(Originally published in the October 1995 edition of the Dallas/Ft. Worth Texas Computer Currents magazine. Reprinted here with permission of the author.)

by Joe DeRouen

I've said several times in my reviews that I miss text-based adventure games like Infocom's Zork series. I have always contended that no image would ever replace the human imagination; no graphically rendered dragon, for instance, could ever match the ferocity of one I could conjure up in my mind.

I still believe that. Sierra On-line's new horror release PHANTASMAGORIA, though, comes the closest of any game I've ever seen to matching what my mind's eye could come up with in terms of pictures and graphics. The game is absolutely incredible. It's one of the few graphic adventure games that I've seen that manages to successfully create an intelligent, driven storyline with images and pictures that compliment rather than take away from the story. The 7 CD game is almost at times more like a movie than like a game, but when opportunities for choices are presented (and there are plenty) Phantasmagoria goes all out, covering all the bases and really letting you explore this world.

With a reported $4,000,000 budget, Sierra On-Line's founder Roberta Williams created a true gaming masterpiece. The creation of the game was more like a movie, using real live actors and movie director Peter Maris to make it all happen. The actors (among them, Victoria Morsell as the star of the game, Adrienne Delaney, and David Homb as her loving yet homicidal husband Don Gordon) worked primarily with a blue screen and digitized background footage was added later. For the most part, the integration is seamless. Occasionally something won't look quite right; Adrienne's hand seems to take on an animated, cartoonish quality when she opens the trapdoor in the pantry, for example. I can easily and happily overlook these little FX slip-ups, though, when compared to the rest of the game.

Phantasmagoria is the seven-chapter story of novelist Adrienne and her photographer husband Don. Adrienne and Don have just purchased a huge estate on it's own private island, in the hopes of building the perfect life there. As it turns out, the previous tenant left some unfinished business in the forms and shapes of spirits, evil magic, and many dark and twisted mysteries. Your job in controlling Adrienne is to stay alive, escape whatever traps and tricks are in store for you, and stop the evil that lies in the deep recesses of the mansion from causing any more harm or deaths. Pretty scary stuff, for a game.

Phantasmagoria's installation is flawless; you can choose to run the game in Windows 95, Windows 3.1, or in DOS. Files that have to be written to your hard drive take up less than three meg and the installation itself takes less than a few minutes. After answering a few simple questions, you're ready to play.

When you start up Phantasmagoria, you can choose to watch the introduction sequence (a must, as it gives several clues as to what's going on and is a visual triumph in it's own right,) start a new game, or restart a saved game. If you start a new game, you'll see Adrienne sitting at the kitchen table in a half-screen shot. The bottom part of the screen is filled with the gaming interface; slots for items you find to put into your inventory, a grinning skull that you can click on for verbal hints, a huge red eye that you can move items from your inventory onto to get a better look at them, a ">>" button that you can mercifully use to speed through movie sequences you've already seen, and a funny-looking "P" that you can click on for Advanced Options.

From the Advanced Options menu, you can change the display from half screen to full screen, change "movie detail" from on to off (it should probably probably be on "off" for most lower-end computers, to speed up game play,) change the brightness, volume, and a few other things as well. The mechanics couldn't be any more simple than this, yet they offer a wide range of choices and do just about anything you'd need them to do.

From the advanced options menu, you may also choose to play the game in "censored" mode rather than in the "uncensored" mode it starts out in. Phantasmagoria does contain a little sex and more than it's share of violence, but nothing you wouldn't see on cable or at the movies. I wasn't at all offended by anything I saw, but still the option is nice for the more-squeamish.

You can move Adrienne by clicking on any part of the floor to make her stand up. Once she's standing, move your cursor around the room, covering anything that looks interesting. If the yellow cross (your cursor) turns red, that means you can take a closer look at it. Just place the cursor over the object in question and Adrienne will go towards it or, if she can, pick it up and place it into her inventory. If the cursor turns into a red arrow, that means you can move Adrienne in that direction, which usually results in a different scene. It's almost hypnotizing to watch as Adrienne moves through the house and its surrounding yard, the ever-present haunting music playing in the background. After a while, though, you're so immersed in the story that you stop marvelling at the lush scenery and technological integration and look for things for Adrienne to explore. That's when the fun really begins.

The bare minimum requirements for Phantasmagoria are (to run in DOS) a 486/25 MHz DX PC with 8 megs of RAM, DOS 5.0 or up, 5 MB free hard drive space, SVGA graphics, and a 2X CD-ROM drive. It supports Soundblaster and 100% compatible sound cards. A 486/66mhz or Pentium is recommended for best performance.

Phantasmagoria retails for around $60.00. Be aware that that the game does contain mature subject matter and is not appropriate for anyone under the age of 13.

Copyright (c) 1996, Joe DeRouen. All rights reserved.

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File last modified on September 19th, 1996