Phantasmal: Early Access Impressions
Publisher: Eyemobi Ltd.
Developer: Eyemobi Ltd.
Release date: 30/04/2015
Set in the infamous Kowloon Walled City (an overpopulated, largely ungoverned Hong Kong metropolis which was torn down in 1994), Phantasmal is a procedurally generated, rouge-like survival horror game. The developers describe it as The Biding of Isaac meets Silent Hill, lofty ambitions indeed. So, are they on the right path? Is this Lovecraft inspired journey into madness heading in the right direction or is this another misguided step to terrify us with cheap scare tactics and underwhelming gameplay?
Well, the first signs are rather promising. Waking in the bowels of an abandoned building, your only hope if you wish to survive is to carefully navigate the maze-like corridors and empty rooms set before you. With your trusty flashlight in hand you, somewhat hesitantly, take your first steps into the darkness. It is not long before you realise that you are not alone. Strange, humanoid creatures shuffle mindlessly in the shadowy hallways and once alerted to your presence will hunt you down, pushing your sanity towards breaking point, forcing you to start all over again.
There are weapons you can use to keep these forces at bay. Wooden planks and lead pipes can be used to bludgeon these foes and there are also some basic firearms if need arises, but these should only be used as a last resort. Make too much noise and you will attract the attention of ‘The Sleeper’, a huge tentacle strewn beast that cannot be stopped and, once awoken, will stalk you relentlessly. If you are going to endure this nightmare, a stealthy approach is a must. Be aware of your surroundings, use the torchlight only when needed and when all else fails, run.
Whilst the core gameplay mechanics are in place, Phantasmal still has a way to go. The enemy A.I. is a little suspect and it’s often difficult to know if or when you will be detected. Sneaking through the buildings many rooms and passageways is genuinely tense, but it would be nice to know that you can fire your gun once in awhile without being so heavily punished. Even a minor mistake can result in your death, forcing you to start all over again.
I died a lot during my time with Phantasmal, learning each time that I did. Each encounter was different, but with a little time and a large helping of luck I was able to find my way only to be foiled once again. The procedural nature of this game is certainly interesting and will keep you on the edge of your seat. Whether it can produce some of genre defining set pieces to elevate itself from the crowd only time will tell, but it’s a genuine concern.
Eyemobi are hard at work and aim to complete the early access stage of development within three to six months. With a bit more graphical polish, some much needed balancing and some display and audio tweaks, Phantasmal may just be a descent into madness that some of us crave.
Reviewer – Ian P.