Phantasmagoria, a game once notoriously reviled by the powers that be, is now available for everyone to play on Steam. Also, when I started getting PC Gamer as a magazine, my mother used to read it before handing it down to me, and this game was reviewed in one of the first issues I got. I was told by my mother that under no circumstances would that game be coming into our house and I even tried several times to sell her on the idea of her playing it to see its not as “bad” as the Senators were saying it was. Never could get my mom to understand, and I never got to play it as a teen.
So, after fifteen years of being interested in it but never dropping money on a copy, I got it in the Sierra Bundle on Humble Bundle the other day. This is a journal of my first hour of play in the game, as I thought and experienced it for the first time.
The game starts on a black screen and I’m already convinced it has crashed. Nope, just a Sierra splash screen.
Thoughts: Whoa, unskippable splash screens? They really must have wanted you to see who made it. Oh, it fired up in DosBox, I forgot how old this game was.
Ok, the main menus look ok and I can read the text easily enough.
Thoughts: Ok, watch intro? Is that just the splash screens or something else?
Once I hit Play Intro I’m faced with a guy on a hilltop or something. My brain is having a hard time seeing what I’m looking at, until it adjusts.
Thoughts: Scan lines! Scan lines everywhere! Ugh, I’ve got to see if this is watchable. Ok, not too bad. Oh it was the nineties, that’s a photographer with that vest on! Yup, photographer and ponytail, check. Oh, that’s some bad CG! Ok, snake man is totally creepy. Oh, it was a nightmare. Whoa! Side boob! They must have been trying to be edgy and adult. Like that was a lot of side boob. Ok, back to main menu.
New game and it’s a cut scene directly related to intro, I like this. Things seem to be tied together well in this so far. No scan lines here, just really, really digitized characters. The backgrounds are totally CGI.
Thoughts: Ok, she’s at a table after being told she’s going to be alone all day. Whoa, what’s the red skull thingy do? “I am the official hint keeper, but too many hints spoil the game.” Huh, shitty ending if I use it once or too many times?
Adrianne is sitting; clicking where the curser turns red she stands and walks over to the side table. I grab a pack of matches. The game is good at telling you what you can interact with, but there are times you have to be pixel perfect to move to the next part of the room.
Thoughts: Ok, what’s there to do here? Stood up, Adrianne knows how to move. Whoa, there’s an animation for just getting a glass of water? Oh, wait! It clearly tells you where you can interact!
After exploring, I end up outside on massive grounds with a creepy bridge.
Thoughts: How freaking big is this place? I know the instruction manual said they got it for a steal, but this is crazy. An author and photographer bought this? There is no way they can afford this. Man, this is a huge compound and who’s going to be mowing it? Oh, new house to visit!
After entering what I think is a new place I realize nope, it’s their place. In this main hall there are all kinds of strange things, including a spiral staircase and a roaring fire.
Thoughts: Oh my god, her cat is named Spaz!
So, the previous owner loved his face enough to put his picture everywhere, including what looks like a ten foot tall painting pointed right at the bed. That’s weird, and they banged on it earlier.
Finding an animatronic fortune teller in the main hall, I activate it. Adrianne doesn’t seem concerned about the note it has given her:
Thoughts: Huh, this never ended well for people who encountered these things, much less in your own home. Evil will walk again. Yup, this never ends well unless you’re Tom Hanks.
Exploring the main hall I discover a fancy locked door, and all kinds of weird art. It’s very evident that the actress is miming a lot of the actions like eating something from the fridge or opening a door. But, it’s from the 90s and I’m quickly in love with this game.
Thoughts: AHHH the game locked up and I haven’t saved. Whoo boy. Here goes nothing.
After rebooting the game and clicking new game I realize that I can skip all the animations for her walking and interacting with things. I get back to where I was upstairs in ten minutes or so. Once again, locked doors everywhere.
Thoughts: Weird, why the hell are all these doors locked if they just bought the place? Also, did the house come as is, with all the furniture and decorations? Oh, must be, because this fancy drawer has old letters and debris in it.
After discovering all the little rooms in the upstairs I go back to my husband, who’s been working on things in a side room all day. A cute cut scene plays where Adrianne thinks she’s found her husband pooping with the door open but he’s just sitting and reading the newspaper. She gets yelled at by her husband, and I decide to explore outside. Going outside I find the car and I randomly click on it.
The car drives to a tiny town nearby and I get out. I find a house with a fence and a dog is barking at me. Clicking to leave I hit the mailbox instead. To my surprise Adrianne opens the mailbox, reads the name of the address and addressee and puts it back with this pincher barking inches from her face.
Thoughts: Whoa, what the hell lady? Are you always this f@$&#*g nosey?
Walking back to the town center I find the realtor, and enter his office. He’s a scumbag, and hits on Adrianne several times. Looking for the file on their house, he asks what her name is, and she clearly calls him an asshole when his back is turned in response to him hitting on her. He claims to have misheard her and she gives her husband’s name. He finds the file shortly thereafter.
Thoughts: Heh, I like this lady. Well it was written by a woman, so she’d be the best one for writing this scene believably.
Once again, as a cut scene starts to play the game dumps to desktop at 59 minutes. I really enjoy what I’ve experienced in this game so far, and it was nothing like what I had expected. I actually didn’t know what I’d find, and I am glad to have started. What I’ve come to understand is that this strange relic of its time is a truly well written horror story for the time it came out. It also has this underlying sense of not quite knowing what it was wanting to be, with the simplicity that I’ve encountered so far. It may more akin to the modern visual novels, with bits of interaction necessary to move the story forward. But, overall this game that was banned is now in my collection and I am more impressed than disappointed by it at this time. I am really intrigued to see where this game is going to go, seeing that outside of a turned on laptop that was previously off nothing spooky has quite happened yet.