards with Phantom. All the gloomy back stage scenes and the glitter and glitz of the front of house are beautifully captured. And on the version I saw it all scrolled pretty smoothly too. Unlike Rex Nebular, the sprites in Phantom are scaled so that the leedle man over there becomes a bigger man as he walks towards you. rather than either looking like a midget in the foreground or a giant in the background. It's these little touches, folks, that make games more realistic.

Obviously no game could be set in an Opera House and not contain a bunch of stuff-shirted Etonians called Rupert having loud conversations about 'rugger' in the bar at the interval. Sorry I'll read that again. Obviously no game could be set in an Opera House and not have some pretty impressive music. Once again Phantom seems to be getting along very nicely in this department. One of the disadvantages of a magazine preview is that you can't hear the music. However if I tell you that one piece goes: 'Da-de-da-da-dim-diddley-dah'. and there's another bit which has a 'Dum-do-de-dum-do-de-dum-dum-de-do' section. I think you'll get some idea.

It's rude to point

The Gallic detective may be new to the world of back stage shenanigans but we are all familiar with the world of point and click adventures which form the core of Phantom. MicroProse have used their mads system which has little to do with 'Mutually Assured Destruction' (now there's a blast from the past, if you pardon the pun) and a lot to do with MicroProse Adventure Development System which is 'An intuitive interface allowing you to control specific actions of the character'.

Despite being set in only one location there's no shortage of things to do. The Opera House itself not only exists in two time zones, it also has a maze of catacombs to be explored before the Phantom is finally tracked to his lair. The response of the various characters you interview will vary depending on who you've seen and what you've done beforehand. Many characters will have to be interviewed on more than one occasion before the whole truth is finally wheedled out of them, which is true of most real life police work.

One of the other features of the system used in Phantom is that the player is able to use an advanced user set-up screen to customise various aspects of the game. This, combined with the promised wide range of skill levels, means that even I might get further than the first screen. Yes I know it sounds incredible, but stranger things have happened. Tune in next month to find out.

Dramatis Personae

Erik - The Phantom Of The Opera

The villain of the piece did not exactly get the best start in life. Born with a hideously deformed face his parents made matters worse by christening him Erik. With a name like that there was little he could do with his life except become Norwegian. Erik refused to accept this terrible fate and wandered through Persia learning many ancient skills (the architecture of traps and mazes and how to do potato prints without smudging the paint). He used these skills, well the architectural ones at least, when he returned to France and got the job of designing the foundations of the Paris Opera House. Within these foundations he lurked, composing opera and falling in love with Christine Daae.

Christine Daae

Of Scandinavian origin, (and hence likely to be attracted to a man called Erik) Christine had come to Paris to sing in the Opera. Like all great artistes she had about as much common sense as a tin of tuna and allowed herself to be convinced that the Phantom was the Angel Of Music that her dead father had promised would guide her career. The fact that he was using all his powers to get her the prima donna's role in the next production probably went some way to helping her gullibility. However Christine had a lover and he was not called Erik. (Don't you just love these stories?)

Inspector Raoul Montaud

Our modern day hero. A man who can solve a murder over a pre-dinner Pastis and round up all the criminals before the cheese course. (Mind you, have you seen how long it takes the French to get through a meal?) However with the Opera case even this latter day Maigret might have bitten off more than he can chew. Is his presence in the theatre entirely fortuitous or his he somehow too caught up in his own past? What a story - someone should make a musical out of it.

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System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

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