Phantom Abyss: The Kotaku Australia Review

Phantom Abyss: The Kotaku Australia Review

If you need an Indiana Jones game to tie you over until the actual Indiana Jones game arrives later this year, Phantom Abyss might be what Doctor Jones ordered.

Phantom Abyss is an asymmetric-multiplayer, temple-based puzzle game in which players charge through trap dungeons in hopes of securing expensive items of great renown. It’s made by Queensland studio Team WIBY, and has been in early access for some time. This week, the game will finally launch into full 1.0 release.

Give Me The Whip, Throw Me The Idol

The thrust of Phantom Abyss is that you are one of many adventurers (other players) who have been trapped in the endless, shifting lair of a chained and rather malevolent Mesoamerican deity named Altec. Altec appears to have been sealed away by the Losana people a very long time ago and left chained within an old temple. You need to escape the temple, and the only way to do that is by completing Altec’s challenges and retrieving sacred idols buried in the bowels of the temple. Completing his challenges also slowly but surely breaks the bastard’s chains, inching him closer to the freedom he desires but probably should not have.

You are not alone in your task, however. The temple is filled with the spirits of other adventurers, rendered as ghosts. You’re not playing with other people in real time. Rather, you’re seeing a recording of their run. Hundreds of these ghosts can be skittering about at any one time, leaving blue trails to tell you where they’ve gone. In this way, each level becomes a kind of foot race to reach the idol first. In another way, it provides a clear guide for what to do and where to go.

Each temple run is a blind charge through a procedurally generated funhouse murder dungeon. These dungeons range in challenge from ‘leisurely, unhurried jog’ to ‘holy shit what the fuck’. Traps include everything from spike walls to bottomless pits, whirling blades and flying bombs, falling blocks and poison darts, and more. Depending on the level, there might even be a chance for an enemy to spawn, a protector of the temple’s treasure that harries the players at every turn. This randomised floating mongrel teleports from room to room, shooting lasers or dropping bombs that slow the player down. The problem with this harassment enemy is that because you’re the only ‘real’ player in your run, it only seems to want to shoot at you rather than the many ghost players pinwheeling about you.

Your character has a finite number of hearts that dwindle with every hit you take. Run out of hearts, your character will die, and your run will end. Another player may pick up your essence for a boost. However, your character has some tricks at their disposal to help them through each level. Most of your skills are athletic — your character can sprint, crouch, slide and perform a dash move to help complete a jump. They also have an Indiana Jones-style whip in their right hand, which can be used offensively to smack floating bombs around or smash up clay pots for money or traversal. Clicking and holding your mouse button will let the whip grab onto nearby surfaces and pull you upward. Place it correctly and time it right, and you can use the whip to move between platforms or scale tall shafts very quickly.

Completing each run in the game’s Adventure mode unlocks a new kind of whip for you to use. Each new whip grants a single buff when equipped — one grants an extremely useful double jump, and another lets you drop coins you’ve collected in water to restore your health. There are loads of them, and once unlocked, can be used to augment any future runs you undertake. You can also spend coins collected in-level on temporary upgrades that will disappear after the run. The more successful runs you put in, the more of the Adventure Mode’s four core currencies you unlock — one from each major zone — which can be spent on permanent upgrades, like extra health or a stronger whip crack. The more of these you unlock, the more powerful your adventurer becomes and the better equipped you are to handle anything a given temple throws at you.

But are you going to want to put in the work to unlock it all?

Lightning. Fire. The Power Of God Or Something

With all these pieces in play, does Phantom Abyss work as a video game in its own right? Yes, for a specific kind of player, I think it will. And by specific kind of player, I mean players with an audience. Twitch streamers in search of a game they can wildly overreact to will find fertile ground here. For the average joe who wants something to play after work, I can’t see it holding much long-term interest. It’ll certainly entertain you for a few nights, and you might even tell some friends about it, such is the novelty of the experience. But it all felt a bit surface-deep for me.

However, players who deploy it as a pass-the-controller experience at their next party will almost certainly get a lot out of it. This is an excellent game to play with a few friends after a drink or two, with everyone taking a run and passing the controls on when they either die or complete a level. Everyone else gets to hoot, holler, heckle, and rejoice as the run unfolds, and Phantom Abyss unloads its nasty little surprises on a gaggle of unsuspecting drunkards. I think that’s the ideal mode of play. It has everything it needs to become a Rock Band for people who show affection through incessant ridicule.

Phantom Abyss Verdict

I don’t think Phantom Abyss is a bad little game. I think it’s quite well made, and it has a great batch of ideas behind it. I think it executes on its vision to the letter, but that that vision will only appeal to a specific audience. I think it’s quite fun to play in the moment, but it doesn’t quite have the One More Run hook of a proper roguelike. I found myself tabbing out to look at Twitter or check my emails between runs because I wasn’t feeling a strong pull to start the next level.

Nevertheless, seeing a game of this quality coming out of Queensland is heartening. From a production standpoint, it feels very polished. It’s fast and fluid, its controls are sharp, and it knows exactly what kind of game it wants to be. It’s also lean as hell and doesn’t waste a second of your time, which I mightily respect.

I look forward to seeing what Team WIBY produce next. With Phantom Abyss, they have marked themselves as a local team to watch.

Review conducted on PC with an early access review build provided by the publisher. You can find it on Steam here.

Image: Team WIBY, Devolver Digital, Kotaku Australia

The Cheapest NBN 1000 Plans

Looking to bump up your internet connection and save a few bucks? Here are the cheapest plans available.

At Kotaku, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *