Phantaruk – What We Think:
Phantaruk is a science fiction horror adventure from Polish developer Polyslash. Despite being fairly derivative – and despite some annoying performance and graphics issues – its thick, creepy atmosphere and gradually revealed storyline made it a lot more compelling than I would have expected.
From Poland with
We’re currently seeing a bit of a Polish indie game renaissance. Witcher developers CD Projekt RED are only the most visible example. Smaller companies like Flying Wild Hog and Justl337 Studio have also made something of a splash on Steam in the past few years.
The latest Polish developer to enter the wider indie world is Polyslash. Their first offering, Phantaruk, is a science fiction horror offering heavily inspired by indie and major studio games alike. Imagine Amnesia: The Dark Descent by way of Alien: Isolation, add some zombies-in-space atmosphere from the Dead Space series, and you get the picture.
A Clone in the Dark
Phantaruk borrows from its biggest influences mechanically as well as atmospherically. You have no weapons with which to defend yourself, and you’re being stalked by a malevolent creature. (There are also zombie clones, though they’re easier to avoid.) Even worse, you’re suffering from a virus of some kind and have a limited supply of antidote.
And each encounter with the creature makes you even sicker. Better scavenge the ship and hope you can find more medicine.
There’s also the hoary old flashlight effect – you need it to see in the dark, but turning it on for too long makes it easier for the monster to see you, too. Plus, your flashlight runs on batteries, which means more scavenging.
Apart from that, Phantaruk is a fairly standard first-person adventure game with stealth elements. Explore the ship, find clues, pick up objects and put them together to solve rudimentary puzzles. Because it’s a horror game, some of the inventory puzzles can be pretty gory, as well; at one point, you’ll use a crew member’s severed head to bypass a retina scanner.
Flashlights and Flashing Lights
In addition to being derivative, Phantaruk is also hindered by graphics and performance issues. Frame rates varied enough depending on whether or not I had any other windows open that I ended up manually restarting my entire PC before each play session.
More concerning, the game is full of flickering lights – enough so to be dangerous for people with epilepsy – and there’s no option to turn them off. This didn’t actually bother me (which was surprising, because I’m fairly sensitive to motion sickness in video games), but could definitely be off-putting to more sensitive players.
What’s Your Story, Gross ‘n’ Gory?
Despite its problems, Phantaruk charmed me. Admittedly, “charmed” is an odd word for a game full of medically mutilated clones on a monster-haunted spaceship, but the atmosphere and story were effective despite their lack of originality.
A lot of the credit goes to the brilliant voice acting of Andrzej Blumenfeld, who has also appeared in such films as The Pianist but is best known by video game fans for his work in the Witcher series. As the ship’s captain, whose story you uncover through a series of audio logs you must decode at various computer terminals, Blumenfeld is somewhat reminiscent of a Slavic Ricardo Montalban.
The game’s audiovisual design is impressive, as well. The flickering lights, while annoying at times, effectively evoke a spaceship with major electrical and mechanical problems, and the use of contrast between light and darkness throughout Phantaruk makes for some impressive set pieces that vary enough to be interesting while remaining thematically consistent. The dark ambient soundtrack is thick and oppressive without actually being obtrusive.
Phantaruk is by no means perfect, nor is it superior to its biggest inspirations. But if you’re a fan of the very specific horror of deep space claustrophobia – think Alien, Event Horizon or any number of Doctor Who episodes – Phantaruk does a great job scratching that particular itch.
Phantaruk is available via Steam.
Watch the trailer for Phantaruk below: