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PHANTOM ABYSS: EARLY PREVIEW

Devolver Digital is famous not only for its fun show programs at E3, but also for the fact that it is able to find among the many indie developers those who create truly interesting and original projects. I will not sin against the truth if I say that the logo of this company on the cover is a quality mark: not the fact that this is an absolute masterpiece, but a game worthy of attention - at least.

Phantom Abyss from  Team WIBY , recently appeared in Steam Early Access, - a case in point. It seems to be nothing outstanding, but the concept is intriguing - I want to take a look on my own at what the developers have prepared.

Tomb Raiders

The fact that we have a product in early access is visible to the naked eye. This is indicated by the ascetic design of the menu, unassuming graphics and the usual localization flaws in the form of fonts that crawl out of the text field. On top of that, the developers don't bother themselves with explaining what's going on here at all - the plot is on the sidelines.

The main character is an adventurer with only one whip, in search of prey, who climbed into a huge ancient temple, but instead of a treasure he found trouble. You cannot get out of the temple until all the relics in it have been obtained - only then a powerful spirit, also a prisoner, will help us find freedom (at the same time, having released himself). The task is difficult, but there is nowhere to go: here even death is not an option, but just an opportunity to start again.

There are no colorful videos, characters (with the exception of the protagonist and that very spirit) and generally a clearly defined plot. Not surprising for a roguelike and just as familiar for a parkour platformer - namely, the fusion of these two distant genres is this game.

Whip and hat

From "roguelikes" Phantom Abyss took the lack of save, indirect transfer of progress and random generation of levels, and from platformers - the way of passing these same levels.

Every attempt to reach the heart of the dungeon, where the most valuable relic is located, is a race along an entire obstacle course. The builders of the temple made sure that anyone who dares to disturb the peace of the ancient walls would have to think not about wealth, but about how to keep their skin intact. Blocks falling from the ceiling, piercing thorns, abysses with burning lava, rolling stone balls, crossbows and huge spinning knives - this is just a small list of what unknown designers have prepared for those who are going to rob the inhabitants of the temple.

Do you think we need gold more, because they died anyway? The guards of the temple, who interfere with the player no less traps, will not agree with this. There are several guards - for example, one shoots a red-hot beam, another throws exploding poisonous balls, and the third inevitably pursues the player, not paying attention to obstacles.

The further you go, the more difficult the locations become and the angrier the guards. On the other hand, the size of the award also increases. In addition, after every three levels passed, we have the opportunity to be content with little - not go deeper, but pick up a relic of a lower rank. In addition to the relics themselves, you can collect other jewelry - coins and keys. Coins in chests and vases are needed for offerings to altars (there are at the beginning and end of each level), in response to which the spirit can give a blessing: from simple healing of wounds to extra lives or an ultra-high jump.

Keys are much less common (usually in hard-to-reach places or near relics) and are needed to buy new whips. The usual one, with which we begin the journey, is suitable only for breaking vases, opening chests and, most importantly, clinging to any surfaces, pulling up to them. Other whips, offered for purchase before the start of the next attempt, add features to the main functions that not only facilitate passage, but can also change the tactics of traveling to the center of the temple.

For example, one whip gives as many as two additional "hearts" in addition to the standard three, but blessings at the altars are more expensive; the other removes fall damage, but strengthens the guards. The negative effect of the whip can be removed if you get the next relic, and the whips already purchased are saved and are always available for selection before the next attempt.



Watch your step

Let's move on to the main thing - directly to the races around the temple in search of relics. The word "race" is not accidental here, because before us, let me remind you, is a parkour platformer. Nothing superfluous - just running, jumping and overcoming obstacles with a whip in various combinations. The levels are made in such a way that, even if you do not take into account the traps and guards, you can always fall into a bottomless abyss or get hurt by falling from a great height.

With traps, running to the door to the next floor becomes even more difficult. At first glance, they do not represent anything special - safe surfaces are highlighted, spikes or falling stones are visible from afar, and locations, despite the procedural generation, are collected from repeating rooms, the safe way of passing which is easy to remember. As soon as you get used to it, you start to run through the initial floors without any problems - even the guard who does not let you rest, who first appears on the second level, does not interfere too much. The main thing here is not to fuss: you can almost always be saved from falling into an abyss or meeting with thorns and a knife with the help of a whip.

But the further into the depths of the temple you climb, the faster the demands for reaction grow. The Guardian also becomes angrier and uses their weapons more often, making it harder to keep cool. At medium levels, you usually die just while trying to escape from the guard - he does not allow you to think about a way to go through a particularly tricky room, in which a step to the side threatens death, and you will not immediately notice the point for tying the whip.

Only the most skilled can get to the heart of the temple (I, for example, did not succeed). You will also need knowledge of locations, obtained in previous attempts, and reaction speed, and luck. There are enough moments when the player manages to get out of a seemingly hopeless situation, bypassing a trap in a fall or by catching a whip on a wall at the limit of its range. However, the opposite is also true - sometimes you simply have no luck and die on the simplest obstacle.



Companions in misfortune

Such death will not go unnoticed - in the temple you can find ghosts, repeating the actions of the players who died during the passage. You cannot interact with ghosts directly, but you can only observe - according to the developers, this can help the next adventurer to safely pass the level. A sort of TrackMania (but it's worth remembering that all other "riders" are losers) or Fall Guys (without the ability to interact with other race participants). It sounds interesting - instead of breaking through the traps yourself, it's better to see how it was done before us. But in reality, such asynchronous multiplayer turns out to be useless.

There are a lot of ghosts only on the first floors, which are easy to get used to passing without prompts, and in the depths of the temple you usually travel without other people's copies - everyone died earlier. Even if they are there, there is little sense - the design of the levels makes demands on speed, not on the skills of finding a route. And without ghosts you see how to act, so soon you stop paying attention to them, especially since sometimes it is simply not up to this - to take your feet away from the guard. The main thing is to remember that ghosts activate traps - sometimes this brings an unpleasant surprise.

The "feature" with a single winner for each temple also looks senseless. If the player gets to the most valuable relic and takes it with him, then the temple will disappear - no one else can go through it. But what's the point if we already have procedural generation of locations, and the relics we get give only a cosmetic effect (they appear on the altars in the initial hall)? No one will regret that the next set of randomly stitched rooms is no longer available for passing - the game will always offer new ones. No one will know the name of the lucky one.


Phantom Abyss is hardly destined to become popular - the developers pay too little attention to the surroundings and do not try to diversify the gameplay. But the focus on the very essence of parkour-platforming - "spinal" gameplay, nothing superfluous - gives a chance to keep, albeit a narrow, but fairly stable audience. You can also find the potential of the speedrunner discipline - more and more records are already being set at speedrun.com.

However, there is still work to be done here. So, something needs to be done with the difficulty curve: to get to the lower floors of the temple, you have to run through the initial levels already memorized every time, which does not cause much trouble, but forces you to waste time. Even if we consider this as a warm-up before the real test, the obligatory repetition of the past will please very few people - do not forget that the location generator builds levels from the same set of rooms.

Time in Team WIBY in abundance - in her words, the Phantom Abyss hold early access at least a year. Enough to fix bugs, polish gameplay and add new features.

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