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Phantom Dust (Xbox) artwork

Phantom Dust (Xbox) review

"Imagine my surprise. I walked through the door of a random neighborhood game seller, nodded my brow to the register biscuits, looked around, and instead of finding the usual titles that fail to rub me the right way, I found. . . "

Imagine my surprise. I walked through the door of a random neighborhood game seller, nodded my brow to the register biscuits, looked around, and instead of finding the usual titles that fail to rub me the right way, I found. . .

Phantom Dust.

Iíd heard of it before, but vaguely and without a mention of the gameís quality. I think it was a preview in some magazine from several years ago. I was intrigued, so for less than the price of a combo meal at the fast food joint across the lot, I walked out the door with the game. There was no cover and no instructions, but unless youíre holding Suikoden II, who cares?

The Dust is something like a quickie burger. You pop it in and immediately feel a sense of subdued regret: Should I have gotten this? It canít be good for me.

Then over the course of the meal, you experience the same sort of high, low and finally. . .addiction. That could be a problem if youíve also got a large bag of fries or onion rings with you while playing, but those of you who can keep your hands on the controller and out of a bag of Doritos are in for an incredible treat on many different levels.

If marketing has taught me anything, itís that a pretty packaging--in this case, I wouldnít know--can really attract potential buyers. More important in the gaming world, especially when it comes to titles that have spent less than the epic four years in development, is the graphical content. Itís what immediately grabs your attention after youíve already dropped your hard-earned cash (hopefully for the better).

In that respect, Phantom Dust is amazing for a lesser-known release; you can see texturing detail on hair and on walls, though you would have guessed going in that thereíd be nothing but a muddy mess. These are the sort of visuals that carry on through every last piece of the puzzle. I appreciate the way the camera allows you the freedom to see up the tight white skirt of a presumably not-so-tight nurse whoís real easy on the eyes. Nurse me.

I also have to hand it to the developers for including destructible environments. I can imagine youíre remembering Red Faction death matches with your best bud right about now, but what goes on here is on an entirely different plateau of cool. You wonít be digging tunnels that connect you with your friendís base on the far side of the arena; youíll be strafing around psycho-spears and bullets. Then, somewhere out of the blue, that massive pillar erected at the center of the stage will crack and fall to pieces all around you (or when youíre first getting your Phantom legs, most likely right on top of you). And when you crack that smirk after shielding yourself from a homing laser, youíll be stunned as a giant stretch of post-apocalyptic highway comes crashing down.

Join the theme, the setting and even the motif together, then mix that with the way the graphics dazzle and the spell effects shine. You get a big pot full of awesome. As usual when eating the delights of an unseasoned soup chef, there are a few things that hide below the murky brown gravy thatíll prick your gums. You know how grandma likes to throw shards of basil and rosemary into everything.

As a matter of course, one will get lodged between your molars and stay there for quite some time. Adjusting to the way the game plays is something of a blessing, as itís hard to recall another one that shares similarities beyond principle. It could be a curse, though, because going through your training will prove a little clunky. Still, Iíd say itís a fair challenge rather than a frustrating romp.

Youíll be killing, as if you couldnít guess that, but more in the vein of a mech title than a Hitman or a Rainbow Six. Guns and blades, deemed a critical hazard to society, are missing in action. Initially, you wonít even begin your matches against the CPU with any kind of armament. Much like Solid Snake, your must procure them on site, but with less military pseudo-knowledge and more sci-fi soul.

So after youíre dropped into the stage, youíll call upon nearby psycho-bubbles to grant you your skill set. The bubbles come in a multitude of different colors: white, blue, violetÖ you name it! Hue signifies the type of ability up for grabs. The gameís box supposedly boasts a number over two or three hundred. Iíve yet to stop and waste time count, but after playing for so long, Iím apt to believe it. Each variance has its own strength and weakness, be it a shield or one that enables you to levitate above your foes. Adding to the strategic element is the fact that youíre only able to assign one skill per face button, which limits you to a maximum of four at a time. If you want that close range explosion technique and youíre full up, youíll have to really consider what to abandon. Medium-range fireball? Level-two shield? Thatís no easy feat while trying to keep up with the frenetic pace.

Thankfully, some of the more insanely powerful attacks can be used only once, as well as the psycho-bubbles that raise your energy level and allow your spell casting limit to increase. As nifty as it sounds, the level boost is limited to the particular fight youíre entertaining. Youíll have to watch it disappear as you win or lose respectively. That, or have it drained from you mid-fight and be forced to keep an eye on the meter again. Itís not frustrating; itís exciting. It gives your opponents a means of penetrating your security and keeps you on your tippy-toes.

When youíre not kicking relentless amounts of ass on the battlefield, youíll be crashing in your affiliated mercenary/research groupís secret underground lair, safe from all the toxins coursing through the futuristic air. I canít really claim that talking to your allies and rival hunters is a snore, but it does get monotonous after a couple of episodes, mostly due to the fact that nobody has much of anything to say. Even after the end of days, people are still babbling without any clear idea what theyíre talking about.

I guess itís good that the developers slid helpful hints about the world lore and such into the conversations, rather than having characters tell you something about their pet dog, or how they lost a precious item in a well somewhere. By and large, these trivialities are avoided, which makes Phantom Dustís half-hearted attempt at being an RPG go down more like a breath of fresh air when you compare it to the carbon-copied J-RPG script.

Home-cooked or served through a window, it doesnít matter much when youíre enjoying your dinner too much to notice. Or care. There are a couple chunks of gristle waiting for you to bite down on them, and you will eventually. Despite that, I encourage you to take my advice and not miss out on such a fresh entrťe. Iím sure a lot of gamers missed out on this one for some terrible reason, so donít let yourself be one of them and make the mistake of passing this dish up.

carcinogen_crush's avatar
Community review by carcinogen_crush (May 08, 2007)

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