The Blackwell Series

 

A bit of background…

I’ve had the majority of the Blackwell series in my Steam list for almost a year now, and I finally decided to buy the final game in the series and play through them all back to back. I got four of the games from various bundles over the years, so I think I only spent around £10 total on the quintet, and I have to say I’m glad I only spent that. While the story was well thought out, and some of the characters being enjoyable to speak with and humorous, there are significant issues with the game that were incredibly disappointing.

The series starts with Rosangela Blackwell, a young writer for the local paper, as she scatters the ashes of her departed aunt. As she does so, out pops our second protagonist: the spirit of Joey Mallone, a smooth talking ghost from the 1920s. The game predominantly features these two characters, though the second instalment has us playing as Rosa’s aunt Lauren. The game follows the protagonists through a number of years as they help ghosts come to term with their passing and help them pass through to the other side, where they can be happy and rest in peace. Joey is bound to the Blackwell family and may not move too far away from his ‘host’, which definitely makes for some more interesting puzzles. As it goes, it’s a fairly standard point and click adventure. It never tries to do anything that isn’t a core staple in the genre, and contains many aspects that should make this series an enjoyable play-through.

So what was good?

With that in mind, I’ll start with what I did like about Wadjeteye Games’ development, because there are redeeming values buried within the games, even if they are clouded by the rest of it. It’s quite clear that a lot of thought went into the story behind the series, with a fully fleshed out cast and city, it’ll take around twenty hours to see everything in the game, and considering most indie games manage around three to four hour stories, this is pretty impressive. They’ve also managed to create a believable cast of characters – or as believable as a group of characters in a paranormal story can be – to complement the story and it all slots together wonderfully. Some of the ghosts you’ll encounter are very well thought out, and you’re able to really see everything through their eyes as you help them move on to the afterlife. It even has some brilliant humour in places and at times will definitely put a smile on your face on more than one occasion.

At least she had friends like you, eh?

Some of the conversations can be so heartwarming.

As is commonplace in most games published by Wadjeteye Games, there’s an option in the settings to enable developer commentary. While it may not sound entirely thrilling, it does provide an interesting soundtrack to the game, with the developers giving insight into why they made things a certain way. It definitely gives the game another dimension and really adds to the final product. There are even some brilliant bloopers and rather funny out-takes to be heard with the commentary on, so even if on most DVDs you have the commentary off, this would be a time to turn it on.

The puzzles that were put into the game, initially, were very good. In the first few games they relied on typical point and click elements of trying to find items and then applying them to the correct scene. They were fun and not too challenging, while still remaining tricky enough to make you think of possible solutions. Towards the end of the series, particularly in the final two games, they focussed more on conversational puzzles, or very obvious puzzles which centred on using Joey’s abilities to move paper around. None of them were challenging enough and considering the positive way they started making the puzzles, it was sorely disappointing to find the final games puzzles so uninspiring and simple.

What wasn’t so good?

Although I mentioned that it does contain many core staples that should make a point and click adventure decent, it doesn’t always implement them well. Take, for instance, the sound. The Blackwell series is fully voice acted and the majority of it contains well casted characters that fit the theme and suit their characters perfectly. However this is offset by the times that the characters shout. If you’re wearing headphones, then your eardrums will likely be destroyed when they let out a scream. It’s poorly recorded and is horribly static-y if any characters raise their voice. Even playing it through speakers, as I did, is a terrible experience. I ended up immediately speeding through the dialogue if I ever saw any capital letters, because it really ruined what was otherwise decent dialogue.

Restaurant at the End of the Universe anyone?

I can see the developers were fan of the Hitchhikers Guide!

Another thing that really irked me was the user interface. Over the course of a development, especially in a series that produced five games over eight years, there will be some changes. That, I am absolutely fine with. What I’m not so sure about was the way they changed it. Each new game they appear to have scrapped most of the user interface elements from the previous games. The way conversations appear on the screen were mostly the same, but in at least one of the games the conversation appeared as text above the characters heads – and sometimes when this happened, the colours of the text didn’t change with the different characters, which made it very difficult to actually figure out who was saying what.

Sadly, this wasn’t the only user interface element that was poorly implemented. In the second game, they introduced the ability to switch between Joey and Lauren at will, either by using a keyboard command, or by clicking at the top. This was a nifty feature, and opened the game up for some good options for puzzles, especially as Joey can only go a certain distance from the human protagonist in the game. It sounds brilliant, and it is in three of the five games. However, in the Convergence game, the third in the series, it appeared to have been removed. This would make sense, and the point could be made that the developers wanted to stay true to the point and click roots by removing any keyboard requirements, but they brought it back in the final two games, meaning they obviously flopped on their prior design decision.

A little strange, but eh.

Is that what you kids are doing these days?

These aren’t the only issues that haunt the game, as there are even a few game-breaking bugs in there that caused me a fair bit of frustration. Fortunately, they were not too far from the start of the game, so I was able to restart and catch up within a matter of minutes, but it was still irritating that this happened and there was literally no way to rectify it other than restarting and hoping.

Final word

It’s probably obvious that I didn’t enjoy my time playing through this series. Even after the second game I was hoping that it would all be over, but I felt I had to play all of them, because individually, they aren’t really substantial enough to review. I did mention the games would take you around twenty hours to play through, but I managed to see it out in around half that time, mostly because I was fed up with it and wanted it to be over. There are some good factors in the game, but the developers clearly put more thought into how to market their product than any other factor in this game. They took a story that should have been told in maybe two games at most and spread it over five chapters at ‘affordable’ prices. It’s disappointing as they had some core concepts mostly done, and had they spent a little more time honing them into bug free implementations, I’d be saying this series would be in my top ten of all time. Sadly, it wouldn’t even make the top hundred.

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