Good Old Reviews: Phantasmagoria

Good Old Reviews: Phantasmagoria

phantasmagoria box art

Good Old Reviews first month of staff picks opens with the FMV adventure classic Phantasmagoria.

My first experience with Roberta "King's Quest" Williams' Phantasmagoria (available on Good Old Games for $9.99) was when I was just eight years old while visiting a relative in Canada. Because my parents are either terrible or amazing, they let me watch my older brother and mother play through a game that was deemed so horrific, violent, and terrifying, that it was banned from sale in my home country of Australia.

My brother managed to smuggle a copy of it home, and though I tried countless times to play it by myself, whenever one of the game's gore-tastic horror scenes came on, I alt-f4'd and dove straight under the covers of my bed. Now, thanks to GoG, I've been given a second chance to conquer my fears and redeem myself.

In Phantasmagoria, you play as fiction writer Adrienne, whose husband, Don, purchases a mansion previously belonging to Zoltan Carnovasch - an 18th century magician. Zoltan was no David Copperfield. Rather than sleight-of-hand, he dabbled in the dark arts to make his illusions more realistic. As tends to happen, he accidentally summoned, and was subsequently possessed by, a murderous demon, went on a rampage and was eventually killed for his trouble.

Of course, one of the first things Adrienne does upon moving into her new home is to accidentally release the now sealed-up demon, who promptly possess Don. She then has to solve the mystery and find a way to stop the demon before she becomes just another "gruesomely murdered wife".

Phantasmagoria is probably best known for its heavy use of full-motion videos; so extensive that they give the game a whopping 2.15 gig file size. The videos helped breathe life into its world back in 1995 and they still do a pretty amicable job in 2014. The writing, however, is pretty atrocious and the acting, though much in line with many full-feature 90s movies, is spectacularly hammy. Even if they aren't technically perfect however, the FMVs arguably fit in adventure games like this better than they would anywhere else thanks to the genre's scales being tilted less toward gameplay and more toward exploration and atmosphere. Sadly, Phantasmagoria's not really scary anymore -the scenes that gave me nightmares in my youth merely made me chuckle as an adult- but fans will still likely be able to enjoy the FMVs fondly.

Where it sadly falters is in the process of being an actual, decent adventure game. All of the important items are incredibly obvious, most of the combinations are super easy to figure out, and veterans of the genre should be able to breeze through the entire game in just a few hours. What's more, when you get to the end, the conclusion is so incredibly unsatisfying that no one would blame you if you thought you made a mistake or missed some vital item or action at some point. Turns out, nope, it's just a really bad ending. As the game's official in-game hint keeper so eloquently puts it: "Sometimes life's a bummer, isn't it?"

So what does the game actually have going for it despite its cheesy FMVs? While I do admit that the dialogue is pretty cringe-worthy, the whole overarching story and premise is quite interesting. The way the mystery unravels as you explore the haunted mansion is still fantastic and, even though I blazed through it, I didn't want to stop until I was done. The music is also spooky and eerie, and does a great job of building atmosphere. The game, as whole, isn't perfect, but it's still fun and engaging, which, in the end, is probably the most important goal of a video game.

In the end, Phantasmagoria is probably less of a game and more of an interactive movie. It's fun, but it's way too easy, not very scary, and has a largely unsatisfying ending. Roberta Williams is a great writer, and an amazing game designer, but I feel like with Phantasmagoria, she was just way too eager to show off her four million dollar budget with fancy FMVs, rather than build a proper adventure game. It was a gamble that, at the time, made the game look very cutting edge and graphically impressive, but today, just looks dated and tacky. For ten bucks though, it's a decent cheap thrill, and if you played it back when it was "cutting edge," the nostalgia will be worth it.

Staff Picks February continues next week with the illustrious Andy Chalk's take on Ultima Underworld.

