Phantasmagoria 2: A Puzzle of Flesh is the second game in the Phantasmagoria series and is part of Sierra's turn to more mature themes in adventure games. Mature themes can be great and releases such as the Gabriel Knight series use them to create very compelling gaming experiences. But, unfortunately, Phantasmagoria 2: A Puzzle of Flesh drops its mature themes like a sack of hot potatoes and because of this and a problem with the puzzles, the game is an unrewarding experience.
An adventure game needs to have puzzles that make sense. Flashy graphics, an intuitive interface and a good plot, although important, are secondary to logic puzzles in old-style point-and-click adventure games. After all, the graphics and interface are just vehicles to convey those puzzles and the storyline bits are part of the reward for solving them. The game fails in this regard and, at times, fails horribly.
One of the first puzzles you'll have to solve involves finding your wallet so you can go to work. Sounds reasonable enough but, as it turns out, the solution is not. Since your wallet is under the couch, you would think you should either move the couch or get a stick to retrieve it, right? Apparently that's not what the designers thought. In the game's solution, you have to throw your pet mouse under the couch so she can get your wallet for you. This is a mouse that's not even as big as your wallet and she's supposed to drag it out. But once she's down there, she doesn't want to come out, so you have to tempt her back out with a granola bar. Of course all mice, when tempted with granola bars, will drag whatever heavy items they happen to find nearby while making for the granola -- or something like that. The game has quite a number of puzzles with illogical solutions, oftentimes reducing you to randomly clicking all your inventory objects with each other as well as with everything else in every location you visit. It's just not very much fun.
Phantasmagoria 2: A Puzzle of Flesh was released after Sierra abandoned using 2D hand drawn art for its adventure games but before the 3D accelerator revolution allowed designers free reign in 3D development. In other words, it is a full motion video (FMV) driven game with actors portraying various events. The acting is generally decent and the FMVs are of fairly good quality. The still backgrounds are fairly nice too, although that's more a result of them being photographs of real locations than any effort on Sierra's part.
But, the graphics have a surprising flaw: they try too hard to shock you. Some games and movies use shocking imagery to great effect but this game isn't one of them. The shock scenes feel gratuitous, like when sixth grade kids try to gross each other out by doing disgusting things like eating cockroaches or drinking from the toilet. They don't add to the game's mood and, missing the point, just aren't really scary, especially for a horror story.
The game's sound quality is about what you would expect from having real actors. Some of the lines seem to have been botched a little but generally the actors' speak their parts with a fair degree of competency. The music isn't bad and tends to fit in with the game's mood fairly well. The songs, though, are quite forgettable once you step away from the game.
What you have here is basically a gorefest disguised as a game. The designer decided that blood by the gallons and other scenes of human juiciness are what make a game mature. If you're a senator looking to crack down on the game industry for having too much blood and violence, you need to add this game to your list right beside Mortal Kombat and Doom. On the other hand, if you actually play games, you're better off looking elsewhere for a title that handles its mature themes more maturely.
Graphics: Fairly good quality graphics but the gore and shock scenes are as likely to make you laugh as cringe.
Sound: Decent voice acting and appropriate music complement the gameplay.
Enjoyment: The storyline isn't particularly interesting, the puzzles don't make sense and the maturity is laughable.
Replay Value: You'll only replay this game if you somehow get amnesia. Even then you probably won't enjoy it, again.
Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh is not an actual sequel to the original Phantasmagoria, but rather a completely separate game which has absolutely nothing in common with the first but the name and visual concept.
You play the role of Curtis Craig, a 30 year-old man whose distorted childhood is filled with horrors - his dad was involved in an illegal, top-secret experiment for WynTech Industries, an experiment whose true nature is revealed only as the game progresses, and whose evil nature left Curtis' mother out of her wits and eventually drove her to suicide. Curtis' father was later shot, leaving the poor little boy with serious behavioural disturbances, and eventually in therapy.
Now, a year after having been released from the mental institution, Curtis is employed at WynTech Industries (whose manager, Paul Warner, has taken it upon himself to take care of Curtis) and tries to find out the cause of his psychotic episodes and the mysterious murders that break out all around him, all the while finding out more and more about his past life and his father's fate.
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