Quick Look: Indie Horror w/ “Phantasmal!”

Phantasmal: City of Darkness offers a great hook: explore the Walled Kowloon City in a procedurally-generated, roguelike horror experience. Even without the procedural generation and roguelike elements, the setting alone sounds pretty cool. Kowloon City is pretty famous (or infamous?) enough, and this is certainly a good setting for a horror game. In that respect, Phantasmal delivers quite well, providing a creepy atmosphere with a great soundtrack. The winding, maze-like corridors and grimy interiors are certainly creepy enough, but what about everything else?

Well, once you get past the initial elements, things start to break down a bit with this one. Yes, it’s true that the game is randomly generated, but this is only true to a point: depending on your run, you may run into the same elements a few times, or feel like you are walking in circles when in fact you are progressing. The monsters themselves are varied and quite creepy at first, but then you run into issues with them (or you!) clipping on the environment and them spawning in the worst possible places and failing to move away. Because of this, I found myself fighting my way out of bad situations far more than I think the game intended, because the game encourages stealth and misdirection (using fire crackers, flares, etc. to distract enemies and then run away). While it is definitely a roguelike, you do get to keep the money you find during your runs, which you can use in the starting area to purchase supplies or stat upgrades, but these are very expensive, with the cheapest stat boosts costing $50, and it took me two runs to just barely get that much. Further upgrades range from $150 to as high as $400 each, and it’s hard for me to imagine people grinding on to build up that kind of money for a minor 10% boost to a given stat.

The graphics are good in places and passable in others, but the performance was wildly varied. Regardless of if I played it at 4K or all the way down on 720p, I would get the same frame-rates (yikes!), so it was apparent this one needed a bit of work. Yet, the odd thing is, the game was on Early Access for around a year, and to me it still feels a bit incomplete.

Regardless, this may be an experience some will enjoy. I’d recommend it only on a deep Steam discount or as part of a bundle, but as always, your mileage may vary!

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