Sunday, 11 August 2019

Game Review: Phantasmat: Mournful Loch Collector’s Edition (first play)

Developer: Eipix Games
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Original Release Date: 14th April 2017
Platform: PC


This is a slightly delayed review. I actually played this game last month, but I was tied up with GM Fringe theatre reviews and some other commitments so I wasn’t able to post this right away. I’m also aware that I said in my last game review that I was taking a break from the Phantasmat series, and that my next post would be a Poirot Project one… oops… neither of those things were true! Sorry!

My last game review was for Phantasmat: Behind the Mask, and I decided just to continue my play through the series. I was a little confused to discover that the next two titles were unavailable: Phantasmat: Town of Lost Hope and Phantasmat: Reign of Shadows were removed from the Big Fish Games catalogue earlier this year (not sure why). So, the next available game in the series was Phantasmat: Mournful Loch, which was developed (as all the instalments since The Endless Night have been) by Eipix Games.

Unfortunately, Mournful Loch feels a bit phoned-in. I’m not sure what the removed instalments would have added to the series, but playing Mournful Loch immediately after Behind the Mask didn’t really work for me. There were some notable similarities between the two stories, which only served to highlight the weakness in the later game’s storyline.

You play as an archaeologist/researcher who is setting out to explore Logan Castle in Scotland and hoping to discover a lost ancient artefact. The castle was the site of a historical (in the vaguest sense) massacre, and you believe something valuable was lost as a result. When the boat you’re in crashes (naturally!), you have to navigate your way through the creepy castle, past malevolent ghosts, and through inexplicably intricate locks and puzzle systems to find… whatever it is you’re meant to find.

And that’s the main problem with Mournful Loch. There’s no real sense of purpose or objective. The backstory as to why you’ve arrived at the castle is pretty sketchy, and the ‘history’ of the castle is vague, inconsistent and – at times – so historically suspect that it’s bad even by HOPA standards. As I say, there are similarities between this story and the one in Behind the Mask: you are faced with a series of malevolent ghosts, dealing with and dispatching one after another (I described this in my last review as being the closest a HOPA comes to having an ‘end of level boss’). The problem with Mournful Loch is that there aren’t really any backstories or explanations for the ghosts – who are they? why are they malevolent? what has this got to do with the artefact? what the hell is the artefact anyway? how many more times will the word ‘artefact’ be used? The game didn’t really answer any of these questions, and so what we’re left with is a paint-by-numbers storyline where puzzles have to be solved, baddies dispatched and objects restored, simply because this is a HOPA and that’s what happens.


Design-wise, this is very much of the standard I’ve come to expect from Eipix. Backgrounds and cutscenes are beautifully illustrated, with stylish detail and smooth animations where necessary. The colour palette tends towards blues and greys in this one, but that seems to fit with the ‘eldritch-esque’ feel to the overall story. There was much less sense of NPCs altering and ‘descending’ into evil – a detail that has characterized the previous instalments of the series – but this also meant that there was none of the cartoonish ‘monster’ illustrations that marred the design of Behind the Mask.

Soundtrack and sound effects were also as you might expect from a HOPA by this developer. Overall, though, there was little innovation or surprise in the game design. I have no real criticisms, but also no specific praise. Again, this game feels a bit phoned-in. It’s competently created, but a little bit mundane.

And this comes through in the gameplay as well, which is very much as expected. It’s point, click, move between scenes, pick up items for the inventory, use items from the inventory, complete mini-games, complete HOGs. There is a bit of back-and-forth between rooms (which I don’t mind), and one short cut that you discover part way through to cut down on this (also something I don’t mind, as it made sense within the game’s geography). Most of the inventory items were used in a logical way, and the plus-items (ones where you find something and then have to fix it, or locate additional parts for it to be usable) are pretty straightforward.

To be honest, the gameplay is also a bit mundane in this one. The HOGs (which can be switched for Match-3) and mini-games are very easy. The progression through the game is also easy (though the bonus chapter suffers from too much confusion about objectives and next steps). The game has a Custom difficulty option – yay! – so I was playing with longer recharge times on Hint and Skip, minimal sparkles, minimal black bar instructions, and no tutorial. I didn’t have to use Hint much at all during the main game, though I found I had to use it (and the jump map) in the bonus chapter, but more on that below. Generally speaking, there’s just a lack of challenge with this one.


The game does have some NPCs, but there’s much less interaction with these than in previous instalments. The interactions (and cutscenes) with the malevolent ghosts are limited, which means that we don’t get much of a sense of them as characters. There is some more sustained interaction with the sinister Boat Man (who originally brings you to Logan Castle), but admittedly this is marred by some slightly dodgy voice acting (an accent that’s meant to be Scottish sounds much more Northern Irish). Outside of this, though, there’s very little characterization going on in Mournful Loch. Even in the highlighted word puzzles, which are often used for exposition and backstory, the information that’s revealed is very limited.


I played the CE version of the game, so there was some bonus content. The main attraction – as always – was the bonus chapter, but this was a bit of a disappointment. It wasn’t completely clear whether this chapter is a prequel or a sequel (I think it was the latter), or how it related to the events of the main game. In the end, it mostly served as some additional gameplay (using some of the scenes from the main game, and a couple of new ones), rather than a development of the storyline.

In addition to the bonus chapter, the CE has all the usual extra features, including achievements, replays on HOGs and Match-3, collectibles and morphing objects, soundtrack and wallpapers.

So, all-in-all, Mournful Loch was a bit of a disappointment. It’s competently made, but with nothing special or surprising about it. The visual design meets Eipix’s usual high standard, but the game is let down by a rather confused and unexciting storyline. I don’t have any major criticisms of the mechanics here, but I like HOPAs that integrate these into a story I can (at least temporarily) buy into. I probably will try another Phantasmat game, but maybe I need a break and another series for a while!

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