Return of the Phantom. (computer game) (Evaluation)
by Peter Olafson
This Phantom is just too pretty to hide behind a mask. To wander into the grand foyer of the opera house, our the maddening slime green maze below, is to wonder whether you've somehow slipped out of MicroProse's Return of the Phantom and into some luscious 24-bit image. No wonder Degas is hanging around in here.
Great arts is its own excuse, of course, but there's a graphic adventure here, too. It's a rather good one and has character and brains to go with its looks. It casts you as a modern-day police inspector looking into the deadly collapse of the opera's giant chandelier. It will shortly emerge that the phanton--or the opera ghost, as he's known--has been dispatching threatening notes to the game's principles and he means business.
Phanton takes place wholly within the walls of the opera house and its rather extensive underpinnings. While the number of discrete locations may be smaller than in other adventures (and because of this), you learn the place's ins and outs more intimately--especially since the game sends you drudging hither and thither through the structure to complete relatively modest tasks. That adds to the fun later in the game when you're transported back more than 100 years to the same environs and you get to reinspect the same props in their youth.
There's a sense of being very much alone in your search, to the extent that it's almost a relief to find other characters. The phantom is a peripheral figure at this stage--a fleeting glimpse, a shadow, a sound within the walls--and your first face-to-face encounter with this mystery figure will make you flinch marvelously.
You'll find yourself not minding the long treks. The interface--menus of verbs and nouns at the bottom of the screen--is unobtrusive and basic, and there's something intelligent about the writing that kept my interest. Alas, while there's delightful organ music in the game, it's hardly operatic--an odd lapse, given the subject matter. There's not much in the way of sound effects beyond the mouse squeak of doors.
The CD-ROM version supplements the text dialogue with digitized speech throughout. It's not the first game to add full speech, but it's one of the first to do it really well, and the speech invests the characters with much more personality than could possibly be achieved in text alone.