Locally made horror game Phantasmal already ticked a lot of boxes for me when I first heard about it. It’s setting of Hong Kong’s Kowloon City was an interesting one. I’d leap to anything that wore its Chuthlu influences proudly, just to see how it does its sanity system. The fact that it marketed itself as a horror rogue-a-like also got my attention.
But its how these elements came together that surprised me most. Playing as a guy on the hunt for his aunt, you quickly find out that the soon to be condemned area of the cramped Hong Kong tenements isn’t what it seems. The plot was secondary to the experience for me, like so many horror games it’s a way to see us through the meat of the scares. That it relies less on worn tropes and more on honestly crafted oppressive atmosphere that sold me.
The game is incredibly dark visually. You can make this easier on yourself as you descend into the block by using your flashlight. This will stop you from becoming a gibbering wreck, but it will also attract attention that you’d rather not have to deal with. Sneak around in the dark though ignoring the plaintive whimpers of your character and you’ll soon find the game starts messing with you.
There were a few jump scares, but I really appreciate that more of the games charm and horror worked around knowing that there was PROBABLY something out there in the dark. That and having to listen to your character losing it while trying not to attract attention afforded some honestly terrifying moments for me. There was a few moments when I was swinging around blindly firing my pistol into the dark.
Then you die and find yourself back at the start.
The cool thing here is that all the coins you gathered on your last run can be used to help build a better you. Scare less, start with more health, or invest some of that money into items that might make this run just a little easier. The fact that the levels are randomly generated means that you can give yourself into the inevitable death and take a longer strategy. You get to explore what the game has to offer and I sort of like that.
The game does have a bit to offer too, in terms of the type of craziness that you’ll encounter. As my stream viewers pointed out I managed to kill the one thing that didn’t want me dead, while succumbing to greater evils. Each time though I found myself thinking ‘just one more try’. Although there’s not a large number of creatures to be found, the ones there are varied and some used in decidedly creepy ways as you start to lose your mind.
There are some shortfallings though. I found myself swearing out loud while trying to pick up some objects and not hitting its tiny zones properly or while getting stuck on parts of the scenery. Initially I had problems with the gamma, but that appeared to be quickly patched up a day later. Once I worked out the room types used in the random generation, it became a little predictable on to move from room to room quickly.
These are by no mean deal breakers though, and in the scheme of things only small complaints. For its price point this is an experience well worth taking, not even mentioning the fact that a purchase will support a local game developer. Check it out.