Now that’s a scary game title.
If the fun of exploring a Haunted House has been dead in Hollywood, it walks the earth again in Sierra On-Line’s Phantasmagoria. The results are creepy fun at the bleeding edge of gaming.
Adrienne and Don have just moved into the old house they bought in a New England village. You assume the role of Adrienne as she explores the house and its surroundings, uncovering a dark past that haunts the present and threatens to destroy the house’s inhabitants over the next few days. Your challenge is to unravel the evil around you in time to save yourself and maybe those you care about.
It’s a compelling story, beautifully rendered in a computer-generated world that includes the house and its surrounding grounds plus a neighboring village of shops and inhabitants. The house is awesome – Sierra did a top-notch job here. Characters are well-executed (in more ways than one…) via live video clips superimposed onto that world; Adrienne patiently lingers in any room, waiting for your mouse-click to direct her to investigate something or go somewhere. Some actions and encounters drop the game into movie sequences to advance the plotline of the house’s history and the characters’ fates.
Like the characters themselves, the house itself changes from day to day, so that Phantasmagoria takes 7 CDs (sequential “chapters”) to tell its tale. This changing gamespace trades ever-expanding discovery for pointless distraction during puzzle-solving: it’s easy to spend a lot of time following dead ends, and at times you’ll wish you had a spirit guide to stop you from wandering around like a zombie and get you back to the living story. Luckily, Sierra provides the “Hintkeeper”, a talking skull who can do just that. Still, the indirected gameplay dilutes the creepiness of Adrienne’s adventures in the house.
Let’s get to the real point: is it scary? Yes. Phantasmagoria comes through with chills ranging from campy to Camp Crystal Lake. The first half spices up the creepy plotline with a few “gotcha” scares. With sundown, the story and the gory come together in R-rated solutions to some of the house’s mysteries, setting the stage for the spectacular do-or-die finale.
In the end, Chapter 7 catapults you into a real-time “movie” mode, where your split-second decisions carry life-or-death consequences. Here’s where the game makes up for its earlier aimlessness, as Phantasmagoria‘s story, video, terrific sound & music, slick gameplay and creative plot threads mesh to deliver a taut climax rivaling any horror movie for squeamish fun. It’s too bad all games – or all of Phantasmagoria – can’t be this engaging. Until that time, Phantasmagoria delivers a good time for fans of the macabre.