It seems the game went too much for violence and gore and not enough for gameplay...
Phantasmagoria, an interactive CD-ROM horror game developed by Sierra On-Line, was a major departure for its designer, Roberta Williams. For years, she had been widely known as the mind behind the King's Quest adventure games, a series of more family-oriented games. When she announced that she would design an interactive movie game for the adult audience, it surprised many fans, including me. I couldn't blame her. There's nothing wrong with trying a new game genre, especially when CD-ROM capabilities were on the rise.
Before I talk about the game's plot, let me satisfy your curiosity about the violent and sexual content. There is certainly plenty of the former. Expect to see depictions of women being murdered in gruesome ways (graphic details to follow), such as smashing a head onto a wine bottle and forcing raw meat down the throat, and a pendulum slicing through a human being. The sexual content is primarily in the form of one rape scene. It involves a man's gentle lovemaking motions that become quicker and more violent, accompanied by the loud grunts of a demonic creature possessing him.
The story involves a novelist named Adrienne Delaney and her husband, a photographer named Don Gordon. They move into an estate once owned by Zoltan Carnovasch, which some local townsfolk claim is haunted. Adrienne explores the house and unknowingly unleashes a dark spirit trapped somewhere in the house. That thing possessed Don, who gradually becomes nastier in his behavior.
You play the role of Adrienne through the game's seven chapters. The gameplay interface is a third-person perspective of Adrienne and her immediate surroundings. You can pick up items and interact with things you see on the screen. Like any adventure game, there are puzzles to solve. My big complaint about this game is the lack of challenge in the puzzles. They are just so darn easy. When you pick up an item, you often find the intended use for it fairly quickly. With so little gameplay in Phantasmagoria, this so-called game is really more like an interactive movie.
While I did not like the game overall, there is one thing that definitely saves it from being one of the worst games ever. The story does get more interesting. As Adrienne, you get to meet and learn about other characters. They include two homeless people named Harriet and Cyrus, the previous homeowner Zoltan Carnovasch and his wives over the years, and an old man named Malcolm who holds the secret to the Carnovasch estate. You will learn the origin of the Carnovasch curse, but not before things get very intense in a climax where survival is your only instinct.
Phantasmagoria does live up to its name by presenting itself as a horror story full of gore. I liked the story, particularly in the second half. I didn't like the gameplay because it was so easy that it was practically nonexistent. If this were just a movie, I'd probably say I liked it enough, but because it's a computer game with movie elements, I have to take the gameplay into account as well. As a whole, I don't consider Phantasmagoria to be a thrilling game. A thrilling movie, sure. Just not a thrilling game.
For more information about Phantasmagoria, visit the Internet Movie Database, Moby Games, and Anthony Larme's Phantasmagoria Memorial.
In addition, check out my review for Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh.