Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Game Review: Phantasmat: The Endless Night Collector’s Edition (first play)

Developer: Eipix Games
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Original Release Date: 11th January 2015
Platform: PC


Another game review for me – and another instalment in the Phantasmat series. I’ve been really impressed with these ones, though it’s making me wonder how I’ve managed to miss this series up until now. The third title in the series is Phantasmat: The Endless Night, and it saw another change of developer. The original Phantasmat game was developed by Codeminion back in 2011 (see my review here). The sequel, which had a similar narrative but a different setting and characters, was developed by ERS G-Studio in 2012 (see my review here). There were no new Phantasmat titles until early 2015, when the series development mantle passed to Eipix Entertainment.

I’ve played quite a few games by Eipix – and they have got form for picking up series and reimagining/developing them – so I was curious to see how much they’d changed the format of the games. Also, having really enjoyed the first two Phantasmat games, I had high hopes for The Endless Night. And I wasn’t disappointed on either front – this one is a definite recommendation from me.

The game begins with the standard HOPA intro sequence… you’re driving your car down the road at night (this time, taking your daughter Aimee to her prom), when something happens and you’re forced off the road. Just before the crash, you’d been talking to Aimee about the devastating accident that killed a load of people at Prom 1965, so it comes as little surprise to discover that this history forms the background to the mystery in the game. That’s right: the ‘Endless Night’ in question is, in fact, Prom Night. Your car accident has left you apparently stranded in 1965 and the aftermath of the horrific accident. Oh, and your daughter’s been abducted – it wouldn’t be a HOPA if your daughter wasn’t in some sort of peril.

I loved the prom storyline that opened The Endless Night. I’ll say something about the game’s design below, but I loved the way the devastation of the accident was evoked and the introduction of the underlying mystery. Several hints early on suggest a sort of Carrie vibe, as the first non-player character you meet is a bullied ‘nerd’ who may or may not have been responsible for killing everyone. (Unlike in some other instalments of the series, there is absolutely no doubt that the NPCs you’re interacting with are ghosts. These are definitely manifestations of people who died in 1965, though they don’t know that.) However, not long into the game, the Carrie-esque story gives way to something more like My Bloody Valentine (if you’ve seen that film, you’ll know what I mean) and a quite different story starts to unfold. By about halfway through, you’ve pretty much left the prom behind, and your exploration of the town is much more focused on the underlying cause of the killer accident.

As this is a HOPA, there are some minor narrative issues and inconsistencies. I’m not sure how old my player-character was supposed to be – and I certainly couldn’t work out how old my PC’s dad was supposed to be – and there was a little bit of suspension of disbelief required. But this is expected of HOPAs, and in some ways it’s part of the charm. Overall, The Endless Night has a really strong and compelling storyline. I liked the swerve away from prom to something different, and I enjoyed the ‘twist’ at the end – although I did guess what was coming, I thought the ‘clues’ were very well-done. So, in terms of story, The Endless Night is way above average for me.


The earlier Phantasmat games were beautifully designed, but I think Eipix have really brought it up a notch with this one. Scenes are detailed, evocative and stylish, with some items and objects being particularly well-illustrated. The prom debris scattered across several of the scenes is a nice touch, and it adds to the general feeling of care and attention to detail. Probably the biggest change of design with this game comes with the use of live actors for cutscenes and dialogue interactions. Live actors in HOPAs are a bit of a divisive issue, but I feel they’re done well in The Endless Night and the animation style makes the transitions between static animated scenes and live action as close to seamless as you’ll find in a HOPA. (The voice acting is all good too.)

On the whole, I’d say that, design-wise, this is the best instalment of the series so far. The only aspect that doesn’t stand out particularly is the music. It’s a perfectly appropriate soundtrack, which doesn’t loop too much and (mostly) mirrors the game in its tonal shifts. But it’s not especially memorable and wouldn’t have been out of place in any number of HOPAs.

While this is a HOPA, so there’s plenty of moving around scenes, hunting through junk piles and finding inventory objects to use, there are some distinct touches. Eipix have also introduced a few features of gameplay that, while familiar from other games by this designer, weren’t included in the earlier Phantasmat titles. There’s now a Custom difficulty option (yay!) and a jump map (meh). The HOGs are more varied – so there are lists, morphing objects, silhouettes and word clues, and some HOGs combine two or more of these. There are also hidden collectible eye symbols (thankfully not morphing) on each screen. It’s not all change though: there’s still the option to switch between HOGs and Match-3 if you fancy it.

That said, my biggest criticism of The Endless Night is to do with gameplay. The game starts off pretty intuitive and logical, with clear objectives and tasks. However, once you leave the school building (and the prom) to investigate the accident, things get a little less intuitive. Objectives are still clearly stated, but there’s quite a bit of back-and-forth, and there isn’t always any logic or common sense behind this. I found myself using Hint and the jump map quite a bit during the second half of the game, as I was losing a clear sense of the what and why of my progression through the game. Coupled with this, inventory items aren’t always used logically. A pet peeve of mine is using coins as screwdrivers – and this is extra frustrating when there’s clearly a coin slot nearby. If you’ve got a magnet and a coin, and there’s a gumball dispenser (with a coin slot) nearby, it’s totally annoying to discover that you have to use the magnet, not the coin, on the dispenser. I really don’t like having to use Hint to discover how to use my inventory items.


So far, characters have been a big part of the Phantasmat series. Despite not being a huge fan of NPCs in HOPAs, I enjoyed the way they were used in the first two games. In many ways, The Endless Night makes similar use of NPCs, though there are substantially more of them. As I’ve said above, this game uses live actors to enhance cutscenes and interactions, but there’s also the addition of a daughter-in-peril character and a stranger who seems to be in the same boat as you. This is a distinctly well-populated game, but it still gets round the problem of inactive NPCs (the ones who set you a task but refuse to actually help you complete it) through the fact that everyone is trapped (and unaware of what is really going on).

A number of the characters share a bit of backstory with you when you first meet them – this is usually a little bit of explanation about what they were doing at the time of the accident, or about some unresolved business they still have. A lot of this is simply set up for a task (e.g. finding an object that will serve to conclude the unresolved business), but some of the NPCs present you with backstory that’s unexpectedly moving. This is usually in the form of some misguided guilt about the fatal accident. In some cases (especially the ghostly fire crew), this is truly sad and adds a sympathetic dimension to the game that’s rather unusual.


I played the CE version of The Endless Night, so there was a bit of bonus content. Firstly, there was a bonus chapter, which was a prologue rather than an epilogue (as in the first two instalments). I’m not sure this prologue added very much to the story though. You play as one of the NPCs from the main game, and the primary objective seems to be to discover more about your own backstory. Gameplay here is even more confusing than in the latter part of the main game, and I really struggled to keep track of the what and why. This was an extra bit of gameplay, which is always nice, but it didn’t really add to the main narrative.

Other bonus features include concept art and soundtrack, achievements, a Souvenir Room (a chance to go back to each screen and look for an additional hidden object) and a Match-3 game. There are also replays on each of the HOGs (with an additional achievement for getting stars on the replays) and a chance to find any eyes you missed during gameplay.

In case it’s not clear – and setting aside minor niggles – I really liked this one! Stylish design and gameplay that’s just difficult enough (challenging, not frustrating) – but it’s the story and characterization that really won me over. I’m definitely going to be checking out the next title in the Phantasmat series.

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