A Puzzle of Flesh will be Sierra's attempt to follow-up and surpass its first (and, some contend, rather wobbly) crack at the interactive-movie, horror-game experience. The original Phantasmagoria (written by the ubiquitous Roberta Williams) was arguably a nervy step for the normally reserved Sierra On-Line: a big, hyped, honkin' 7-CD interactive horror adventure filled with very attractive environments, big-budget production, full-motion video, suggestive themes, startling forays into violence, and some of the most god-awful acting this side of the porno industry.
Hailed as stunning,' and chilling' by some of the more milquetoast computer-related pubs, Phantasmagoria left the serious gaming public feeling more lukewarm than chilled' as such; the game careened from not-particularly-engaging rounds of point/click activity to flat-out gore, the end payoff just didn't justify the CD Harlem Shuffle one had to endure, and the horrific' elements were fairly pedestrian. A Puzzle of Flesh seems aimed at changing a lot of that.
Designed by Sierra's Lorlelei Shannon (whose office door plaque claims that every day is Halloween) and comparable to the original in terms of interface, this second episode of the Phantasmagoria universe plows closer to the heart of horror in the oh-so-sophisticated '90s - the unravelling of one's personal reality. Curtis Craig, our game protagonist, is a quiet guy: reliable, steady job, girlfriend, the whole nine yards. Looking at him, you never think him only a year out of the nut hatch. All Curtis wants is to live a normal, happy life - but some thing seems to have other plans for him. His reality starts to get squishy at the edges. Photographs bleed. Rats speak. His computer develops a vicious mind of its own (perhaps it's running Windows). Then the Hecatomb, an inhuman entity, appears to Curtis, speaking of his warped childhood, his worst fears, his most unbearable memories. Curtis begins to fumble for reality as if it were a bar of soap in the shower; very soon, the water turns red as peers and fri ends begin having very nasty and terminal accidents.
If it can be supposed - and it has been - that Roberta Williams has read too many horror works of the conventional sort, then Lorlelie Shannon may have recently been on a steady diet of Clive Barker. One of the hooks of A Puzzle of Flesh is not so much its gameplay but its psychological maturity. As the player begins to explore the darkened lower levels of Curtis' shadowy company, WynTech, the lines between just what the player must confront begin to seriously blur. The bowels of the company building become the black corridors of the protagonist's mind, and he discovers a rip into another world - a secret buried in his own heart. Will these lofty themes translate into especially clever and intuition-driven gameplay? We don't know yet. But by all indications, Sierra is gearing up to get very serious indeed with its high-profile horror title