Phantom Abyss’ early access opened last night five minutes before my bedtime. Two hours later I was sleepily stumbling through the game’s procedurally generated temples, watching as the ghosts of those who played before me stumbled and fell. The ego-driven concept of only one player being able to complete a temple before it’s closed forever is surprisingly moreish, though I think they need to take another crack at the controls. I haven’t claimed a temple yet, but the temples have claimed me.
This is news and not a review, but indulge me a little. The structure and temple design are the highlights right now. Starting amidst the ghosts of previous players lets you grasp a little of what you’re up against. You can follow along, keeping track of where people perished when a floor flipped around, or where spikes sprung up and kneecapped them. You’re challenged by them, but you also learn from them. You can see long drops that looked impossible but some brave player nailed, and find secrets that you’d never have spotted if there wasn’t a dotted line leading you right there. And all this only gets you so far. Everyone that’s helping you right now has died, leaving the temple for you to try and claim.
A few control issues tripped me up. The whip is used to swing like Doctor Jones from place to place, but instead of just binding the normal whip action and the grapple to different mouse buttons, the default requires you to hold down the right mouse button and then press the left one. The alternative is a toggle that acts as if the RMB is pressed. Every muscle and tendon in my hand is begging for this system to be simplified to right mouse grapple, left mouse whip. I currently can’t fathom why it’s not.
I really hope I’m not the only one who struggles with this, because if it's fixed then this could become my new Spelunky. The systems aren’t as complex, but the drive to succeed, or to at least leave behind a spectacular failure, feels very similar. I'm quite miffed that I'm about to finish writing this story, as I now don't have a reason to play it until work is over. Maybe if I just keep on typing then Alice won't notice that... nope. OK, that failed. Moving on. Don't follow me down that path, people.
It’s out now on Steam for £15.59.