The main story involves Rosa and Joey investigating a young NYU student's suicide. The beautiful artwork throughout is one of many motivators to solve the mystery.
A couple of weeks ago I posted an article about The Blackwell Legacy
, since I enjoyed the demo after falling over it somewhat randomly. Now that I have not-so-randomly completed the full game, I can write an actual review.
I'll refrain from saying too much about the basic premise of the game, since you can find all of that information in my original post here
, but to cover the bare necessities, The Blackwell Legacy
is a point-and-click adventure game with a supernatural mystery at it's core. The gameplay primarily consists of talking to NPCs and combining small pieces of information to create new theories for investigation. If you consider the implications of that format, this is the kind of experience that lives and dies based on the quality of the writing; Since the story and the gameplay are inexorably linked, to the point of almost being the same entity, it's just not possible to enjoy this game without being interested in the story. In the case of TBL
the writing, particularly the characterization, is top-notch, so the game succeeds. That said, this title represents a direction in interactive entertainment that probably isn't for everyone.
Games for Readers, or Games are the New Books
One of many "documents" you find along the course of your investigation. Perhaps not the best example of the art style of TBL.
'Cinematic' was a huge buzzword in the games industry for quite a few years. It's only recently that we've started to see a trend towards games that are unabashedly video games, without any movie-like pretensions. While some franchises, like Metal Gear Solid
, are able to take the cinematic angle to the point where the end result succeeds more as a movie than most movies do, many gamers feel that games are meant to be played, not watched. I seriously wonder how many gamers there are who feel comfortable with games that are meant to be read.
With it's lovely graphics, atmospheric music and competent overall production (and I've revised my initial opinion of the voice acting: it's consistently good throughout the game and occasionally phenomenal), calling TBL
a book may seem a bit of a stretch. However, the languid pacing, cerebral nature of the puzzle solving, and the overall dominance of characterization as opposed to big flashy plot elements moves TBL
further over to the biblio- side of the spectrum. There's an inherent respect here for the player, because the assumption is that you'll pick up on the subtle clues that something interesting is about to happen rather than requiring your attention forcefully directed all the time. That respect is a very attractive feature of the genre, but it does beg the question: If this is a genre so tailored towards readers, are the interactive features really necessary? Since I'm so enamored of the writing, honestly TBL
could have been presented as an audio drama, a form in which I had no ability to "play" it, and I still would have enjoyed it. I liked solving the puzzles, but the fact is the gameplay could have been poor and I still would have trundled on for the sake of the story. At what point does a game stop being a game, and start functioning as a trojan horse for what could function just as well, if not better, as a non-interactive experience?
The one thing the interactivity adds is the fact that I had to work for the story, and there's something to be said for that. It's entirely possible that I would have had a lower opinion of the story if it were presented in another form, because the fact that I had to earn new story scenes made them seem that much more interesting. In that one respect, games can potentially be a better medium for storytelling than books: What a book will just outright give you, a game makes you work for, and thus appreciate. Something you've worked for is always more precious to you than something given away.
Of course, there's a limit to how far I'm willing to apply this idea: I read Anna Karenina
not that long ago. Add some puzzles, and that book would take fifty million years to complete. You'd have to breed a special race of long-lived creatures just for the purpose of completing it, and then cross-breed them with ancient Redwood trees to create a race capable of completing the works of Marcel Proust. Since genetic engineering doesn't come cheap, I haven't given up on books in favor of adventure games just yet
Playing this game provoked so many questions for me about the role of games for a reader, or books for a gamer and so on, that I had to address them. We will now continue with your regularly scheduled review.
Joey gets miffed if Rosa tries to talk to him in public, which means you have to drag him back to Rosa's apartment if you want to chat. I spent a lot of time in Rosa's apartment.
Supernatural stories often have to perform a tough balancing act: there needs to be enough emotional realism that you feel for the characters, but too much emotional realism and you have the main character flailing around in hysteria, screaming "It's not real! THIS CAN'T BE HAPPENING!" for three hours. Fortunately for our patience, TBL
hits the right balance by creating emotionally realistic characters, but allows Rosa to hit her stride with this whole psychic-medium business quickly.
The main draws of the game are the protagonists Rosa and Joey, although the NPCs are unusually fleshed-out and charismatic. Rosa is initially unlikable, which is a good thing despite being unorthodox-- part of the mystery of the game is finding out why Rosa is the way she is, and that mystery wouldn't be compelling without some darkness. Joey, Rosa's spirit-guide who channels a 1950's cop show and enjoys calling his charges "Sweetheart" and "Dollface", is the more interesting character, and we want more information about him than we actually get. The most fun I had in TBL
involved going back to Rosa's apartment and quizzing Joey about his past.
The mystery that Rosa and Joey are trying to solve is perfectly adequate, while fading into the background somewhat while the Rosa-and-Joey relationship takes center stage. The plot did take a very surprising turn at the end, however-- I won't spoil it, but let's just say that the world of the game is lot more supernatural than the early going leads you to believe.
You know, for my next adventure game, I want to play a master thief with a SKELETON KEY. People can just TRY to trip me up by locking stuff!
The puzzles are mostly intuitive, by which I mean that even the ones I was temporarily stuck on seemed obvious in retrospect. The NPC conversations can be a tad frustrating, because it's not entirely clear when the same question will yield a new response based on new information, so it's easy to talk to people several times to hear their reaction to your newest clue, only to find out that no one has anything new to share, but that's a minor annoyance at most.
The character portraits are unusually expressive, and most of the environments look great. If you're expecting something that looks at home on the PS3 you will be disappointed, but this is a game where the graphics are perfectly suited to conveying the story, without necessarily pushing any technological boundaries while doing so.
Great ambient music and electronica; Composer Peter Gresser hits the mark. My only complaint about the music is that I wish there were more of it.
This game is pretty short. It only took me about five hours to complete TBL
, and due to some embarrassing brain failures I actually was stuck on a few puzzles for a while, so seasoned adventure gamers might actually complete it even faster. Given the care that obviously went into every aspect of this game it's hard to complain, but the fact remains that I wanted more when the credits started to roll. In fact, the way that the game was broken up into "Days" made me think that there were going to be several, a la Parasite Eve
, so I was unpleasantly surprised when the game did end. I understand that this is the first installment in an episodic series, but that didn't stop me from wanting more from the episode.
Of course, that kind of criticism is really a backhanded compliment-- you don't want a game to be longer unless you're really getting into it, and at $14.99 on Wadjet Eye's
store, it isn't overpriced despite the short playtime. Lastly, there's a commentary track available upon replay, and it's one of those robust ones where the creator actually talks to you instead of saying "Yeah, I remember working on this level!" a bunch of times, so that adds replay value for me. I'm not sure how many other people find commentary tracks as endlessly fascinating as I do, but at the very least it's an additional feature.
Finishing the game also unlocks something humorous, which I won't spoil. You'll thank me later.
What it All Boils Down To:
There would be some sort of extremely pithy final paragraph here about how TBL
is great and you should all play it, except I'm currently too busy ravenously devouring the sequel, Blackwell Unbound
, to worry about it. I'm sure I'll be able to get some juicy info out of Joey this time.