Friday, 29 March 2019

Game Review: Phantasmat: Crucible Peak Collector’s Edition (first play)

Developer: ERS G-Studio
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Original Release Date: 6th December 2012
Platform: PC

Hot on the heels of playing the first Phantasmat game, I jumped straight into the next one in the series. I really enjoyed the first one, and the rest of the series (or at least the earlier instalments) all seem to have quite high ratings. It would be quite nice to have a new series that I can rely on (the closest I’ve come since Mystery Case Files is PuppetShow, and these are a bit hit-and-miss). So let’s see how the Phantasmat series shapes up…

The second game in the series is Phantasmat: Crucible Peak, and there’s been a change of developer. This one was developed by ERC G-Studio (now Amax Interactive) in 2012.

You’re a skier in this one (not sure if you’re supposed to be playing as the same person as in Phantasmat), and the game begins with you looking forward to a dream ski trip in the Alps. But shock! horror! a terrifying avalanche puts paid to your plans. You find yourself trapped in a little town called Alpion, which appears to be abandoned. As with the first game, your primary objective is to find a way to get out of the town and on your way. However – again, as with the first game – you are intercepted by one of the few residents of the town, who tells you that something wrong is happening. Naturally, your secondary objective is to find out what on earth’s wrong with Alpion.

The town has been deserted since another catastrophic avalanche many years earlier. The local resort is apparently still open, but there’s no one staying except a young man called Otto, who you meet earlier on. The resort owner offers to help you, and so you start to travel around the area, meeting a couple of other residents along the way. Gradually, the true mystery of Alpion is revealed… or, at least, it would be if you haven’t played the first game. Somewhat disappointingly, the storyline and mystery has almost exactly the same structure as the first Phantasmat game. While it’s quite possible that you guessed the ‘twist’ in Phantasmat, there’s no need to guess at all in the second game – it’s just the same twist. This is a bit of a shame, but it didn’t completely ruin my enjoyment of the game.

The game’s design is stylish and well-done. The frozen backdrops are beautifully rendered, and the character illustrations are also great. As before, the non-player characters are illustrated but not fully animated. The dialogue animation is okay – though there are some occasionally clumsy movements – and the voice acting is great (except in one case, which I’ll come back to). The HOGs are well-designed here. They are undoubtedly quite dark, but the difficulty level is just right for me. (And although I didn’t play them much, the Match-3 games are just beautiful.) Soundtrack and cutscenes are well-done, though these aren’t quite as stylish as those in the first game. Or maybe the novelty value was higher for the first one – Crucible Peak is an enjoyable game, but there’s an undeniable feeling that it’s treading the same ground as Phantasmat.

The gameplay doesn’t hold much surprise for HOPA fans: it’s move-around-and-find-stuff as usual. There are three difficulty levels, but no Custom option. I played on Advanced (the middle level), meaning I had slow recharge on Hint and Skip and some misclick penalty. Advanced is also meant to limit the number of black bar hints that appear during the game, but, while it does do that, the mini-games annoyingly have instructions displayed as default so there’s no setting that will remove these. There’s also no jump map in this one, but you can switch between HOGs and Match-3 should you choose. In my review of the first game, I praised the intuitive and logical gameplay, as well as the way HOGs are integrated into the gameplay. Crucible Peak began in a similar vein – it was pretty clear what you had to do and why you had to do it, and inventory items were used in a common-sense way. However, as the game progressed, I found myself using Hint a lot more. The back-and-forth began to get a bit much, and I sometimes forgot what task I was meant to be completing. Inventory items were mostly common sense, but there were a couple of things that I had to use in an unexpected way.

I don’t want to keep reflecting back on my previous review, but Crucible Peak is in many ways so close to Phantasmat that I can’t really avoid it. And so… once again, in my review of the first game I commented on the use of NPCs. I liked the way NPCs worked in the first game, and so was happy enough for them to be used in a similar way in Crucible Peak. Yes – they have that HOPA habit of telling you to help with something and then standing back while you struggle through the task alone, but that makes sense in the context of the storyline.

There was a feature of the NPCs in Phantasmat that I couldn’t say too much about without giving spoilers. Well, Crucible Peak does the same thing (and I still don’t want to give any spoilers). And, on reflection, I think it’s even better second time round! The NPCs are given more detail in Crucible Peak – they’re given names, for instance, and a slightly more developed backstory. My favourite of these was Schultz, whose story went from vaguely HOPA-creepy to incredibly moving in just one cutscene. Nevertheless, there are some slightly odd moments – the development of Otto’s accent is just strange, and I don’t think the voice acting is at its best here. I can’t pretend that the motivations of all the NPCs makes sense, but a lot less suspension of disbelief is required than with some games.

As I played the CE for this one, there was some bonus content. The main attraction is, as ever, a bonus chapter. But this turned out to be a disappointing. As with Phantasmat, the bonus game is an epilogue chapter that feels a little bit tagged on. It adds nothing new or different to the story, and simply gives you another half an hour of gameplay. Other bonus features include concept art, soundtrack and achievements. There are also replays on HOGs, Match-3s and mini-games, as well as achievements. The game does offer one unusual bonus feature – character profiles for each of the NPCs. These profiles flesh out some of the backstory you discover in the game, as well as offering some little extra details. This quirky little feature adds to the overall feeling that Crucible Peak is developing its NPCs in a bit more detail than Phantasmat.

So, overall, I did enjoy this one, and I spent a happy 5 hours or so completing it. I feel like I enjoyed Phantasmat more, but I wonder if that’s because it had a real novelty value to it. Perhaps I would have like Crucible Peak more if I hadn’t been constantly comparing it to the first game! Nevertheless, I’m definitely liking this series, and I think it’s quite likely I’ll be playing the third Phantasmat title before too long.

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