Find out why it’s okay to laugh at things going bump in the night in our Phantom Halls review for PC.
If the underrated Thirteen Ghosts taught us anything, it’s that an ever-changing haunted house is a cool concept. Familiar settings with a new twist and new threats. Incendium’s Phantom Halls embraces that idea with a procedurally-generated haunted house action game full of beasties and nods to horror’s history.
Phantom Halls is a horror comedy game where you take a newly-formed team of papercraft horror victim stereotypes (Jocks, nerds, etc) into spooky locales and eradicate the nasties found within all the way to the end point. You head into a location that keeps certain rooms intact but randomizes the pathways to them each time. Once the objective is complete, you have to find our way back to the start to exit the level. The haunted house itself is a mean old box of tricks. Throwing a variety of monsters, secrets, and deadly traps at you each time. It maybe could have done with a bit more overall diversity in terms of level design, but the tactical depth and pure horror love-in found within makes up for this relatively minor grievance.
You’re able to scavenge makeshift weaponry as you go, but this isn’t exactly a loot-a-thon, rather it represents the typical scrabble for survival so entrenched in horror. The result is some amusingly improvised weaponry that connects with a satisfying level of impact.
You control the entire squad, with each character’s actions assigned to different keys. There are different abilities for the characters, giving you a tactical variety for the procedurally-generated haunted houses, shacks, et al you’ll trudge through, decimating legions of evil in the pursuit of whatever goal you’ve been given (the parameters change for each mission). These skills are smartly in keeping with the stereotypes so the Jock does more damage, the Goth can help everyone go unnoticed, and the peppy Cheerleader can boost the party’s health with a good solid cheer.
These aren’t expert fighters though, and no matter how badass the weapon they possess is, they aren’t entirely accurate with them. It makes for some risky, panicked play when a weapon degrades and you have to hedge your bets on whether you’ll be best served trying to hit this next enemy with this characters final attempt, knowing it could miss. There’s a small degree of aggravation to be found when things don’t go your way, but like most games that employ smart strategy, you know deep down that you were at fault for a bad decision in a good 90-95% of the choices made.
The tactical depth is expanded by claiming new characters, all resplendent with their own abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. As the challenges grow ever tougher, having a wider pool of squad members to select from becomes ever more essential, and alongside the procedural nature of the house itself, it adds a massive amount of replayability and keeps that gameplay cycle fresher for longer.
Coming from a relatively brief Early Access period, Phantom Halls has managed to start off promising and build itself well of the back of community feedback. It’s a seemingly rare case of a developer having a strong concept for a game and its structure going into the hit n’ miss world of Early Access and just using that time to smooth and refine what they already have. Oh, and add a bunch of official Evil Dead bits to the package, including an adorable papercraft Ash.
You may have seen our feature recently on Phantom Halls where it was clear that Incedium is filled with horror fans, particularly the slapstick gorefest that is Evil Dead II, and as it was noted there, it really does show in Phantom Halls’ atheistic just how much love there is for a significant chunk of horror’s history. Phantom Halls pokes fun at the hokier side of the genre with an affectionate playfulness rather than cynically slaughter it, and that speaks volumes about the respect and knowledge shown by Incendium. The character’s banter is funny without being too try-hard or edgy with it. It’s noticeable that Evil Dead is an influence on more than just the design and licensed content, but in the quip-happy humor as well.
Phantom Halls is a fine example of comedy and horror done right whilst also being a pretty damn good roguelike too. Incendium has laid down a fresh marker for getting the balance of these three elements to work cohesively and effectively.
Phantom Halls Review Code provided by the publisher.
Phantom Halls is available now on Steam PC.