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personally i liked the ending. it definitely wasnt positive and was more a case of the character surviving and from the look on her face you can tell shes going to end up in a psych hospital or something staring at a wall for the next 20 years after what happened.

haha and i also remember the barking dog bit used to drive my dog nuters when he heard it

The game isn't bad and you can see the effort put into it. I mean it doesn't have the LEGENDARILY HILARIOUS AWFULNESS of is sequel, but it is definitely worth checking out. The sequel should be checked out as well for that reason.

I also remember this game in the mid 90's. I also thought the game was super creepy back then as well. I redownloaded the game years back to actually finish it....stopped right at the end and never "got around to it". I may pick this up if they lowered the price down to maybe $1.99 or something. $9.99 just seems a little overpriced for an old adventure game like this.

XenoScifi:
I also remember this game in the mid 90's. I also thought the game was super creepy back then as well. I redownloaded the game years back to actually finish it....stopped right at the end and never "got around to it". I may pick this up if they lowered the price down to maybe $1.99 or something. $9.99 just seems a little overpriced for an old adventure game like this.

The Phantasmagoria pack and the Gabriel Knight trilogy are frequently bundled on sale for $7 during Winter, Summer and Halloween sales.

I was given The 7th Guest as a kid back in those FMV PC days. I played that game a bit but it always creeped me out so I couldn't finish it. Afterward I ended up acquiring a copy of Phantasmagoria by way of a friend. I didn't think it was nearly as good a game as T7G was, nor as creepy. Even today I have a copy of T7G and it still holds up in its creepy aspect IMO.

A friend of mine had this game when it first came out. I remember being jealous of him having a computer that could run it (we're talking "back in the yonder days" of PC power, of course).

I've often felt an urge to seek it out over the years. I remember my friend running through the finale for me so I know about the "bummer ending". I understand why folks feel that way but for me--at least back then--it worked.

I might look it up as I never had a chance to play it myself and the nostalgia factor leaves me inclined towards being forgiving of its faults.

The best thing to come out of Phantasmagoria was the Spoony One's Phantasmagoria 2 Let's Play. That was definitely a lot more entertaining than the actual games

MAN!! This was one of those few games that freaked me the hell out when I was younger.

I remember this game, I played through it when I was 14. It came free with something, a CD-ROM drive I think (back then they were very expensive and came with a bunch of software). I personally don't have many positive memories. The story is full of cliches, the acting is SOOOOOOO BAD, the "game" element essentially does not exist. By the time I got to the end I was rooting for the demon, I was so disappointed when it didn't win. I think every other game Roberta Williams made was better, I remember Kings Quest IV fondly.

It's games like this that killed the adventure game genre, a game in name only Phantasmagoria should be judged as a movie more than anything else. Poorly acted, badly written, overlong, boring and in no way scary. Seriously, this did not scare 14 year old me even slightly.

Aiddon:
The best thing to come out of Phantasmagoria was the Spoony One's Phantasmagoria 2 Let's Play. That was definitely a lot more entertaining than the actual games

Pretty much my opinion.

I mean, I even read the title of this review in Spoony's voice.

"And for those of you following along at home, my favorite word is ~PHANTASMAGORIA~!"

I know it's the wrong game and Spoony actually did the sequel, but damnit, but I still laughed.

Do the sequel, Phantasmagoria 2: A puzzle Of Flesh!

People should check out Giant Bomb's playthrough of this game. One of the funniest LPs I've seen. Only problem though is that it's behind a subscription paywall.

As far as the game itself goes - the problem I have with point-and-clicks is that once I've watched the LP, I don't see the point of playing the game. I've experienced the best portions of the game without having to go through the terrible gameplay.

Sheesh.....I still have the small book of CDs that this game came on. I got it brand new back in the day. I used to play it with a fiend of mine. I seem to recall it taking us quite a while to figure it all out. We were blown away by this game. I have no doubts that it hasn't aged well and swapping out the 10 or so discs would get super annoying. Still, I'll always have the memories of the messed up dream I had the same night of beating the game. Ahhh.......so messed up.

 

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