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December 2021

Phantom Abyss

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Team WIBY
Release Date: 2022


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PC Preview - 'Phantom Abyss'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on June 22, 2021 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Phantom Abyss is a massive asynchronous multiplayer game that casts players into trap-laden, procedurally generated temples and tasks them with retrieving the sacred relics hidden within their walls.

The idea of whips and traps are synonymous with exploring temples. Indiana Jones or Lara Croft is the first thing that comes to mind when you picture exploring dusty ancient tombs. It's no surprise that Phantom Abyss grabs the Indiana Jones style and doesn't let up. Exploring temples, avoiding traps, escaping with treasure? It's one of the most basic adventure stories, but it's still darn cool.

The basic gameplay of Phantom Abyss is basically Indiana Jones by way of Mirror's Edge. It's a first-person platformer where you can run, jump, crouch and slide, but your coolest trick is your whip. While a whip can absolutely be used for whipping, there's no real combat in Phantom Abyss, so you'll mostly use it as a grappling hook. It takes some getting used to, but managing to hook onto a ledge is often the difference between life and death. Once you get the hang of it, you can easily zoom over traps.

Rooted in the concept of daily challenges in other roguelikes, Phantom Abyss is an asynchronous cooperative and competitive game with one basic idea: Players are sent into a randomly generated temple and have one chance to reach the end and claim the prize. However, everyone who's playing the game at that moment is competing for the single prize, and whoever reaches it the end first gets the relic. Basically, it's the unholy union of Spelunky daily challenges and Fall Guys.

Success is sweet, but for most people, it's going to be failure. That is where the cooperative element comes into play. When you die, a ghost of your actions is saved, similar to the ghosts from Dark Souls. When you go into the temple, you'll see the ghosts of the other players who died before you, including the paths that they took. In essence, you get to learn from other people's mistakes and their successes. If you see someone veer off the path, it may be to obtain a loot item that you'd otherwise miss. Of course, you will get preemptive warning of traps and danger.

To add an extra threat, each dungeon is guarded by one of the Temple Guardians, who exist to throw a wrench in the simple act of speedrunning by adding a timed challenge element. For example, one appears out of nowhere and starts throwing deadly poisonous balls, forcing you to adjust to a new danger. Another slowly follows you and never stops, but for every floor you clear, it gets increasingly faster, so you have little time to rest, and if you ever need to backtrack, you'll have to find a way past it.

In essence, Phantom Abyss is a speedrunning game with every player desperately trying to be the first to reach the end. The later you join the run, the easier it will be for you thanks to the hard-won knowledge of those who came before. It's a balancing act. The earlier you get to a temple, the more likely you are to be the first and the more you can afford to take your time. On the other hand, the later you get in, the more you'll have to depend on nonstop movement, shortcuts, and tricks that can trim precious moments so you can be the first one to reach the end.

Going out of your way may save time. There are chests scattered throughout the environment that contain coins or loot. Coins can be used within the dungeon to buy special passive bonuses, such as whipping faster or gaining additional health. They can also be used to open shortcut doors to skip a difficult area. It's a balancing act between deciding if a buff saves more time than a shortcut or if either is worth the extra trouble.

Successfully completing a run can earn loot to buy new whips. Different whips have different functions, and they usually have a positive and a negative. They can be faster, have a longer reach, or other such advantages, but they also have a longer cooldown or make the Temple Guardians more difficult. It's likely everyone will find their favorite whip, and the customization options sound neat. The trick is that you'll lose all of your gathered loot if you die. Thankfully, like Shiren the Wanderer, you can choose to send out a rescue request to friends. If one of them manages to clear the temple, your spirit will be freed and your loot recovered.

Phantom Abyss isn't quite first-person Spelunky, but it captures a lot of the same feel. It's addictive to dart through danger, avoid traps, take risks, and work to get the best time possible. Add to that the semi-competitive nature of the game, and you get a title that has real potential to be habit-forming. Phantom Abyss enters Early Access on Tuesday, June 22, 2021 — today! — and I'm looking forward to seeing how the game functions with a full list of players.

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