Phantasma is the second VR title from the creators of SteamDolls. But while that game placed you in the role of a man working with sketchy characters to save his city from oppression, The Shady Gentlemen’s latest title is a total mindf*ck.
Phantasma released on Steam on 12 June for HTC Vive and is a puzzle game with very dark undertones that involve a conspiracy around a famous television show about a bunny called Flappy. But more than that, this game is about your state of mind – or the illusion that you are in control of what state your mind is in. It’s hard to describe what exactly you are in this game. But in the beginning of Phantasma, at least, it looks like you are a mentally insane person who some crazy doctor did strange experiments on.
Check out the trailer below:
Let’s start off with clarifying that puzzle games are not my forté. I still have a game of Myst lying unfinished in the recesses of an old drive somewhere.
In Phantasma, the puzzles, while arguably brilliant, left me mentally and emotionally exhausted at times. It felt like I kept running around in circles chasing my own tail, while the answer (and my salvation) was out there in plain sight. To be honest, I had some serious Myst horror-flashbacks while playing this game.
Just like the person you are playing in Phantasma, I think it takes a deranged sort of thinking to understand what you’re supposed to do. Normal vertical thinking (an analytical and sequential approach) won’t get you anywhere in this game.
Enter the Mind of Madness
When first starting Phantasma, I found myself in a room with a table and a two-way mirror. There were many objects on the table, including strange drawings, photos, and building blocks. A woman was talking over a speaker, basically telling me that she will be observing my behavior. After swallowing some pills given to me through a slot in the door, the game takes a strange twist. I then found myself in the dark hall of what looked like a very run-down apartment building. The game doesn’t make it clear – but I think I just entered the mind of an insane asylum patient. I quickly figured out the puzzle in this stage, which involved some simple observation skills and logical thinking. The game then literally set a hound on me, after which, darkness descends.
Throughout the puzzles in the game, there are these sheets of paper lying around, with strange and disturbing drawings on them. As far as I could tell, these drawings, along with scribblings of a first-person account of events was created by the main character (you). If I’m correct, they tell the story of what happened to you as you’re relaying them to the woman back in that room. But you aren’t in that room anymore.
Phantasma is a unique feast for the eyes and almost looks like an abstract painting by Salvador Dali put into virtual reality dimensions. Except the clocks in this game aren’t melting but ticking backward and driving you as crazy as the person you’re supposed to be playing. And if it isn’t the clocks then it’s Parisian music playing over and over, or the sound of a baby crying, or that irritating pink bunny. Flappy is the creepy creation of the powers that be – I won’t give away what exactly they are – and a symbol for the mindless masses that are being controlled through popular media, especially television. In fact, the whole game seems to be an artistic expression of how modern society is being turned into mindless sheep and how absurd it is that it takes a clinically insane person to recognize that.
Phantasma took me about 6 hours to get through. As for the gameplay, you can choose between teleportation and trackpad locomotion, and the only buttons you ever use are the trigger buttons – to pick things up. That in itself is fine, but there were some minor issues with the object hitboxes. I sometimes had trouble picking things up if they were close to other objects and things would fall out of my hand if I bumped them against anything else. I’m sure this will be ironed out in due course though.
If you’re looking for a creepy experience with genuinely challenging puzzles then make sure to check Phantasma out. The game is available for $14.99 on the Steam store. There’s also a demo available if you want to give that a go first. So I guess there’s only one thing left to ask: Are you a good bunny?