June 19th, 2004

Van Helsing No D

Black Mirror

After drawing, I finished The Black Mirror last night. Another latter-day adventure game, The BM (unfortunate acronym!) manages to stuff every old-school Gothic cliché into a single game, from the crumbling old manor to the ancient family curse to the secret experiments at the sanitorium. The brooding and not-terribly-well acted hero Samuel is tormented by past memories of dark deeds (he blames himself for the death of his sister? sweetie? Catherine long ago in a fire that left part of the manor in ruin). After twelve years away from his aristocratic family seat, Castle Black Mirror, he returns to attend the funeral of his grandfather.

Y'know, the one who either jumped or was pushed out of the highest tower after six months of obsessive research into the family's dark history -- and of course, the curse. As Samuel starts investigating (having to periodically stop and take his medicine for those awful headaches, woozy spells, and horrific nightmares), the people around the castle and surrounding village start dropping like flies.

Stop me if you've heard this one. ;)

This game is apparently a huge hit in its homeland of the Czech Republic, and that right there probably says something but I'm not sure what. The gameplay itself is pretty good, except that the character animations are all way too slow, and the voiceovers are, well, awkward at best. The puzzles, for the most part, are well-done and enjoyable, and don't generally feel as "inserted" as they do in a lot of games. (It does seem a little weird that everybody and their brother keeps the key to The Forbidden Room™ in a box with a sliding tile puzzle. Does nobody have pockets?) There are a couple of spots of gameplay where "Oops, you're dead!" pops up out of the blue, starting about halfway through the game, and another spot where you have a gun with two bullets, while most players will probably need three. Hope you saved your game before you emptied the gun, because you're going to have to go back and try again to succeed with one shot the first time.

The real problem with the game, however, is the ending. This being a gothic horror tale, you can probably guess The Big Twist™ just from my description here. That didn't bother me too much -- it was trumpeted so loudly from almost the beginning that by the time of the big reveal came, you might wonder why the hero was so dense that he hadn't figured it out yet. However, the identity of the murderer completely does not jive with the established facts of the game -- the one whodunnit can't possibly have done at least two of them, because the game firmly establishes that they weren't there. And as three of the victims die in ways completely unknown to science, you'd expect the murderer's method to be addressed somehow. Unfortunately, it isn't, leaving the player to conclude it was all done by Supernatural Evilness.

And without wanting to spoil the ending, let's just say it's a complete downer. :P

The game does have some actually creepy moments (generally involving dead bodies rendered in gruesome detail), and there are a few nice bits. At one point, the terrified-for-his-immortal-soul Samuel goes to the Big Old Cathedral on the Hill™ and actually prays, something which is generally verboten in computer games. And the scenery is gorgeous. :) I found myself reminded of The Colonel's Bequest in general tone and immersive quality several times.

On the whole, it's a fun game if you like adventure games, or if you never met a Gothic Horror you didn't like. The casual gamer will probably find it a bit too slow-paced and get tired of "Talk to Character A, whose plodding conversation activates Hopspot B, which then prompts you to talk to Character C, whose plodding conversation sends you back to Character A." And if plot is your thing, you might find yourself going, "But...!" a lot. ("Robert's experiments! What was the point of the subplot with Robert's experiments???")

Good puzzles, tho. I may just swipe a few of them. ;)

-The Gneech
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Party Guy

Happy Birthday tyrnn and cerulean!

One is a blue dragon, the other is a kangaroo with a Godzilla obsession.

Coincidence???

Either way, hope it's a good one, guys!

-The Gneech

PS: Started the last move of the first form in Kung Fu today -- I think that "belt by the end of summer" goal is a real possibility!
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