Publisher: Eyemobi Ltd.
Genre: Horror, Roguelike
The horror genre is going through a transition. The things that used to scare us are no longer keeping us awake, but rather putting us to sleep with the same tired, repeated method that may make money but does nothing for the experience. Alternatively, you have filmmakers and game designers who sometimes like to break away from the mold and give us new experience. Movies like Paranormal Activity and games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent brought something new to the table, but were quickly associated with subpar copycats. Then there are games that try to break out of the conventional standard that comes with horror by taking a familiar formula and adding their twist to the mix. This is where Phantasmal comes in.
Phantasmal is set in Kowloon Walled City, the crime-ridden, ungoverned settlement of Hong Kong, China, weeks before its demolition in 1993. With the city evacuated and ready for destruction, the only things left within are empty buildings and the creatures that have emerged from the darkness. In this procedurally generated thriller, your objective is to find your acquaintance Jackie and escape the building that you are in by finding the elevator on each floor (six floors in total) before you lose your mind or are killed by the creatures lurking on each floor.
Phantasmal is an early access game, so as of right now there is one set story, but Eyemobi Ltd. has plans to augment the story by adding new pieces and clues to unlock with each playthrough. If you add that to the procedurally generated level design, it gives Phantasmal high replayability.
There are a couple of things to look out for in Phantasmal. This is a horror game, so there are some disturbing images and creatures. These range from ghoul-like creatures with long tongues to living shadows that walk the halls to invisible demons with red eyes that only appear when you are facing them. This is definitely not one to play around small children.
There’s also a creature called the Sleeper, a Lovecraft-style monster with long tentacles that will kill you if you make too much noise. You cannot kill the Sleeper or run away from it, so once you see it coming, it’s game over. There’s not a lot of blood in Phantasmal, but when your character gets attacked or dies, blood splatters onto the screen for a short amount of time. However, that does not mean that there is not a fair amount of violence. Almost every creature in the game can be killed.
In the top right corner of your screen, your health is displayed as a circle around a star making a pentagram. There are no other real references to Paganism that I could find, so this could be coincidental. Either way, this is something to look out for if that makes you uncomfortable.
Phantasmal features your standard control scheme, using WASD to move, the mouse to look around, and E to interact. You are given flares and a flashlight that you can use to find your way in dark areas, but most creatures are attracted to light, so if you use them too much, you will be caught and swarmed.
You are given a handgun and a melee weapon at the start of the game and can find different types of armaments throughout each level like shotguns, metal pipes, and machine guns, so if you decide to fight your way out of the floor you are on, it is not recommended, but still possible). Stealth is not required in Phantasmal, but it is highly encouraged. For fun, I tried beating the game guns blazing, but I could not get past the first floor. If you keep quiet, use your flashlight sparingly, and fight only when it is absolutely necessary, you will find that you will last a lot longer.
There is no save function, so if you die on the sixth floor, you have to start all the way back at the beginning. This can be frustrating at times, but it also coincides with Eyemobi’s vision for the game. These roguelike elements add a level of unpredictability so the experience will be different with each new run through.
The difficulty level for each floor stays pretty consistent with each floor until you get to the ending floors. On floors five and six, the difficulty level seems to jump to a fairly high degree, making those last moments in game a bit of a struggle, but ultimately it makes the sense of accomplishment that much sweeter when you reach that final elevator.
Phantasmal is not a bad looking game, but it’s not the best looking horror game either. There were some issues with some creatures clipping through walls and my character holding objects a little awkwardly, but this is an early access game so the developers are still working on updates and bug fixes. The environment leaves more to be desired, as almost every floor had the same texture and design. Each floor is randomized, so a hallway may be new or your path to the elevator may be different, but there is still a lot of the same thing happening over and over again. The concept of insanity is featured in game, but it does not seem to influence much. Your screen will stretch out and distort making it hard to see, but it does not last long and is really only an important part of the game if you are being chased or attacked.
The sound adds a whole new level to the presentation. There is not a lot of music necessarily, but the sound effects are superb. Each creature has its own signature sound, ranging from screeches to whispers. If you wake up The Sleeper, you will hear a foreboding musical score that seems to start from a completely opposite side of your current floor and eventually gets louder as it approaches.
Eyemobi Ltd. is attempting something with Phantasmal that you do not see every day in horror. It takes a familiar formula that we have seen plenty of times in the horror genre and added roguelike elements like randomized level design making the whole experience different each time you play it. This keeps each play through new and fresh as you explore the corrupted dwellings of Kowloon Walled City. Ultimately, Phantasmal is a lot of fun and I am looking forward to seeing what Eyemobi has in store for the future.
The Bottom Line
Phantasmal is a fun and tense experience that will leave you looking over your shoulder for many nights afterwards. Be sure to keep an eye out for more expansions and bug fixes in the future.