Here’s a point and click series that has been eight in years in the making. Fortunately, I did not spend eight years waiting to play them all as I started in early 2014, just in time for the last one to be released. The series aging poorly over a such a long time isn’t really an issue here as it’s done in the 90s style of point and click adventures. Pixel graphics, above-par voice acting, items to pick up and most of all, a compelling story. I thought I’d do this review game-by-game as the evolution of the series over the eight years is just as interesting as the games themselves.
You start this adventure as Rosa Blackwell, a young, cynical, intelligent, freelance writer who is clearly going through her “Daria” phase. While doing a journalistic piece on a suicide in a college dorm, Rosa starts having headaches which leads to her developing her powers as a medium, an apparent hereditary condition passed down through the family. That’s when you meet your “spirit guide”, Joey Mallone, a ghost who has been in the family for the last 50 years, all a part of The Blackwell Legacy.
Joey and Rosa become partners in the job of helping ghosts pass to the other side. The Blackwell Legacy is essentially a puzzle game as you discover clues, put them together, question people and eventually find a way to help other ghosts realise they’re dead. Once they realise this, they are able to transcend.
Items are minimal and are generally used intuitively, as are the controls. Left click is move, pick up and interact. Right click is to look or investigate. There’s always that time in a point and click adventure where you have no idea what to do next. The Blackwell Legacy handles this well. In general you never have to use a random item on a random object. If anything, most progression comes through a bit of loose detective work and conversation.
The first thing I noticed in Blackwell Unbound (not including the inconsistent name formatting) was the change in art style. This occurs in every game in the series. Character portraits, photos and splash screen generally undergo a change in artists. Probably depends on how OCD you are whether you think this a problem or not. It doesn’t affect the gameplay at all, especially since the pixel style of the game is pretty much the same.
Blackwell Unbound is a prequel to the first. This time you play Joey and Rosa’s aunt, Lauren Blackwell, before she went crazy from what you assume is an over-exposure to ghosts. The second main difference I noticed was that you now control Joey and Lauren separately. At first I found this really annoying. But this opinion changed when I realised what a great puzzle game it made. On one hand, you have Lauren who does all your normal people things. You know, talking to people, walking around, interacting with things. On the other hand, you have Joey who does all your ghost things like floating through walls, eavesdropping and using his one ability of blowing lightly weighted objects.
This game also reminds me just how shit the world was before the internet. To find someone, you have to use the phonebook where as in the previous game, you could at least go home and use a computer.
Now we jump back to the present, this time controlling Rosa and Joey separately. Your computer now has more functions such as email and a browser to google for information. The developers have taken away the notes-combining feature which I find strange as it was a nifty system.
The Blackwell Convergence is where this series starts to take off. It connects the previous two games and launches the over-arching story for the next two games. This is also when the story starts to take on a more complex and darker tone.
I mentioned that you now have greater functionality with you computer (like the real world). It’s a shame you have to keep going back to your shitty apartment to use it. C’mon Rosa, this is 2008, get a smart phone!
Wooo, new iPhone… I mean myPhone. You can make calls from it, check your emails, search the internet for places and people. I’m pretty sure this is the last game where you visit your apartment, purely because you no longer need to use your computer… or sleep.
Blackwell Deception was easily my least favourite in the series. Despite introducing a smart phone and bringing back note matching, the game took a hit in terms of character sprites and overall graphic quality. It also introduced a lot more items to use, which was entirely unneccessary. I think item collection, and use, is one of the more bland and annoying parts of point and click adventures. It slows down the game until you find the correct combo.
I also found the Blackwell Deception more difficult in general. I lot of clues, connections and items are used in random combination and more steps are added in terms of investigation. Instead of clicking on a computer and using a clue to access whatever you need, you now have guess from the clue what the password, type the password in and click the program you need (as an example).
We finally come to the last game in the series. Without giving away spoilers, the Blackwell Epiphany comes to a climatic conclusion… which actually feels out of place. The major themes of the entire series has been death, decay, loneliness and isolation. To have an ending where you need to save the city is a dramatic shift in tone, more so because previous stories have the protagonists affecting individual lives, often without gratitude or recognition. That being said, the character arc ending is perfect.
Blackwell Epiphany doesn’t change the previous formula much (asides from the art-style of course) and for that reason, I enjoyed it a lot.
So by the end of the series, what do I think? Not bad, not bad at all. The characters draw you into well-written, appropriately voiced, engaging point-and-click adventure. It’s probably one of the most intuitive adventures I’ve played in a while (especially after playing Monkey Island and Sam & Max). It’s also the only point and click adventure I’ve played set in modern times, in the real world. It’s weird to have to think ‘modern’.
On a final note, you’ll notice the price of the games seem to vary a lot, especially the last one which is at least three times the price of the others. So what’s going on there? It’s simple really. I looked at the amount of time I spent playing each game and it turns out the prices scale accordingly (roughly). Assuming it’s intentional, Wedjet Eye games have actually maintained a consistent price model based on how much time you spend playing the game, which most likely correlates to how much time they spent making the games. Neat.
The next review in 3 weeks will be Race the Sun