"Procedurally Generated", it's a term that has been thrown around a lot in gaming. There are some games that do it really well, offering varied experiences across multiple playthroughs like Enter the Gungeon or FTL: Faster Than Light. The flip side of this is when procedural generation is used to tout how many thousands of possibilities you could experience when those experiences are the small differences like blue grass vs green grass, or different pieces in some abomination space creature as was the state for No Man's Sky (when it launched at least.) Phantom Abyss is a new procedurally generated Roguelite where each temple you enter can only be entered once by you, but that a number of people can play the identical seed, once completed it's closed off to anyone else. How well does this really work? and is it enough to sell you on another Roguelite in your library?
Getting to the action quickly the player learns that both they, and a large Olmec, are stuck in this temple and the only way out is to clear the trials reaching golden idols at the end. Once enough have been collected, from deep enough in the temple, the Olmec promises that both of them will be able to escape. Players are armed with a handy whip and let loose into the randomness of the temple. The story is barebones as you'd expect where the meat of the game is in the temples that players will run through loop after loop. After your first completion of each difficulty section of the temple, you'll get a few words of encouragement from the Olmec and then get right back into it.
Each Temple is 5 levels of premade rooms that fit together like puzzle pieces. Before descending into the 5th level there's a branched path where you can either complete the difficulty level you're on, or move deeper into the temple and try to complete more difficult rooms. You'll navigate these rooms by running, jumping, sliding, and using your whip as a tether to launch yourself around. Phantom Abyss can be a really fun and fast-paced game, especially when you start feeling comfortable with your whip ranges and start making mad leaps into the void knowing you have enough distance to reach the next platform. All of the classic traps are here from wall-mounted darts, spiked in the floor, dropping boulders, and the pendulum of doom swinging from the ceiling. As you play more and learn the timing of the trap it's also a great feeling to successfully avoid them.
Each temple does feel like you're navigating an ancient tomb from Indiana Jones. The only disappointing trap that I've experienced in the game is the proximity-triggered floor spikes, at running speed they come up with just enough time to always catch you. You can sometimes whip over them but most times you encounter floor spikes your run will be ground to a halt as you wait for it to reset.
Being premade rooms pieced together Phantom Abyss does fall a bit flat in its marketing that "failure [...] means you will never see that temple again." While I'm sure I won't ever see the exact same configuration again running through a hallway sloping up with a variation of one, two, or three spinning blades being at either shin or neck height is technically random and unique... but not unique enough that each run will be a wholly new challenge. This randomness falls even further flat when you begin to realize that door keys and chests are also in the same locations. The positive side of this "predictable procedural generation" is that going into a room you should know an optimal path.
An example of this is the large room with a winding staircase that goes down about 4 floors. You can totally jump from the top, sail down, and either whip to the floor or duck and roll to avoid damage and continue on. The alternative is the 4 chests on the way down and two sets of lined-up pots that you can earn extra money with. Before going down the final ramp you can even leap clearly across the gap to your left to get to a chest faster. The levels do begin to become predictable, but that also means less and less chance of you falling for any tricks to do with the floor plan, then all you need to worry about are the traps and guardians.
At the beginning of each run, you're told which of the Guardians will be present, this is a large floating head that will appear after you complete the second floor meant to add further pressure to your run. The head can be slowly following you, pushing you to keep running, shooting a laser beam, encouraging players to be darting around, or dropping poison bombs that deal damage and slow you down. While the head that followed me was the biggest stress added to any run each was a constant reminder of more variation needed in the play. It did seem that in some of the smaller temple rooms the heads would spawn, find out they were halfway into a wall or ceiling and warp away again. This definitely made some runs easier but was a bit of a shame to see that the guardian was essentially being negated.
Each of the temple rooms has a chance to have chests scattered about that can earn the player coins to be used within the singular temple, or keys that are used as currency to unlock the deeper parts of the temple, or purchase new whips. Getting to see every other player's phantoms can trick you into thinking of the temples as races, but you have to remember all of the phantoms you see are of players who died. They are normally good at leading you towards hidden chests or teaching you what to avoid. Beginning with the Ordinary Whip after finishing a run, whether you succeeded or failed you'll begin to unlock more whip types, each with a positive and negative effect.
You might want the Crikey Whip that gives you an extra heart, bringing your total to four, but you'll also get hurt as you stand in water. A successful run with any of these whips does help the whip evolve and remove the negative effect. It's very easy and early on that you'll unlock each of the eight whip types, but will be a lot more work to evolve them to make them more useful.
Within each temple, you can also purchase boons with currency. These might be a double jump, being able to float, or allows your whip to have a shorter cool down before you can whip again. This is just another reason that while you can try to speedrun these temples taking your time to discover the ins and outs of each room and gather some extra funding is likely going to help you out more in the long run.
Phantom Abyss doesn't really create as 'unique' a temple system as you'd expect, this takes away some discovery involved but there is a lot that it does really well. The traps, spikes aside, all add an enjoyable level of quick thinking and challenge to your runs, the whips add interesting benefits and drawbacks, and above all else, it just feels fun to get up to speed and go sailing through some traps. Just as you feel you've mastered one set of challenges you're likely going to start spending more time in the more challenging regions of the temple and continue deeper. For an Early Access title Phantom Abyss already feels extremely fleshed out and I'm looking forward to seeing what more is added as players can join in the exploration.
TechRaptor previewed Phantom Abyss on PC using a copy provided by the publisher. It currently does not have a full release date.