Phantom Trigger is pitched as a hardcore neon slasher that comes tethered to RPG and roguelike elements. The game wastes no time getting straight to the meat of the matter, immediately introducing its players to Stan, your average run-of-mill sort of chap. Stan seems like an ordinary guy, until one day he falls victim to a strange illness and is carted off to hospital by his caring wife. From here, the game takes a sudden turn in its narrative and throws you into the role of the Outsider, thrusting you into a wonderfully created yet clearly quite deadly location. What follows on is a story that will initially tease you, forcing you to question whether or not all of this is real, or whether it’s just a figment of your imagination.
To its credit, Phantom Trigger achieves exactly what it sets out to accomplish. The gameplay can often be brutal in its difficulty. Hell, even during the first few sections of the game I found it to be quite tough and bit the proverbial bullet on more than a handful of occasions. Though, that’s not to say that the rest of the game holds a light that shines quite as brightly as that aspect. The story, for example, is all over the place. Phantom Trigger has the dots in place, but no lines to connect them together. Instead you’ll be constantly wondering what the hell is going on in this dark fantasy world, a world that doesn’t seem to share any meaning with its players until nearer the end-game. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a valiant effort for sure, but it should have been refined more to make its point stand out.
Mercifully the field of play is less ambiguous and much easier to soak up. The controls amount to nothing more than a few functions outside of movement. The Outsider can attack with his sword, use his whip to pull enemies close and harness environmental objects, as well as quick-zap around the location – much like Overwatch’s Tracer. Attacks can indeed be combined to utilize some heavy hitting damage output, in which each will level up accordingly. It couldn’t be simpler if it tried, as far as handling goes that is. It’s a shame, then, that the rest of the game is as bare as the Outsider’s functionality. This is only made all the more apparent due to the fact that Phantom Trigger practically throws its ace’s at you from the get-go, leaving behind a very underwhelming experience when you take into account that the game doesn’t truly take it up a notch, hours into the adventure.
The biggest letdown for me is that this seemingly interesting world is captivating on the visual front, but never at all complimented by a decent progressive structure. Moving from one place to the next remains dull throughout, giving little else to do but to fight the same enemy variants over and over again. Many of the enemies share the same attack patterns too. I dare say that the majority of the foes within favor close-combat rather than long-ranged combat, leaving most encounters feeling the same. Furthermore, the puzzles are far from engaging or even interesting. Phantom Trigger uses the Zelda-esque tried and tested formula of covering switches, hitting objects in the correct order and other like-minded tasks. The problem here, however, is that where any given Zelda game evolves its puzzle innovation and intricacy, Phantom Trigger tends to rely on the polar opposite.
This collectively not only makes the game dull as aforementioned, but repetitive as well. If that wasn’t bad enough, Phantom Trigger is ignorant from the onset. This game expects you to know the ins and outs of it before allowing you to make any steady progress. The combat system, which can at times be fiddly, is tough to gel with. Despite the leveling up of each attack, these attacks never get any stronger but instead offer up new variations of combos. It’s a neat implementation, but in a game as tough as this, you would expect to see some additional power to tip the scales slightly in your favor. Instead, players are expected to endure the frustrations of continuous death. The game’s default difficulty is even set to hard and must be set to normal (which is still freakin’ harsh) via the settings at the main menu. This is a small gripe indeed, though one I felt compelled to share given the default layout.
Phantom Trigger does house some hidden goodies, such as giant XP granting mirrors, throughout. However these tend to be hidden just off the natural path, so there’s a good chance you’ll see these hovering just off-screen, rather than seek them out through exploration. What I will say on the other hand is that this game functions well. The performance remains top-notch from beginning to end and once you bond with the mechanics and the DIY learning curve, the gameplay starts to become more alluring. Sure, it may be bogged down by the repetition in the long run, but I would be lying if I said I never had a few shreds of enjoyment throughout. NPCs are also scattered around the world, though I cant wholeheartedly say that I particularly cared about any of them. I don’t want to pull Phantom Trigger down too harshly because the foundation is well set, it’s just not been built on in a way that instills the energy we witness in games of this type elsewhere.
Moving back to the visuals, Phantom Trigger is an decent looking game. It’s no Hyper Light Drifter, but it does go on to relay its unique theme and design quite well. The same can be said about the animations and the location variety within. The color usage and lighting goes hand in hand to portray an intriguing world, full of wonder and awe. Though like I have already pointed out, the game rarely attempts to capabilities on this winning aspect by throwing in more reason to seek out some depth. Equally as down downtrodden is the soundtrack, which becomes every bit as irritating as the difficulty, only arguably much swifter. While the soundtrack does attempt to complement the theme and the mood of the game, it only serves as a means to piss you off with its constant hammering. When all is said and done, Phantom Trigger is a bag of wasted potential. It’s not a terrible game, though at best it’s sub-par and far too lacking where it matters the most.
Phantom Trigger looks great and plays well for the most part, that much goes without saying. However, the game is far too taxing and fails miserably to fill its interesting world with meaningful content and lacks exploratory structure. It doesn’t help matters that the core loop remains dull and repetitive from the get-go. In a nutshell, this game is sub-par at best.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.