The defining title to the horror game genre has been brought back. Who could have anticipated that? It was only last week I was searching through my games library for at least one of the original Phantasmagoria discs so that I may attempt another run of it. Phantasmagoria, as was deemed by Activision, is happily here to stay.
Originally published by Sierra–old schoolers, go ahead and give yourselves a high five–Phantasmagoria was the brain child of Roberta Williams, a co-founder of Sierra, a game designer, and the lead writer on the game which was originally released on August 24, 1995.
Motion capture may be standard procedure now, and garners little to no heightened interest in its tech these days, but back in the 90’s, Phantasmagoria was categorized as a graphic adventure game, and Roberta was one of the pioneers behind the FMV genre. It required the efforts of 25 actors, and lots of technicians and movie makers to translate this lengthy script into the game we have before us.
It spent two years under development, with four or five months being dedicated to shooting the FMV segments. A special shooting studio was erected just for this game, and a budget of $5 million was allocated for it. Again, all this may sound standard to millennials, but back then, a game being granted such a budget, let alone shot in professional movie studios, was unheard of.
In the United Arab Emirates, such a game was undoubtedly banned, and getting your hands on a copy generated stories of urban myth. Some say diplomats had to smuggle copies of the game in and sell them at obscene prices. I’ve also heard stories of a secret den that sold copies of the game from underground bunkers in the desert. Who knows if either or both of them were true?
All I know is owning your own copy of this specific game was what bragging rights were all about.
So what’s the game all about all about?
Successful mystery novelist Adrienne Delaney and her photographer husband Don Gordon have just purchased a remote mansion off the coast of a small New England island previously owned by a famous 19th-century magician, Zoltan “Carno” Carnovasch, who had five wives who all died mysteriously.
Hoping to find an inspiration for her next novel, Adrienne begins having nightmares immediately upon moving into her new home, but is comforted by the loving and supportive Don. Adrienne explores the estate, making mysterious discoveries like strange music, warnings written on her computer, and ominous messages from a fortune-teller automaton.
Unbeknownst to the happy couple, Carno had practiced black magic when he previously lived in the mansion and summoned an evil demon, which possessed him and caused him to murder his wives.
The game was, and still is, a defining mark in the horror game genre, but this was a game released in 1995. Everything about it today just looks and feels awkward and stiff compared to modern game mechanics.
It’s not that the graphics are bad, but so many advancements have occurred since, and what was considered high-end in the 90’s, is a scar on my eyes this generation. With sharper screens, and higher resolutions pushing 4k, there is no chance that an aging game like this one would ever be able to keep up.
The FMV is a pain to witness and looks like a bad Photoshop filter was applied to them.The GPU doesn’t help either as no matter how sensitive your mouse is, it will still feel slow. #OldSchoolGamingProblems.
The music is a jangle and concoction of Hi-Def 16-bit tracks–old school gamers, you can sit down now. No one cares about these numbers and terms anymore.
For a game this old, the user interface has surprisingly held up. As you pick up items and use them to progress with the story, it is the resulting writing of each scene that deserves a standing ovation. This stands true specifically midway through the game, and as the resolution is made apparent.
Phantasmagoria is a classic, and should only be approached as one. History buffs may enjoy experiencing it, and fans will rejoice in its revival. Here’s hoping this sudden re-release is a marketing test that may result in a new game for the now-dormant series
Phantasmagoria is available on Steam today, the 29th of August, which marks 20 years since the original’s release.