Phantom Dust Review

Developer: Microsoft Publisher: Majesco
Release Date: March 15, 2005 Also On: None

To be honest with you, I knew almost nothing about Microsoft’s dropped “Phantom Dustâ€? game that Majesco picked up. Until I had the game spinning in my Xbox, I could have said it was a sequel to Ghost Sand, if that ever existed. But after playing the innovative combat system of Majesco’s game, I realize that Phantom Dust is one of those under-the-radar games that make you smell the long-lost scent of videogame fun.

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Phantom Dust takes place in an apocalyptic setting, after Earth has been swallowed by a mysterious dust called–you guessed it–phantom dust. The dust inflicts amnesia on all of Earth’s survivors, who have taken shelter underground in a small city. The setting is dark and somewhat depressing as the story unfolds between two men who are discovered one day by scouts. They are taken underground, recovered, and are taught the ways of the “Visions”, who protect Earth’s few survivors from the dust.

The story gets pretty confusing and sometimes dull–amnesia-based plots generally have that effect on me. Fortunately, in-between the rare cutscenes and the overly-common conversations in the underworld, there lies Phantom Dust’s core: the combat. Majesco took the elements of card combat, real-time strategy, and real-time action to make a truly unique system. Basically, you are given an “arsenal” of abilities, and these skills are the “cards” of your proverbial deck. Through battles and shopping at the game’s store, you’ll be able to build an evenly-balanced deck that will give you a better chance at conquering your opposition.

The skills you buy range from Attack, Defense, Status, and “Erase” skills. Each skill has an attack or defense power, an effect, or a cost; and a range at which the skill is most effective. As you map each ability in real-time combat to your Xbox controller’s face buttons, you can lock onto enemies and use them at your own pace. Fortunately, thanks to the “Aura” system (which judges how many attacks you can use at any time), the combat is very nicely balanced.

You can take this combat onto Xbox Live as well, where the duels only get more and more intense as you’re given the ability to use your own custom arsenal against players across the world. Unfortunately, the different levels are a little unbalanced–certain levels are impossible to play without long-range skills–but this never really brings down the thrill of the battle. The action is also available on split-screen and system-link, but the Xbox Live play is where the fun really is.

To end my many praises for Phantom Dust, I want to quickly note the graphics. Although the setting is rather depressing, as I said before, it is absolutely beautiful. The underground world in which you move around is detailed down to the pipes running along the walls and the steam blasting out of them. The character models are rather original and have a unique style, and while they don’t look the greatest by any means (your protagonist is a nerd), it doesn’t harm the overall package at all.

Unfortunately, this sleeper hit does have its flaws. If the battles are this game’s thriller, the sections in-between are the killer. I wasn’t interested in the story until a story event took place–which was rarely–and it wasn’t much fun talking to every villager in the gloomy underworld before taking on a mission. Also, like I said, the levels can be slightly uneven. If you don’t coordinate your arsenal to accommodate attack and defensive skills for short- and long-range, you’ll find yourself frustrated as you’re barraged with these attacks.

Phantom Dust simply is one of the most unique games I’ve played on the Xbox in quite a while. I’ll agree with the Official Xbox Magazine and their quote on the front of the box–Phantom Dust is “unlike any other game on Xbox.” I highly recommend that gamers give this game a try; it truly is a display of fun factor that we haven’t seen in quite a long time.

Graphics: 9
Sound: 7
Gameplay: 9
Creativity: 8.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 8.5
Final: 8.8
Written by Cliff Review Guide

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