Phantom Abyss review - when the fun stops, stop

A swing and a miss

Two floating glowing red heads
(Image: © Devolver Digital)

TechRadar Verdict

Phantom Abyss is a mediocre-at-best roguelike 3D platformer. If you’re desperate to grind an unforgiving game, then you may want to give this a go, but, if not, then this may not be for you.

Pros

  • +

    Promising concept

  • +

    Challenging maps

  • +

    A capacity for fun multiplayer

Cons

  • -

    Repetitive maps and obstacles

  • -

    Frustrating levels

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Review info

Platform reviewed: PC
Available on: Xbox Series X|S and PC
Release date: January 25, 2024 

Phantom Abyss is a new action roguelike 3D platformer from Team WIBY. The premise of this platformer is relatively simple; you’re trapped in an ancient temple and are forced to gather sacred relics in order to release yourself, along with the God of the Abyss, who sends you on your journey to freedom armed with nothing but the right attitude and a grappling hook/whip. With asynchronous multiplayer available, you can enjoy the trials of these dungeons alone, with friends, or with complete strangers. 

There are four main levels, each based around an element like fire or water. At each main stage, there are six temple runs to choose from, and only three of them need to be completed to progress to the next zone. There are also extra levels that you can access by collecting keys from chests, which are scattered throughout each map. 

However, various restrictions in each dungeon go beyond simple obstacles like traps and spikes. These could be limited health, one-hit kills, or a temple Guardian: an ancient deity that chases you across the map trying to kill you. These restrictions are what keep you on your toes.

Rage against the temple 

Floating green head shooting purple orbs

(Image credit: Devolver Digital)

The action-adventure parkour game has been in Early Access for over two years, with the developers slowly polishing up rough edges and adding new features in correspondence with community feedback. Unfortunately, right now, ahead of its official release on January 25, more refining is needed until Phantom Abyss can join the ranks of the best roguelike games. This game has more than a few issues that need resolving, all of which make an already complicated game more frustrating. 

My biggest gripes with this action platformer concern the temperamental physics, repetitive maps, and lengthy load times. While perfection is often impossible in game development, roguelikes demand a higher baseline thanks to their inherently irritating premise of starting all over again after each death. Unfortunately, Phantom Abyss misses the mark, and its problems make an annoying game even worse. 

For example, while flying through the mossy ancient tombs, I often found myself scrambling at walls and ledges after my flow was interrupted by my grappling hook/whip falling short of its target. Despite all my efforts to line it up in the right way, it would only occasionally work. This meant almost instant death every time, which was especially frustrating when I was trying to outrun a Guardian. 

Best bit

Players running through obstacles

(Image credit: Devolver Digital)

Watching fellow players die in front of me. Not only did this clue me into how to approach problems, but sometimes, their corpses even gave me half a heart of health. 

Such strange physics also made Phantom Abyss feel like a retro platformer. While these can be great fun, it did mean that your whip swings in a very disjointed way. In addition to this, each level feels very basic and somewhat familiar. However, this was mostly down to the fact that they are. Despite levels being procedurally generated, each map has similar layouts and obstacles, with most of the changes being small, like adding poison gas or dangerous enemies. This repetition means that exploring the ancient tombs gets old pretty quickly. 

It’s common for roguelikes to corner a player into punching a hole in their monitor. However, they need to get the balance between rage and reward just right in order to be enjoyable. Every death should always be your fault, something that you learn from and fix before the next run. And, while there is some training involved in how you navigate dangerous obstacles in Phantom Abyss, sometimes you are left wondering what, if anything, you could have done differently to avoid death and having to completely restart. 

At one point, I was being chased down a narrow corridor by a flaming head Guardian who was trying to eat me. After falling through the cracks right by the doorway, I restarted at the other end of the corridor. Unfortunately, this meant that the Guardian lay between me and the next checkpoint. I couldn’t go back, or around the gigantic flaming monster, so I was quickly gobbled up and sent back to the very beginning to try it all over again. These untimely restarts, combined with the lengthy load times, made completing Phantom Abyss feel like slogging through wet clay despite its fast-paced premise.

It’s dangerous to go alone 

Floating red head chasing players

(Image credit: Devolver Digital)

The best part of Phantom Abyss is the asynchronous multiplayer, which means that you don’t have to wait for players to join; it’s instant. This feature also means that you can play alongside others without strangers impacting too much of your run. While you can rely on others to open doors for you, a feature which I did take full advantage of, these gateways are timed and mean that you can’t just sit back and wait for someone else to do the grunt work for you.

Accessibility features

Options screenshot

(Image credit: Devolver Digital)

There's a great range of accessibility options in Phantom Abyss. With ways to enable or disable various HUD features like timers or scores you can clear up your screen as much or as little as you want. There are also various video options such as changing motion blur, camera bob, and landing camera rotation. 

This form of multiplayer also means that you can travel into the dangerous dungeons with friends and try to complete the runs with support rather than entirely alone. Even though this will probably make the experience slightly more bearable, that’s not something to be praised in the grand scheme of things, as any game can be made better if you add your friends into the mix. 

So, as a whole, Phantom Abyss is a pretty nondescript roguelike and 3D platformer compared to some of the giants like Spelunky 2 or Ghostrunner 2, which checks all the boxes concerning creative level design, fluid traversal, and rewarding challenges. Still, the concept does show promise, such as its fun capacity for multiplayer and somewhat challenging maps, and it could potentially be refined with a few tweaks to the dungeon layout, Guardian behavior, and loading times. If you’re a fan of retro platformers, then this action-adventure game may still be worth checking out, but, unless you have a burning desire to play, it’s hard to fully recommend

If you’re a fan of games that push you to the limit, then check out the best survival games and the best FPS games that are available to play right now. 

Elie Gould
Features Writer

Elie is a Features Writer for TechRadar Gaming, here to write about anything new or slightly weird. Before writing for TRG, Elie studied for a Masters at Cardiff University JOMEC in International Journalism and Documentaries – spending their free time filming short docs or editing the gaming section for their student publications. 


Elie’s first step into gaming was through Pokémon but they've taken the natural next step in the horror genre. Any and every game that would keep you up at night is on their list to play - despite the fact that one of Elie’s biggest fears is being chased.