This review contains spoilers.
Never have I been so disappointed in a game that I had expected so little from. Phantaruk, as it is so unfortunately named, is an attempt at science fiction and survival horror with a twist of Egyptian myth.
The basic premise is common: you wake up on the floor having fallen out of a liquid filled tank. You seem to be the lone survivor of some sort of disaster on a research vessel in space. The ship is in a state of emergency; your goal is to get to the evacuation pods and escape the horrors.
Stealth Mechanics & Controls
Detection is an issue. Besides being mauled to death, there is no indication of whether you have been or are close to being detected. There is an eye symbol in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen, but its only purpose is to indicate the brightness level of the area. If the eye is completely closed and you are in total darkness, it does not often mean you are safe from detection.
Do not fear! The detection issues can be circumvented on many of the levels. I have found that if you take a direct path from the entrance of an area to its exit without stopping (also without even crouching) you can avoid every larger enemy. May I re-state that this is a stealth/survival-horror, and it has neither a difficulty setting nor a toggle crouch.
Enemies & Gameplay
There are four things to fear in the game. Larger pseudo-cyborg monsters, a limping genetically altered human clone, a brain creature with tiny legs, and a toxin that is slowly killing you. Neither of the three enemies can be fought. Encountering the clones and cyborgs results in death. The clones will give up chasing you if you run a few hallways away. The cyborgs will stop chasing you only if you manage to get inside a vent (in my experience). The brain creature is only seen once alive and it does not do much damage.
I realize that the lack of weaponry or combat capability contributes greatly to the fear and suspense that you want to cultivate in this genre. However, in this game, it does not make any sense. You are constantly hearing about security and mercenaries on the ship and you never find any of their weapons. Also, the human clones, though presumably stronger than an average human, are unarmed and essentially slap you to death. It is even strongly implied that you yourself are a clone, and therefore may have comparable strength, but there is still no attack button.
The toxicity level within your body increases over time and can be halted temporarily with a sort of antitoxin syringe. Again, this would be a good tactic to add more anxiety to the game and put a time limit on missions, if it made any sense. The quantities of antitoxin available are so large and the mission areas are so small, that instead of being a legitimate concern, the threat of death becomes a mere annoyance.
You are aboard a research space vessel owned by the H+ Corporation. In addition to their interests in pharmaceuticals (vaccines, etc), they are also interested in genetic engineering and cloning. The story revolves mainly around the ship’s captain – he is the only one who has left any audio logs to listen to. He is Russian and speaks English as though it is a second language. That level of poor English writing seeps into all the written notes by other non-Russian crew members.
It is explained to us that on Earth billions of people died to the small pox disease. Those who survived were shunned by healthy people. Some of the infected in Egypt convened in caverns under a pyramid and were influenced by Egyptian myth. They believed that the god Phantaruk would wipe out the evil in the world (the people who shunned the infected). All of this becomes irrelevant when small pox is cured, I believe by the H+ corporation. The captain’s daughter was one of the cultist before she died of said disease. In his grief the Captain starts to go insane, suspects that the H+ Corporation created the small pox disease, and believes in the Phantaruk religion.
After a series of ridiculous events not worth mentioning, he, having initially been looking for proof of H+ engineering the small pox disease (he finds none), discovers the experiments they are doing with clones and on humans. Upon making that discovery and one other, he flies into a rage and sets the clones and other experiments free.
When you finally make your way to the evacuation pods, you cannot use them. You are dying from an infection anyway, so escape wasn’t really an option. Once you fail to escape, your mission becomes to destroy the ship… Which you find out is already on course to collide with a star. So in the end, you receive very little information about the experiments done on the ship or the goals of the H+ Corporation. You also find out that all of your actions have been irrelevant because you were set to die in 3 different ways already (toxins, no evac pods, and collision course with star). The efforts of the captain to destroy the monsters and the crew succeed, but I doubt that that was the only ‘arm’ of the H+ Corporation.
Graphics & Sound
The graphics were aesthetically pleasing, and well crafted. I enjoyed the style of art, and found that it made the atmosphere and the creatures scary. The sounds were frightening as well; I thought they were well done. You could hear the monster’s groans from a long way off, though they always seemed just as loud as if you were close. The ambiance music was very well done too, it always gave you an eerie sense of foreboding. The music used when a cyborg was in your field of view was always startling – a good thing to have in a survival horror.
There is no challenge to the stealth or survival aspects of the game. It is scary initially, but that does not last when you find out how easy and short it is. The graphics are pleasant to look at and contribute to a scary atmosphere. The story is lackluster, nonsensical and vague. I do not recommend playing this game.
This game illustrated well the importance of good writing. A lot of what can make a survival horror game fun, or at least one like this involving the aftermath of a disaster, is the story. Gameplay issues aside; with the graphics and sound the way they were, the game could have been fun or at least playable if it had had better writing and a more compelling story.
DISCLAIMER: Phantaruk PC review copy provided by Polyslash. The opinions expressed in the article above have not be affected by, dictated or edited in any way by Polyslash. For more information please see Girls on Games’ Code of Journalistic Ethics.