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2017-02-14

Phantom Review

Title: Phantom
Renamed to "Phantom: Revenge" on 2017-10-21
Release date: 2016-10-31
Developer & publisher: Anaximanes

After being deeply fascinated by Anaximanes' first interactive novel "Slugs and Bugs", it would have been unconscionable for me not to play his second effort "Phantom" - a Halloween themed game that was, very fittingly, released on Halloween.

The release of "Phantom", if anything, proved one thing - people just don't know how to read. Anaximanes clearly spelled that "Phantom" is a short linear side project that will have no alternative branches or endings (in a way, it's very much like a kinetic novel), but upon its release people still were disappointed by the linearity. In fact, according to the author, this novel was supposed to be one part in a Halloween themed anthology, together with the works of other authors. Sadly, the project fell through and "Phantom" became its own game, additionally expanding its plot from only about thirty pages to more than 200. Nevertheless, it is still a very short side work and I personally finished it in exactly 1 hour and 46 minutes.
Faux classy motherfucker.
As I have previously mentioned in my "Slugs and Bugs" review, all of this author's works are set in the same shared universe. Here we finally manage to learn some of the backstory of the Erebus corporation, which featured as the main setting of the aforementioned work. We get to meet the commandeering Ms. Kress and even our S&B protagonist Justine, where we learn how close she came to be a mind controlled husk even before the aliens wrecked the party.

Anyway, the protagonist of "Phantom" is one Dagan Erebus (with a name like this he was born to be a villain), a simple construction worker, who accidentally comes into possession of an ancient grimoire. Can you make a guess what the hapless doofus did next? Of course, in a quest to gain power he pledges himself into a service of Aka Manah, and starts a cult worshiping the said demon. At least he has enough brains not to raise Nergal - we'll leave that horror to the idiots from "Cult of Corruption". Dagan really doesn't care about the demon he serves, as all he uses his power for is a hedonistic lifestyle, where he gets to rape women, corrupt and destroy their souls.
Oyakodon.
With his choice of actors to represent the characters in the game, Anaximanes proves that he is a master of irony. He selected Dagan Erebus, a hedonistic serial rapist, to be portrayed by the likeness of James Deen, a famous porn actor, who himself stands accused of sexual misconduct and assault, though that point might be lost on casual players. Additionally, majority of the photographs used to illustrate the novel seem to be taken directly from the Kink catalogue, which makes sense, as Mr. Deen had been affiliated with the company for a long time, before being kicked out following the scandal.

Anyway, it soon becomes clear that Dagan is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. If I ever start an evil cult, mind controlling or bribing the law enforcement would be one of my primary goals. After all, no one wants to be investigated for such minor misdemeanours like rape, murder and tax evasion. Dagan is so busy pounding unwilling pussies, that he is taken completely by surprise when the police come in and arrest his ass, after which he is summarily fried in a chair. That's not a spoiler, as the game starts in medias res, with our villainous protagonist sitting in the said chair and waiting for the flick of the switch.
His looks have improved.
Nonetheless, that  is not the end of the novel, nor is it the end of Dagan Erebus, as sometimes death is just a new beginning. Our protagonist's hatred for the beautiful District Attorney Amelia Williams, who brought his dark empire down, is so strong, that it's enough to pull him back from the grave as a phantom, who will do anything to ruin her life and make her his slave. Dagan, as a malevolent ghost possesses Amelia and slowly influences her actions.

In a way I found the corruption aspect of novel very hot, and the photos chosen by Anaximanes to illustrate the scenes were very fitting (even though casting Dave Grohl's devil as Aka Manah was just tacky), but I had some reservations about the novel. First of all, in my personal experience, I prefer to read corruption/mind control erotica from a female perspective, whether the female is a corruptor or a corrupted. Not to mention, that I found Dagan pretty bland personality-wise, with his mind solely consumed by hedonism and revenge, he didn't make a very appealing protagonist or a strong villain. I found him a bit like a child, whose candybar was taken by a big bad aunt and he's throwing a temper tantrum to get back at her.
I'll get you, Tenacious D!!!
Moreover, the short length of the game didn't give enough time to properly take the corruption aspect slowly, and so I found the fall of Amelia Williams to be too abrupt for my tastes. When it comes to mind control, I prefer a longer drawn-out story, as it is one of those fetishes where it's not better to jump straight to sex.

Additionally, the number of participants in this corruption play is very low. As Dagan is a ghost, he cannot participate directly - this is not a Japanese VN, where even ghosts grow schlongs if need arises. Thus we are left with the D.A. and two of our protagonist's henchmen: Doc and Weasel. They are always the same three participants in all the sex scenes post Dagan's death, and the game doesn't become boring only because of it's short length. Actually, I don't really mind the short length or the low number of participants, but I feel that the novel failed to explore some interesting situations.
They look so happy together.
Let me take, for example, Amelia's husband. He is mentioned in the plot, but we don't even ever see him. Anaximanes could have at least partially involved him in this deranged play and introduced a delicious cuckolding subplot... or maybe it's just my raging NTR-boner that is speaking, as it feels betrayed by not experiencing any NTR in a game that seems to be specifically tailored to include this fetish. Natheless, what scenes are there in the game, are superbly illustrated by the author, as he always seem to be able to choose the best possible image to stress the point in any sexual situation. Frankly, I wonder if Anaximanes first selects the photos and tries to tailor the text to them, or vice versa. Either way, it's an enormous work and the results are very appealing.

Now, we must not forget that the author is first and foremost a photo manipulator, and his manipulations in S&B were out of this world. The manips in "Phantom" are much more subdued and are used very sparingly. Majority of the images are completely raw and un-manipulated in any way, and even those that do use photoshop only chose to highlight a few specific things, rather than creating a whole alien world from scratch. In fact, due to the nature of the story, the author didn't need to spend a long time on image editing and could focus on the story, which is why he managed to finish the game in such a relatively short time.
The lady doth protest too much...
Just like in the first game, the Anaximanes' writing is great. He weaves a compelling, if a bit cliché, plot, and the sex scenes are very hot, despite their low variety, though in his haste he drops some of the plot threads that were poorly explained and left hanging (like the policewoman resistant to Dagan's powers). Nevertheless, I am eagerly awaiting for any other game he is gonna release in the future, even though his next game "The Anax" seems to be a bit of an egotistic wank and less interesting than any of his other projects. Not to mention that "Phantom" would be nicely complimented by the release of "Giggle Night", which features a female protagonist, who is apparently an ex-girlfriend of Mr. Erebus.

In addition to the graphical representation, it would be fair to mention an interesting detail about the sound composition. The previous game used all the fair use tracks taken from the Net, though they were employed in a very fitting manner, however this time Anaximanes got a member of the Hypnopics Collective to specifically compose the main musical theme for "Phantom". It is awesome and very atmospheric.
... and now doesn't protest anymore.
In the end, "Phantom" is a nice little spin-off game to the shared saga of games by Anaximanes. It's well written and suitably illustrated, but I personally found the plot a little bland and the sex scenes a bit too samey. It was suitably short not to become boring, but at the same time I feel that the author failed to fully explore all the plot possibilities and wrapped-up the affair too quickly.

Links of Interest

Official developer's blog
Anaximanes on Patreon
Official Hypnopics Collective thread (requires free registration)
TF Games Site page

Final Verdict: 77%

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