Occasionally here at Player2.net.au we will play something that deserves your attention but probably doesn’t need a full review written for it. Be it DLC for the latest AAA title, a little indie game or even an Android/iOS title. We play these titles for the same length as the average blockbuster movie (about 2 hours) and report back to you the reader on what we found. So grab your popcorn and settle in for the latest episode of Blockbuster Gaming.
Blockbuster Gaming – Phantasmal
Have you heard of Kowloon Walled City? It was a densely populated, largely lawless city in Hong Kong that was the antithesis of “urban sprawl”. I first learned of it in primary school when I saw a documentary about the mass eviction of the residents living there – one of the claims the show made was that the city was so compressed that there were children living there that had never seen sunlight.
Sounds like a good setting for a horror game, no?
New Zealand studio Eyemobi thought so too. Their procedurally generated, survival horror game Phantasmal, out now on Steam Early Access, has had a change of scenery from a college late at night to the claustrophobic, vaguely dystopian maze of pre-eviction Kowloon.
With a setting like this and influences ranging from Lovecraft to Silent Hill, Phantasmal sounds like it is destined for great things. And it certainly has a lot of potential: players can be stealthy or melee their way through levels; there is equal emphasis on physical and mental health, meaning enemies can not only hurt you with attacks, just seeing them can negatively affect you; and if you take too long hiding in the shadows, you run the risk of awakening “The Sleeper”, an unstoppable, tentacled enemy who wants nothing more than to give you a big ol’ squeeze.
I always started the level with a gun, which, while comforting at first, soon proved to be a blessing and a burden. Shooting at enemies would take them out quickly but often summoned their buddies from deeper within the level and I spent a lot of time hiding in shadowy corners with my head between my knees. Bullets are also in short supply so I would inevitably find myself scrounging for melee weapons, such as planks of wood ripped off the wall.
Stealth was my preferred method of play, though this often left me crouched and awkwardly waddling through levels. There is also lot of emphasis on perception in Phantasmal: simulated motion blur can make quick movements difficult; light at the edge of your vision will separate into vivid shades of colour; your sight will warp as your panic levels rise. These visual effects are often used to great success but also quite trying on the eyes – I found I could only handle a couple of runs per session.
While the core game is intact and playable, a lot of the detail is still very rough or missing completely. Despite the procedural nature of the game, there will be an encompassing story, very little of which is apparent now. And while I only ever saw two different enemies on my playthroughs, a greater variety of both they and environments will be available upon launch. Enemy AI is also on the agenda for improvement, meaning the occasional mood breaking monster who can’t stop walking into walls and getting stuck will likely soon be gone.
Phantasmal is currently $14.99 and will remain that price whilst in Early Access (estimated to be the next 3-6 months). If fighting otherworldly monsters and riding a constant wave of adrenalin sounds like your thing, you’d do well by getting in on the ground floor.