Anthony's Film Review
Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh
(Video Game, 1996)
Though the game is essentially an interactive movie, the gameplay and story make it enjoyable enough...
Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh is Sierra On-Line's second title in its Phantasmagoria series of horror adventure games. I should begin by clarifying this game's connections to the first Phantasmagoria from 1995. There's no direct connection, meaning the story doesn't follow that of the first game and does not feature any of the characters from the first game. The only connection is a loose one related to the genre of horror with a heavy dose of sex and violence. This does not imply that the two games are similar in quality.
Depending on your preferences, you might like one game but not the other. For me, I'm in favor of the second game, not the first one. Whereas the first game has overly easy puzzles, this game has puzzles that are still often easy but do require a little bit of thought. As for the story, I like the stories in both games equally. Now, as for the characters, I found myself liking those of the second game somewhat more than those of the first game. With that, let me lay out the story.
You play the main character of Curtis Craig. He is a technical writer for a pharmaceutical company called WynTech in Seattle, WA. He lives alone in his apartment but has a girlfriend named Jocilyn Rowan and a best friend named Trevor Barnes, both of whom also work at WynTech. Curtis interacts with a few other interesting characters in this story, including a co-worker Therese who has a mad crush on him, the arrogant co-worker Bob Arnold, the kind supervisor Tom, and the higher-level supervisor Paul Warner. So far, Curtis seems like a normal guy, right?
Well, not exactly. You see, a bunch of strange things happen. He starts hearing voices in his head. In fact, as the game's prologue suggests, he had been treated in the past for mental illness. Just as psychosis seems to be returning, one other character is brutally murdered. Curtis now has to deal with being a suspect as he faces the tough detective Allie Powell and his personal demons during sessions with a shrink named Dr. Rikki Harburg. What Curtis eventually discovers is something that is shocking beyond imagination, even for the audience.
Now let's talk gameplay. Like I said, the puzzles are pretty easy just like in the first Phantasmagoria game, but they do require some mental effort. They're also interesting because they're truly part of the story. They're not just items placed at point A to be used at point B. For example, one part of the game involves discovering a secret place where something has been stashed. There is intrigue about the meaning of this. This is the kind of puzzle that makes an adventure game worth playing.
Overall, the story is not bad in a B-movie sort of way, and the puzzles were not terribly conceived. Could either element be improved? Sure. But when I look at the two together, the whole package is one that I can modestly recommend to fans of interactive horror games. I shall conclude by talking about the violence and sex before I forget to do so. You can definitely expect to see much of both. The violence is gratuitous and bloody, and there is much depiction of bondage, sadism, and masochism along with passionate sex. This is all thanks to Lorelei Shannon, who, like Roberta Williams with the first Phantasmagoria game, was brave enough to step away from family-friendly gaming and into something dark like this.
For more information about Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh, visit the Internet Movie Database, Moby Games, and Anthony Larme's Phantasmagoria Memorial.
In addition, check out my review of Phantasmagoria.