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SummarySierra opens the door of controversy
The GoodWhen people often think of Roberta Williams, they usually think of King's Quest, a series of adventure games established in the Eighties that had you doing such things as finding magic items, rescuing princesses, and dealing with evil wizards. What some people don't know is that Williams herself also developed non-KQ games, with some notable examples being The Colonel's Bequest, Mystery House, and Mixed-up Mother Goose. Her latest non-KQ title is Phantasmagoria, an interactive movie caught up in the same era where video game companies believed that they were the future of gaming.
Don Gordon (played by David Homb) is a magazine photographer who has an interest in 18th- and 19th-century architecture. His wife, Adrienne Delaney (Victoria Morsell), is a successful book writer who has started working on her new novel. When Don comes across a 19th-century dwelling on a remote island, he convinces Adrienne to buy it as it would be the perfect place to write her novel. But as soon as they take up residency, things take a turn for the worse. Adrienne finds out about the history of the mansion and discovers that its previous occupant was Zoltan “Carno” Carnovasch (Robert Miano), a magician who had a tragic past and was married five times to women who had either disappeared or died in grotesque ways. As the days go by, Adrienne realizes that she must confront Don in his psychotic state and deal with whatever is possessing him.
The front cover shows a grey image of a woman lying on a bed. When I saw the game in stores, I thought it was a bunch of ninjas doing something sinister. A look inside the box reveals seven black-covered CDs with a line of blood splattered across them and the number of the CD also written in blood. The front cover of the manual reflects the imagery on the box, and it covers installation and how to control the game, plus a very brief walkthrough at the end.
Phantasmagoria shares the same mechanics as King's Quest VII, with the game being split across multiple chapters. The player can select which one they want to start off with, but I don't recommend doing this as you will be playing the game out of sequence. The interface is the same, with one half the main screen, and the other reserved for your inventory, control panel, and the examine icons. New additions include the introduction of the hintkeeper and the ability to save your game at any point. The interface remains on the screen until the game's end credits are over.
Phantasmagoria was intended to be played by adults, and Sierra couldn't stress that enough. Two minutes in and there's a sex scene involving the main characters, as well as some nudity thrown in for good measure. During the game, I didn't have any problems watching short movies that had a decent amount of gore, but it was enough to cause controversy not just around the world, but in its home country. The introduction to chapter four features a rape scene, and the intensity of this scene made it uncomfortable to watch.
The opening menu features the same music as heard in the trailer for the game, and it sounds great. The choirs that can be heard also serve as incidental music for most of the movies featuring blood and gore. Each musical piece is unique to each chapter, and as you progress through the chapters, they get more intense. As far as I know, Phantasmagoria is the only Sierra interactive movie where you can choose what sound card you want to use for the game, not just Sound Blaster. There are two highlights in this game. One of them is the story of how Carno became possessed, as told by an old man named Malcolm (Douglas Seale). The other is the “chase” sequence that occurs in the last chapter. I was impressed by Homb's performance that if Sierra's next Dr. Brain installment was an interactive movie, he would have made a perfect candidate. Also, the game records everything you do in this chapter and you can watch how you played it out. You could also have a little bit of fun with it. I got Adrienne to warm up before she makes her escape from Don.
The BadBefore you start playing, you have to enter your name, and that name is used for just the one save slot. This means you cannot go back to an earlier point in the game where something is about to happen. I hate this mechanism, and I'm glad that it wasn't reintroduced to later Sierra games. Because of the way the interface is designed, you hardly could examine things and could only interact with them. (The exception is the portraits of Carno and his wives.) So basically you were guided through the game.
During the end credits, you hear a song called “Take a Stand” which is sung by Mark Seibert. I enjoyed listening to it, but it is inappropriate. It sounds like it was released in the Eighties, and it doesn't blend well with the game's theme
The Bottom LineThe concept for Phantasmagoria started in the late Eighties, but Roberta Williams waited a number of years for technology to catch up, and understandably so. Imagine what the game would look like if it was done in Sierra's old AGI engine. The game is a horror adventure game that generated a lot of controversy when it was released. The blood and gore wasn't actually real, and like a lot of Hollywood movies, many props and objects were put in good use to make us think it was.
Despite some problems with the game mechanics, the game is quite good, and it has a nice soundtrack filled with choirs that suit its intense scenes. I didn't have a problem with the 3D-rendered backgrounds, which was the norm for interactive movies back in the day. As I mentioned, I like the backstory involving Carno and his wives, and the aforementioned chase scene which was very well done and made Homb shine. Sierra released a sequel called A Puzzle of Flesh which has nothing to do with the original game and used actual locations around Seattle.