Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle in Flesh


Developer-Publisher:   Sierra

Released:   1996

PC Requirements:   486-DX4, 12MB RAM, 10 -23 MB Hard Drive Space, CD-ROM drive, double speed or better, Win95, SVGA video card, Sound Blaster compatible, Mouse.



by Rick 36

Sheesh, the title says it all really.

Please excuse me if some of the following seems a little vague, however, it has been some years since I played this game and I have now traded it on. I do think I have managed to cover the basics, though if anyone has a better recollection of this game then I would certainly welcome any input.

The game is quite old now, at least 6 – 7+ years. Again I have no recollection of the minimum specifications, however, I played it on my 300 MHz, P3, W98 desktop without incident.

The first thing I have to say before we go any further is, if you are of a squeamish disposition and/or dislike overt and graphic scenes of homicidal and psychotic knife murders, disembowelment and S & M/Dominatrix then this is definitely not the game for you.

If however,........well let’s not go there shall we!

The above features are made worse by the fact that the game is nearly all FMV and not animated, though certain backgrounds and locations are animated, particularly towards the end of the game when you enter another dimension.

The general plot centers around a psychologically disturbed young man, about whom there is an increasing amount of murder, mayhem and mutilation as the game develops, though he has no recollection of any involvement in the gruesome acts when he awakens the next day. A lot of the action is seen through his dreams (but are they really dreams ???) and childhood flashbacks (particularly of his deranged mother committing suicide). Has anyone stopped reading this yet ? For the less feint hearted I shall continue.

Basically the hero (?) of the game, whose name I forget, is a young, disturbed individual who works as a researcher with a scientific corporation who have their grubby corporate hands in some pretty shady ‘goings-ons’. Murders start to happen and our young lead-man starts to descend into a state of manic psychosis and paranoid schizophrenia. Or does he ? Is he the architect of the gruesome events or merely a convenient scapegoat for the corporation or another evil and twisted individual close to him, who sees the opportunity to use the hero’s (?) condition to mask his own nefarious activities ?

This basically is the story, though there is a bit more to it, but as always, I do not like to give too much away, especially when the development of the story forms the entire basis for the game.

The story develops as you progress, solving puzzles and learning more about your background, the corporation and the individuals with whom you work.

The puzzles are reasonably easy to medium and range from a little inventory management to merely observing a certain clue to progress (a la ‘Bladerunner’). Some of the puzzles and subsequent progression are based around your computer skills and being able to access certain information on your PC and the shared network i.e.. getting into higher security classification files and managing to manipulate the security system to gain access into the company’s secured areas.

A lot of the gameplay and puzzling is through personal interaction with the many characters within the game (though the number of characters rapidly diminishes over time as they are brutally slain, disemboweled etc.). The first puzzle you are required to solve is to cajole your pet rat (yes, I said pet rat) to recover your wallet from behind the couch by bribing him with a Nutri-grain bar. I don’t know about you, but if I lose my wallet behind the couch my first thought usually isn’t to attempt to train my household pet to go and get it. Ordinarily I would employ the quicker and more effective method of moving the sofa and retrieving it myself. However, I gave the developers some latitude on this and opted to believe that they were just trying to get the player familiar with the type of puzzles that lay ahead and give them some training in inventory management.

The graphics are reasonable and for the most part are FMV, with the exception of a few backdrops (‘GK2: The Beast Within’ is perhaps the closest analogy I can think of off the top of my head – though GK is far superior, and has no animation). There is no panning and movement is achieved through ‘point-and-click’ to various 2D rendered locations (either FMV or animated) and on the whole movement is relatively slick. Sound is sufficient and in-keeping with the general theme of the game.

From what I have described above you might be surprised by my concluding remarks, namely that, to a certain extent, I quite enjoyed this game. I do think that the graphic nature of some of the scenes and events was totally unnecessary and frankly loathsome, and really showed an immature and artless quality of the direction and production of the game. However, the story intrigued me and I wanted to find out what was going on. The onus of suspicion shifted several times throughout the game and you were left thinking ‘Is it me, am I the psycho’ to often times believing it to be another individual or perhaps the corporation.

The ending I thought was also appropriate and I felt that it tied everything together. I have read a few reviews of this game in magazines and on web-sites and many of them despised the ending, but I actually thought it explained things quite well, though a little far-fetched.

On the whole this game was what I describe as more of an interactive story rather than a puzzling adventure game, where the story is desperately linear and is developed through finding out a particular scrap of information, or finding a particular inventory item or asking the appropriate question at the appropriate time in order to proceed, i.e. there really wasn’t much in the way of solving a decent puzzle or working out a decent dilemma (this was my chief complaint with the disappointing ‘Bladerunner’, I know this remark will cause some controversy as it is a well loved game, heck I enjoyed it myself, though I defy anyone to justify describing it is as more than just an interactive story).

Well this just about wraps up my spin on this particular game. I would certainly be interested in other people’s opinions as it is one of those games you either like or cannot stand. I personally enjoyed it, even with the rather crass and unnecessary gore.

FYI, the game comes on about 5 – 6 CD’s, I forget the exact number, fortunately there is not much CD swapping, certainly not on the level of the CD-ROM Cydonia I reviewed recently.

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