Phantom Slayer is an early 3D maze game where the aim is to kill sinister, hooded figures that are chasing you through a randomly-generated, first-person maze. It was written by Ken Kalish and published by Med Systems in 1982 for the TRS-80 (and its UK counterpart, the Dragon 32).
Some claim that Phantom Slayer is a forerunner of the modern first-person shooter genre, but IMHO that is pushing the truth a bit. At the time, Phantom Slayer was definitely considered something new and technologically innovative, and the gameplay had some real tension to it, but – looking at it now – the maze graphics do leave something to be desired (since the perspective looks a bit squashed on longer corridors). Compare it to 3D Monster Maze (which came out on the ZX81 the same year), and the maze does look a bit weird.
That said: Phantom Slayer‘s gameplay does work very well and it still plays pretty good today. Movement is responsive and it’s even possible to move backwards (which is required in some situations). The addition of sound plays a part in building the tension as the three phantoms relentlessly chase you around the maze, and the game’s radar warns you of their proximity. An overhead depiction of the maze is shown before you start and can be displayed again, but only after you’ve killed a phantom. This means that it’s still too easy to accidentally blunder into one of the chasing ghosts if you take a wrong corner. It would’ve been better to allow the player access to the map at any time, rather than just occasionally. A green square on the floor of each maze will return you to your starting position if stepped on.
A tactic that seems to work against the phantoms is to hope for one or two long corridors in the maze and wait around those for the bad guys to come to you, then shoot them from a distance. If you’re stuck in an endless maze of corners then there’s not much hope of surviving for long.
There are two types of mazes to play: type one (an open maze), and type two (a dense maze); three different speed levels, and a training mode (where you can explore the maze without being chased by phantoms).
Phantom Slayer is an interesting gaming artefact of historical significance and is worth checking out if you’re interested in video game history. It wouldn’t make a bad remake either, with a few more added features to spice things up…