PAX was an amazing experience. I had been to conventions before in the past but never something as elaborate and well put together. It was an awesome gathering of people passionate about the gaming industry and sharing that passion through exhibitions, competitions and the like.
I had the privilege of meeting Joe Chang, developer from Eyemobi, to play a six minute demo for the early access, Lovecraftian-esque Phantasmal. Initially, the idea was to play the game using the Occulus rift, which was my first time ever with this particular piece of technology. I like to consider myself a bit of a horror connoisseur (in all my modesty) and very few things have the potential to genuinely frighten me as a result.
Putting on that Occulus headset, though, and having Phantasmal‘s dark, gloomy environment literally forced upon you was incredibly immersive and mildly terrifying. I made it as far as a descending staircase, whose lower levels were completely shrouded in darkness, when Joe mentioned casually that Phantasmal is procedurally generated, so he couldn’t tell me what waited for me at the bottom of that staircase, because each playthrough is destined to be a unique experience.
Needless to say, the occulus didn’t stay on very long after that. Taking inspiration from old school survival horror games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil, Phantasmal is a unique addition to the first person horror genre in that, unlike its predecessors like Outlast and Slender, you are given a gun as a means of defending yourself against the nightmarish creatures that await you in this world.
Ammo is scarce, however, but certain items, such as planks of wood, can be picked up and used as a Melee weapon if need be. It’s entirely up to you whether you use these weapons at all or take an entirely stealthy approach past the ghoulish monsters. Every action has a consequence though, and even your torch light can end up as more of a liability than anything else.
Your sanity meter (a la Amnesia) is another thing that you need to keep your eye on while playing. Seeing one of the demented creatures up close in torchlight can leave you disorientated. “Use your vision wisely” is something you learn quite quickly.
While playing through this demo, I discussed at length with Joe the inspiration behind Phantasmal. It’s setting is based on Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong, which originally served as a military fort but soon became an enclave following the New Territories leased to Britain in the late 1890s. From 1950-1970, it was controlled by the Triad and had high rates of gambling, drug use and prostitution. Sadly such a paradise was demolished in the 90s but as I listened to the description and history of the place, I had to commend Eyemobi for their unique setting.
The story for Phantasmal can be unlocked through tense, edge-of-your-seat exploration, picking up notes and uncovering the mystery behind Kowloon’s doom. The game has great potential and is definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of the genre, premise or even HP Lovecraft. Despite being short lived, it was also a memorable first experience with the Occulus rift. Definitely a title to keep an eye on, and I eagerly anticipate it’s full release in March next year.
You can go check out Karly’s sanity meter on Twitter @puckishrogue94 if you want her to sort out the cutscene for your demise. Follow LoadScreen on Twitter, @load_screen, and like on Facebook for more gaming news and reviews.