September 22, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT
We gave it a B+

An ambitious seven-disc interactive movie that cost a reported $4 million to produce, the long-delayed Phantasmagoria is one of the surest signs yet of computer games approaching the quality level of the movies — well, at least the quality level of those faceless horror movies at the video store.

Unlike such CD-ROM movie games as Demolition Man and Corpse Killer, which use live-action footage to bridge fairly typical point-and-shoot game sequences, Phantasmagoria unfolds, like Myst and Gadget, as you wander through sharply detailed 3-D-rendered environments, clicking on doors and collecting objects. The plot: A young couple moves into an old New England mansion whose previous occupant, a 19th-century illusionist, is apparently still hanging around. You assume the role of the wife, Adrienne, to gather clues to help free husband Don from the clutch of evil. The game’s difficulty peaks on Disc 7, when you must destroy a ghastly spectre before it kills you; if you don’t make the right moves during your 10-second windows of opportunity, expect no mercy.

It’s clear that creator Roberta Williams is playing to a crowd weaned on splatter and cheese, and the participation of director Peter Maris (Viper, Diplomatic Immunity) and actress Stella Stevens (who offers game hints as a good-natured antiques dealer) helps establish Phantasmagoria‘s B-movie pedigree. While some of Williams’ horrific touches seem a bit derivative (such as a Freddy Krueger-like nightmare in which hands pull you through a bed), toward the end she manages some suspenseful moments (with a few novel twists, such as talking green vomit).

In a move that goes traditional horror flicks one better, the game offers parents the ability to enter a password and lock out the more gruesome and adult sequences, which include a rape. And unlike the characters in a big-screen gorefest, you’re encouraged to enter a room…in a haunted house…in the dark…by yourself. And no one’s around to call you an idiot. B+

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