Phantom Abyss Preview – Indiana Jones Meets A Roguelike Mirror’s Edge

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By Chris Penwell on June 28th, 2021

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Like finding a relic in the rough, Phantom Abyss brings a jolt of excitement to the roguelike genre. It gives you the rush of death defying jumps and with the crack of a whip, you can leap to higher platforms. It’s energetic, fast, intriguing, and above all else fun.

helpful ghosts

Phantom Abyss Ghosts
Image via Devolver Digital

Phantom Abyss has you playing as an explorer, who is trapped in a tomb until they find all the relics in the game, and that, my friends, is no small feat. You will see why as ghosts will appear in your game that depict prior attempts at the temple you are facing. Yes, every ghost you see in the game was a past player, who unfortunately perished in the randomly generated level you are in. Like Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout, you can watch other players for clues on how to triumph in the next section. They can also help you reveal vital treasure boxes that are hidden throughout the level. It’s thrilling to see seven or so other players run in front of you, but this isn’t a race; you can go at whatever speed you’d like. If you manage to complete the level, there is only one victor of the temple and that section you just finished will not be repeated by anyone in the world.

intense first-person platforming

Phantom Abyss Platforming Steam Early Access
Image via Devolver Digital

On the other hand, that outcome will be difficult to reach. There are traps abound in Phantom Abyss that will keep your heart pacing and your hands locked on to the controller or your keyboard and mouse. You’ll have to slide under rotating blades, jump over spikes, and time your positioning perfectly in order to run through a slowly descending platform. The whip is fantastic as you can reach higher platforms with it in mid-air. There’s a risk, but when you make it, it feels so good. We just wish that there wasn’t a cool down between your whips; it should feel faster. Regardless, it’s a rush, and even though you’ll often lose at these levels, you’ll likely want to go back for more due to how great it plays. There’s an addicting hook there.

First-person platformers (FPP) are often hard to pull off. Mirror’s Edge was one of the first successful games to do it, and Phantom Abyss joins that small group of FPP titles that actually work tremendously. Each jump, slide, and jump is precise, and the reaction speed of the mouse and keyboard is on point. The default slide button on CTRL is sometimes to hard to pull off and can be a strain on the left hand, but overall, the controls are wonderful to implement.

It’s a roguelike!

So where do the roguelike mechanics kick in? As you go through each level, you collect gold from opening chests and destroying vases. Then, at select pedestals, you can use that money to gain bonuses like a double jump or extra health. These factors can truly alter the direction of the game. There is risk to upgrading, however, as you can also get healed for the same amount of cash at these pedestals. It’s up to you to take the health and run, having that security, or going all out and getting upgrades for your run.

In addition, you’ll unlock new whips as you play the game. One whip lets me gain health by putting coins in the water, but it costs three keys to use it for that playthrough. Others will keep twisting the game and what you can do as you unlock more and more.

One of my favorite parts of Phantom Abyss are the temple guardians that try to chase you down as you search for the relic. It adds more pressure on you as you try to climb and run your way to victory. As the beasts get closer to you, the music rises in intensity, giving you even more of a rush and on the edge of your seat. This could work out well for streamers who want to keep their viewers engaged.

Phantom Abyss Guardian
Image via Devolver Digital

Unfortunately, at this current moment, I can see this game becoming repetitive for some. During an hour or so of gameplay, I went through the same traps and platforming challenges over and over again. It’s an Early Access title, so the developer Team WIBY can certainly add more to the game before its full release, but after a while, you may grow tired of it. Each zone (there are currently three in the game right now) offers different traps, rooms, and other variables, but if you fail to complete an area, tedium might start to creep in. However, repetition is a part of the roguelike genre and mastering the key gameplay moments is part of what makes the genre great. For example, Hades took players through the same levels and bosses over and over again, but many experienced the game for hours upon hours. Whether or not Phantom Abyss can have the same legs is yet to be known.

decent graphics, Fitting music

Phantom Abyss Aztec Steam PC
Image via Devolver Digital

While it’s not a tour-de-force of graphics, Phantom Abyss manages to keep its Aztec theming on point. The slight shading in the art makes it stand out, and the Aztec sculptures and relics look on point. I struggled at first with the graphics settings. By default, motion blur is on and VSync was off. This was a nasty mix of screen tearing and a sickening blur on the screen. After changing this, Phantom Abyss ran like a dream on my gaming PC, and that’s important as you’ll need all the reflexes you can to triumph in this game. If you are able, try to use a mouse and keyboard with this roguelike; you’ll thank me later. As a console player, I never say that, but in this case, I would certainly recommend it.

What helps the game tremendously is the music. While I won’t be listening to it on repeat in my spare time, that isn’t the point. It successfully draws suspense to the player in this tense environment. My heart was pumping from the aforementioned tense music from being chased by a guardian. The sound effects so far are also delightful as you hear the crack of the whip and can listen out for the spikes in the foreground.

steam early access

Phantom Abyss is currently available on Steam Early Access for $19.99 until July 8. If you want to play the full experience though, the developer Team WIBY claims it will take “at least a year as the team builds out new features and content based on the community’s feedback.” As it continues to develop the game, Team WIBY promises that there will be “new rooms, traps, whips, zones, and additional gameplay features added in over time.” The current version as of June 2021 has three zones currently in place from a planned five.

We would certainly recommend the high-stakes platformer as it gives you a rush of excitement with its whip-based gameplay, ingenious traps, and sense of suspense. Phantom Abyss has so much potential to be a hit in 2022 or beyond, and with even more content and features, you can bet I’ll be returning to this game. If you’re not too much into the roguelike genre, this won’t convince you, but if you’re in need of a Mirror’s Edge-style of experience mixed in with a dash of Indiana Jones, you should definitely check this out.

A preview code of Phantom Abyss was provided by Devolver Digital

The British “Canadian” Chris Penwell has been a video game journalist since 2013 and now has a Bachelor’s degree in Communications from MacEwan University. He loves to play JRPGs and games with a narrative. You can check out his podcasts Active Quest every Tuesday and Go Beyond: A My Hero Academia Podcast on Wednesdays.

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