Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh

Putting the bloody pieces together.

Snap11_1Phantasmagoria 2 has a more original and complex premise than any of Sierra’s previous forays into the horror genre. The game casts you as Curtis Craig, a young man who remembers very little of his extremely troubled past. As the story begins, Curtis has just ended his stay in an asylum, and he’s started working at Wyntech. All was going well until one of Curtis’ coworkers gets killed and crucified, leaving poor Curtis in a deranged state as the cops tie him to the murder (he remembers nothing of the event).

It’s definitely not the usual horror cliché. In its best moments, A Puzzle of Flesh owes to the deeply weird visions of filmmaker David Cronenberg. But at the same time it’s a horribly campy and not that well-acted B-movie horror, as was the original, and you’ll quickly realize it’s even more movie than game this time around. And what little gameplay Phantasmagoria 2 offers is hardly challenging. Most of the game consists of moving the mouse cursor around until it changes color, indicating a hot-spot you can click on to see another segment of full-motion video.

There are a handful of puzzles that actually make sense in the game’s context — the best of these involve breaking into the Wyntech computer system. The few difficult puzzles are only challenging because there’s no logic behind them; you’ll find no clues to suggest their solutions, so getting past them is a process of trial and error.


Help! I’ve melted and I can’t get up!

Veteran adventure gamers will reach the end of A Puzzle of Flesh before they know it (possibly at around ten hours of gameplay / video footage) and even the finale will be an incomprehensible letdown. It feels  distinctly tacked-on, as if some office bean-counter in Sierra’s accounting offices suddenly realized they couldn’t afford to ship an eight-CD game, so the remaining content was crammed into 5 discs and sent out the door. So many questions are left unanswered, you may find yourself watching the endgame again to see if you missed some crucial video sequence.

The only thing worse than a bad game is a mediocre game that could’ve been really good. If A Puzzle of Flesh had been given real gameplay and a satisfying payoff to back up its premise and nightmarish special effects, it would’ve been a horror game worth talking about. As it stands, however, it’s an entertaining B-movie FMV title that inspires more laughs at its campyness than genuine fear.

System Requirements: 486DX4/100, 12 MB RAM, 16 MB HDD, Win95

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