Posted by Philip Jong.
First posted on 26 April 1996. Last updated on 23 May 2014.
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Adrienne's dream soon turns into a nightmare!
Eerie atmosphere foreshadows the hidden evil.
This beautiful mansion is hidden with a deadly past.

Phantasmagoria marks the first of a new horror adventure trilogy from Sierra On-Line. Designed and written by master storyteller Roberta Williams, Phantasmagoria represents an unprecedented effort by Sierra On-Line to develop a full-blown, live action, multimedia interactive adventure extravaganza. Using professional actors with real sets and Full Motion Video, it brings a new sense of make belief to computer adventure gaming. To many, Phantasmagoria symbolizes the beginning of a dangerous trend among game developers to mix in live action videos to enhance (or not) storytelling and gameplay. Unfortunately, with only a handful of exceptions, Full Motion Video has proven to be a technology that is difficult to incorporate well into adventure gaming. This title proves to be no exception.

The newly wedded couple, Adrienne and Don, has just moved into a large but deserted island mansion originally built by a famous but enigmatic illusionist named Carno. Soon after their arrival, eerie sounds and unearthly apparitions begin to haunt Adrienne. Her loving husband Don starts to behave strangely and violently towards her. As Adrienne explores her new founded home, flashbacks of terrible murders happened long ago frighten her. You, as Adrienne, must unravel the dark mystery surrounding the house and exorcise the evil that has taken control of her home and her husband.

Phantasmagoria (also known as Roberta Williams' Phantasmagoria: Pray It's Only A Nightmare) is Sierra On-Line's first attempt to develop a full-blown, live action, multimedia interactive adventure title. At a cost of 4 millions USD, production of the game has taken over 2 years. This is the largest production by any computer game developer to date. Over 2 hours of video live shots are recorded which are then combined with computer generated images and backdrops via chromakey. Special effects are also used that include much blood and gore. A proprietary SCI game engine developed in-house for this title allows for real-time debugging during its testing.

As a piece of fiction, Phantasmagoria indeed is a masterpiece combining horrific visual imagery and moody ambient music with an engaging plot. It unfolds with a gripping tone over 7 novel style chapters. The chilling opening theme Consumite Furore is sung by the CSUF Concert Choir. The acting in Phantasmagoria is passable. Adrienne is played by the beautiful Victoria Morsell, while Don is played by David Homb and Carno is played by Robert Miano. To Morsell's credit, she cannot be blamed for her seemingly discordant emotions seen between dramatic scenes. Rather, this is a limitation of the game engine that plays the library of pre-recorded videos in piecemeal fashion.

As a game, Phantasmagoria falls short of being an immersing adventure. The interface in Phantasmagoria is limited to a simple point-and-click navigation designed for hotspot hunting. Gameplay is extremely linear and short (6-15 hours). It is worsened by a complete lack of any difficult puzzle. Moreover, in-game hints are readily available from the Hintkeeper during play to minimize any frustration of the player over a difficult challenge (as if there is any). The entire game, except for the last chapter, is played out without a time limit. In contrast, the ending sequence in the last chapter is played out in real time, requiring the player to point Adrienne to the correct escape route by clicking on screen for directions within a limited time window.

Phantasmagoria is among the few titles in this genre in existent that features a female character as the main protagonist. Williams claims that this game is inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King. Phantasmagoria has created much controversy at the retail due to its adult themes and contents. A censorship option with password protection even exists to block out certain explicit adult scenes in the game. The title has been banned from several retailers because of a controversy rape scene, even though there is no actual nudity seen.

Overall, Phantasmagoria has too much flash but little substance. On the surface, it succeeds as an interactive horror story that is backed by stunning visual and audio effects. A few sleepless nights may await those who dare to enter the realm of horror created by Williams. Unfortunately, short and uninspiring gameplay, compounded by the lack of any meaningful puzzle, makes Phantasmagoria a general disappointment as a game title. Adventure gamers may especially detest the arcade sequence at the end of the game. Despite the strong characterization of the lead character in the game, the repetitive stereotypic portrayal of female vanity from a female writer is certainly ironic. Spending too much time in front of the mirror, Adrienne?

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