Phase Paradox--the second chapter in the Philosoma series--may properly set the tone and atmosphere for some good sci-fi suspense, but the gameplay remains suspect. We have hands-on impressions of a demo of the game.
Remember Philosoma, the 3D shooting title from the early days of the PlayStation? Well, the game's story will continue in Sony Computer Entertainment's latest adventure title, Phase Paradox, for the PlayStation 2. Takahiro Matsushima, Philosoma's creator, takes the helm as the designer and supervisor of the game, and Michiaki Sato did the designs of the Gallant and Strega fighters. We recently got hold of a playable demo, and we are rife with impressions.
The story begins where Philosoma left off: Captain Nicola Michau, who pilots the Strega fighter, is en route to rendezvous with the Gallant. But when Planet 220 suddenly explodes--where the ships were set to meet-- the assault-type space carrier is severely damaged, and an unknown life form to boards it. From its outset, the game lets you choose from three different characters: Jude Sutcliffe, a first lieutenant of the Damage Control Team (DACT); Renee Hearn, a captain of the Wyvern force; and Aila Hoeybraaten, a bio lab scientist. Each character's quest begins in a different area of the ship, during varying time frames.
Phase Paradox's plot and atmosphere could best be described as The Thing meets Event Horizon. You are trapped in the space vessel, and you encounter crewmembers who have been taken over by an unknown life-form. The game itself, however, seems rather simplistic and can be quite slow-paced: It is essentially a progression of cutscenes rendered in real time. The game's action consists of situations where you must choose from one of two choices, by pressing the circle or X button. Some of these scenes will have time limits, but for the most part the game pauses until a choice has been made. In between these cutscenes, you have the opportunity to control the characters on a field map similar to Resident Evil's.
Unfortunately, the game seems to follow a strict linear plot, so selecting the wrong choice almost guarantees a game over. To make matters worse, upon restarting the game, you don't have the option to skip the cutscenes. The graphic engine uses prerendered environments, but the characters are rendered in full 3D and are generously textured. They seem particularly impressive when examined up close--their eyes, eyebrows, and mouths move to convey varying levels of expression, and the animation is very fluid and realistic. The game, for the most part, relies on ambience and sound effects rather than background music--a formula that has worked since the birth of the Resident Evil series. The voice acting (done in English with Japanese subtitles) is satisfactory, and luckily it doesn't feel too much like a cheesy sci-fi movie.
Phase Paradox, the second chapter in the Philosoma series, may set the tone and atmosphere for a good deal of sci-fi suspense games to come, but its gameplay mechanics remain questionable. The game is currently scheduled for release on May 24 in Japan.