Is it just me, or does it seem as though people would be better off skipping savings accounts and bonds all together, and putting their valuables and cash behind a series of easy-to-solve slider puzzles and convoluted locks that require a number of keys lost away to the ages? In the world of Samuel Gordon, this is apparently the best way to keep your possessions safe for centuries. The Black Mirror, new from The Adventure Company, is a murder mystery split into six very long chapters. This is a game with some meat to it – just not incredibly tasty meat.
The game begins with William Gordon writing a letter to his grandson Samuel and then jumping (or being thrown) from his window to his death. The game then picks up with Samuel returning to his home, after years away, to attend his grandfather’s funeral. And then, as is usually the case, things turn out to be not quite what they seem, and Samuel is on the case to find out if his grandfather actually committed suicide or was murdered.
The above story, while clichéd, sounded great to me, and I had been dying to play the game since it was first announced. But the story quickly turns into a by-the-books supernatural mystery with twists that might as well have neon signs pointing at them, and a character that, quite frankly, is a spoiled jerk that only interested me when I found ways to kill him.
You’ve seen all of the characters from Black Mirror before in some form or fashion. There’s the stodgy butler, the precocious kid, the sleazy pawnshop owner, and the town drunk, among others. None of them really stand out in any way, and become puzzle pieces more than anything. And Samuel, the character we are to spend 20-30+ hours with, treats everyone around him, especially the help, with such contempt that I wanted to smack him.
After the success of Syberia, it seems that every game has to have lush backgrounds with 2D sprites interacting, and Black Mirror is no exception. The backgrounds are detailed and amazing, which is a good thing and a bad thing. Good because it really immerses you in the game, but bad because the detailed screens lead to a lot of pixel-hunting in some parts of the story.
Character graphics and animation on the other hand are, to put it bluntly, horrible. Characters look as though they are moving through molasses in slow motion, and when Samuel speaks to them they have to finish their animation cycle before they acknowledge him and respond. This is not a huge issue in and of itself, but really drags the game down after awhile--especially when you consider the length of the game.
Cut-scenes were well done (although a little blurry) and the animation really adds to the feel of the game and moves the story along, rather than being thrown in for no reason but to pad length.
Music and sound effects are appropriately creepy and well-placed, and playing Black Mirror through a set of headphones will definitely give you a few look-over-your-shoulder in a dark room moments.
Voice acting, however, is mediocre at best. The voices themselves are not bad, but speed once again rears its ugly head. Characters talk veeeery slowly, enunciating each word to death. This is a game with several long conversations, and they seem to drag interminably with characters slowly droning on through the storyline--and this isn't a good enough story to drag out for a long amount of time.
Black Mirror is essentially a point & click adventure game with all the good and bad that goes with it. Movement is accomplished by clicking where you would like to go, and you can double-click on a location on your map to instantly go there. Items can be left clicked to pick them up and/or look at them, and the right mouse button can be used to interact further with them. This, to me, is annoying, as you will need to left AND right-click on everything you see before you can be sure that you haven't missed anything about a hotspot. Add to this the fact that some items need to be clicked on multiple times before you get anything useful out of them (trash cans for instance) and you'll be pulling your hair out in no time at all. But it gets even better. When an item can be looked at or picked up, the cursor turns red - a good idea in itself. But some items can be looked at but not picked up until later in the game, and some items will not even show up as hotspots until certain things have been accomplished. This leads to a constant feeling of uncertainty over whether you have missed something along the way--as well as a great deal of backtracking to see if an item is suddenly able to be picked up or new items showing up.
Puzzles are standard fare, with a mixture of sliding puzzles, key puzzles, and a healthy dose of grave-robbing. Puzzle difficulty ranged from incredibly easy to fairly difficult. Some puzzles did require some independent research, which was a nice touch that you don't see very often in adventure games - although having to shut the game down to research a puzzle online did have the tendency to pull me out of the game in the process.
There is one timed sequence in the game that could be labeled an action sequence, but it is more about using your inventory quickly than anything else. However, it is possible to die in the game--rather gruesomely I might add--so use those save slots liberally or you'll be in for some backtracking.
All in all, this is a good game, but not a great one. It has a lot of promise, but just doesn’t pull through to become what it could have been. It’s a murder mystery with a twist everyone will see coming from a mile away, and the puzzles and slowness don’t do it any service. This could have been a classic, but unfortunately is a game that will sit on my shelf waiting for the occasional replay.