Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Review: Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh

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phan2_boxAlso Known As: Phantasmagoria 2, Phantasmagoria II: Fatal Obsessions (European title)
Platform
: DOS/Windows PC
Released: 1996
Developer: Sierra
Publisher: Activision
Digital Release? Yes, on Good Old Games (gog.com) for $5.99 (compatible with Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8 only)
Price: $4.44 (5 discs only), $32.99 (complete), $69.00 (sealed) per Price Charting

Phantasmagoria, besides being a franchise with one of the most awesome names ever, is a psychological horror full motion video (FMV) game – a genre that was a hugely common in the 90’s thanks to the use of CD-ROMs as media. A Puzzle of Flesh is the sequel to the controversial original. Why was it controversial? Well, the original featured a crazy amount of graphic content including horrific death scenes for characters and adult scenes which caused quite the stir back in the day when it was released. This included sexual content and a rape scene, which is possibly not as controversial as the media makes it out to be. The sequel follows this trend, but on its own controversial level entirely. Being released just a year after the first game it was surprising to see this game did not receive the same attention as the original.

phant2_2You play Curtis Craig, a man who loves his pet rat ‘blob,’ his girlfriend Jocilyn, and his taste in grey pocket t-shirts because he never seems to change his grey pocket T throughout the entire game.  He’s living the American dream. Curtis has also been out of a mental hospital for a year and creepy things start to go down at his home and work at the suspicious WynTech Industries Corporation. Curtis very quickly starts to question his sanity, so it’s up to him to find out what’s going on or face another trip to the loony bin. It’s certainly a story I’ve not seen in a game before and contains a surprising amount of twists that most won’t see coming.

A Puzzle of Flesh features point-and-click gameplay and the entire game consists of watching scenes and solving fairly simple puzzles. There really isn’t many opportunities to fail the game until later on where a wrong decision could lead to you dying in usually a rather entertaining scene.  Death carries very little consequence as continuing from a Game Over places you right back at the scene before you failed to try again. Puzzles are rarely challenging, save for one puzzle right at the end becomes quite the head-scratcher.  A Puzzle of Flesh feels more of an experience as opposed to a game with any form of challenge; your drive to continue will depend on how much you get sucked into the story.  If you dig the B movie horror scene this may be for you.  Additionally the point-and-click gameplay is not the most solid.  Sometimes you will reach areas of a game where you know how to progress but due to the games bizarre handling of combining items and how to use the inventory system the way forward may not be easily reached. I had to actually pull out a guide to figure out how to get through the game even though I knew the solution, only to find out the game wanted you to do some weird item combination that is far from clear both from an inherent and instructional perspective.

phant2_1Graphics, well its FMV so it’s real actors doing some very bad acting which you will either adore because of its charm or just not feel very amused. Environments are fairly standard for a FMV game – some in an office, in a house, and later a secret lab and strange world. Unlike a lot of FMV games the scenes in this game were filmed on location which make the cost to create this game a lot more than its predecessor, which may also explain why a third game was never made. The game does handle the crazy very well specifically when Curtis trips out and goes all mental, locking in that B-movie feel.  The music is quite hilarious, very ninties especially when you enter a club later on in the game. During moments of fear and tension the sounds used are appropriate and add to the imerrsion. The voice acting feels over done by most of the cast, but it works. Many of the characters come out with the oddest one-liners that you won’t be forgetting in a hurry including the “My ass!!!” line from a police detective. Hardly an Oscar winning script but definitely a good laugh.

It won’t take you too long to get through the campaign – you’re probably looking at around the five hour mark for a first timer, but the master of FMV point-and-click games that time will be a lot less. There is little reason to revisit the game, however a small incentive is to go Easter egg hunting.  The game has various hidden scenes to find and if your hardcore enough to find all of them the game rewards you with a special congratulations.

phant2_3

Overall Phantasmagoria: a Puzzle of Flesh is a memorable experience even if you only play through it once. For fans of FMV games this is a must play, but anyone new to this type of game should be cautious.  This game has mature adult content as well as graphic gore scenes (not for the squeamish) and is really only for those looking for a basic gameplay experience. At times the point-and-click controls will become a pain and the way ahead won’t be clear due to how the game handles its inventory system, you may have to seek help with an online guide. As a horror fan I really enjoyed this game and the story is nothing like anything I have seen before in game or film. Its one mental trip I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

Final Score: 3 out of 5  (Review Policy)

Written by jamalais

November 3, 2014 at 4:00 pm

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