Phantaruk

Game review by
Chad Sapieha, Common Sense Media
Phantaruk Game Poster Image
Bland sci-fi horror gory; dull gameplay underwhelms.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Positive Messages

Promotes caution over bravado. Suggests that motives of big corporations are suspect. Warns against religious zealotry.

Positive Role Models & Representations

We learn little of protagonist's thoughts, motives, but he chooses to try to avoid conflict rather than fight his enemies, though it's primarily out of fear rather than any sort of mercy.

Ease of Play

Controls make sense, goals are clear, but mastering confusing stealth system -- keeping safe in shadows, crouching out of sight -- will take time. 

Violence

Players don't fight enemies but can be killed by them. If player's character is killed, first-person perspective view turns blood-red. Deceased, dissected humans appear in environment; blood, body parts litter floor. In some scenes, players must collect, use a severed arm, head as tools.

Sex
Language

Several instances of strong profanity, including "f--k," "s--t," and "bitch."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Player's character frequently injects himself with an unknown drug to stave off a potentially fatal infection.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Phantaruk is a first-person sci-fi horror game on a derelict spacecraft filled with a dead crew and lots of monsters. The main character opts to stealthily work his way around enemies rather than fight them. But he can be killed, resulting in the screen turning blood-red. He also runs across plenty of gory scenes, including severed arms, heads, and partially dissected human subjects. To stay alive, the protagonist must regularly inject himself with a drug, but it’s not a known substance. Voice and text messages in the story contain lots of strong profanity.

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What's it about?

In PHANTARUK, a sci-fi survival horror game presented from a first-person perspective, you wake up alone and afraid on a dying starship. Knowing neither who nor where you are, you begin stumbling through doors. A blaring alarm tells you the ship is filled with "infected" subjects that must be avoided. Within moments, it becomes clear that you're infected with something, too, as the edges of the screen turn green and cloudy, indicating sickness. You soon learn that you need to regularly inject yourself with medicine in glowing syringes found scattered around the ship to keep the infection at bay. But that's just the start of your problems. The other infected will attack you on sight, and since you have no way to defend yourself or strike back, you'll need to keep to the shadows and out of their vision as much as possible. The good news is that the ship's electrical systems are failing, providing plenty of dark spots in which to hide. If you can remain hidden from enemies and safely snake your way through the dark corridors, you may manage to live long enough to unlock the mystery of what happened aboard this dead spacecraft.

Is it any good?

It's OK for game makers to pay homage to sources of inspiration, so long as they eventually find their own strong voice. Unfortunately, this game's designers never find that voice. Phantaruk manages to competently craft a spooky and isolated setting in the form of a lonely spaceship. It also fills the ship with some scary images, including frightening creatures and scenes of carnage. But the story -- a tale of a cult, a corporation, and forced evolution, clumsily told through a series of voice logs and text messages -- offers us nothing new or particularly interesting. Fans of sci-fi horror have seen these themes and ideas presented many times in better games, books, and movies.

It's also at times not much fun to play. The decision to focus the action on enemy avoidance rather than fighting is praiseworthy. But the stealth is made frustrating by a number of poor design choices, including scenes that are too poorly lit to make out anything (even with your brightness setting cranked up to maximum), the lack of a map or any sort of visual navigational aid, and unreliable and indecipherable rules governing when enemies can and can't detect you. Most players will experience a lot of frustrating trial-and-error play, with each wrong decision resulting in instant death. Even for serious devotees of the genre, this is a sci-fi horror adventure that might not be worth the time or money.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the impact of violence in media in games such as Phantaruk. Most games with violence give the player's character powerful attack abilities, but Phantaruk turns the player's character into a potential victim without the ability to fight back. So did you feel differently while playing this game than others where you can fight and defend yourself?   

  • Talk about how to cope with scary situations in games. How do you feel while playing? Do scenes and situations from these games stay with you after you finish them? Is this feeling similar to what you experience watching a horror film, or is it more or less intense? Why do you think this might be?

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