41: Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh

Publisher: Sierra
Developer: Sierra
Year: 1996
Platform: DOS, Windows

Review: About the only thing that the second installment of this “series” has in common with the original is full motion video.. Otherwise, near everything else, including the writer, director, actors, and genre have changed.

Exit Roberta Williams, enter Lorelei Shannon. Both were involved directly in the making of King’s Quest 7, one of the worst adventure games of all time. I have forgiven Lorelei after doing this project.

Unlike the first game, this is not horror. Shannon’s script has some tense moments, and there’s plenty of gore, but Puzzle of Flesh is more of a sci-fi thriller. And the tense moments that exist become so predictable that they could hardly cause a fright. What this script does have that its predecessor does not is an original plot and character development. During the game the player gets a good feel for nearly a dozen characters.

Curtis Craig, played by Paul Morgan Stetler, is the protagonist, an attractive single introvert who works in a cubicle for a pharmaceutical company as an editor. He’s at the low end of the totem-pole but appears content with his simple life. He’s dating one of his co-workers, but his true love is his pet rat Blob. No one really knows much about him; in fact, Curtis doesn’t know that much about himself either. Of course, some really bizarre, seemingly supernatural things begin happening to Curtis and those around him and he spends the entire game trying to figure out who, or what, is behind these events. Flashbacks are used extensively, giving Craig and the player information, little by little, about what might be going on.

Stetler is fantastic. He rarely overacts, and his non-verbal reactions are often right on target. His gay friend Trevor, played by Paul Mitri, is also very good. He makes a good contrast to Stetler’s character, and his acting appears very natural when he’s being funny (and junior high-like when he’s asked to do drama). Monique Parent, Cinemax soft-porn star, has a similar role here and does well enough for that role. Most of the supporting actors are sufficient, especially Michael Taylor Donovan as Stetler’s supervisor.

The real standout is Ragna Sigrun, who spends most of the game trying to seduce Stetler. Her range is evident throughout, and like Stetler, I found myself unwillingly attracted to her immediately.

The game’s main faults lie within the nature of the beast of FMV games. Continuity is very difficult to achieve, as the switch from still screens to video sequences tends to break atmosphere. Also, characters oftentimes seem to react inappropriately in situations because the player decided to do things in a slightly different order than the author had intended. Ultimately, though, there is very little freedom, as the days do not progress unless the character triggers certain events. Mimesis is broken quite often.

And the plot does have several holes. However, they are minor enough that they will probably not be annoying if you find the script material interesting. I did, so I turned my brain off at times to enjoy the ride. My main gripe is with the end sequence, as it is overlong and requires the player to figure out a puzzle, seemingly for puzzle’s sake. All remnants of pace and tension are wiped out, and as the game ended, I was glad. The last thing I want in a game is to be glad it’s over.  However, I did appreciate the multiple endings.

This game is not for kids. It may not even be suitable for teenagers. Even with the censors on, the heavy adult themes present may be too much for some to handle. A significant portion of the game revolves around S&M, gender identity issues, and child abuse.  Throw on top of that murder, several sex scenes, and lots of blood, and you got something the whole family can enjoy!

Like the first game, it is very short and pretty easy. It took me two days, but I enjoyed myself most of the time. A game like this should probably be short, as the emphasis is on the interactive movie experience and not puzzles. Just put yourself in a dark room and escape from reality for a few hours, much like a good movie.

Contemporary RatingMedium. A little too much tedium at times, the story not advancing until you click everything that can be clicked.

Cruelty Rating:  Polite. A few points where you can die, but you’ll be saving regularly anyway.

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4 thoughts on “41: Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh

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