Blackwell Deception from Wadjeteye Games made headlines this fall with a Halloween promotion gone awry. A promotion that once again showed why the internet can’t have nice things. The indie developer tried giving fans a free copy of the game on Halloween together with Steam keys. The Steam keys featured a one per IP limit which the internet promptly found ways around. The result? More than 30,000 copies extracted in mere hours causing the developer to cancel the promotion. The silver lining (if there is one)? The gaming press picking up the story probably got the studio more publicity than the initial free game. So thanks jerks I guess…
But what of the actual game itself and the rest of the Blackwell series? Where do these fall on the scale of adventure games? Should you play through the first four before the final installment is available in 2104? Well, I’m here as your adventure game spirit guide to provide you the answer. Just take hold of this tie…
The Blackwell series began back in December 2006 with Blackwell Legacy. In the game you play as Rosangela Blackwell (Rosa for short) and her spirit guide Joey Malone. Rosa and Joey help ghosts find their way into the afterlife after they are trapped on earth and fail to realize they’re dead (Bruce Willis surprisingly does not make a cameo).
Legacy was Wadjeteye’s second game after The Shivah. It features a great story and really sets the tone for the series. Rosangela is a quirky, introverted freelance journalist while Joey, a sort of a Bogart-esque leading man, provides sarcastic commentary at its finest.
All of the episodes follow basic adventure game mechanics. Each game has a series of locations you can visit to uncover clues and objects. You can switch back and forth between the main character and the spirit guide to accomplish different tasks. You have an inventory and can look stuff up on the internet (though sadly the first few games are all set in pre-smartphone days so you have to go home to do so).
The subject matter is definitely dark (some of the ghosts committed suicide) so its aimed for teens and up. Overall, Legacy is a solid adventure game I highly recommend!
Unbound, the next game in the series, is actually a prequel and follows Rosangela’s aunt Lauren who is referenced in the original story. Joey is also her spirit guide and together they help ghosts to the other side. I played the games out of order so I knew a bit more of the backstory going into this game. There are definitely some common threads but playing out of order didn’t didn’t reveal any major spoilers or hinder my progress in other games.
Unbound introduces a recurring “villain” known as The Countess. It actually worked well for me meeting her in a later game and then returning to the back story. Unbound is very loosely based on real life characters Joseph Mitchell and Joe Gould. It’s definitely interesting in both fact and fiction versions!
My biggest complaint about the series is the dialog puzzles and this game featured some irritating dialog puzzles. It’s not often obvious that you have to keep talking to the same person. I already asked them three different things but the puzzle won’t really unlock until you finally get to the fourth thing. Usually I figure out what the fourth thing IS but it doesn’t exist in the game until I have the conversation. While dialog puzzles are definitely my least favorite adventure game mechanic, Blackwell’s stories are good enough that I eventually get over my seething rage after cheating and discovering I was mostly right.
One “bug” I found amusing in this game was Lauren’s apartment. It has about a bazillion ashtrays in it but she only seems to ash on the welcome mat by the door...
Next up in the series is Blackwell Convergence. Convergence again messes around with the timeline and returns to just after Rosa meets Joey. I played this game last.
Convergence was probably my least favorite. It features a great story arc that comes together nicely but I found most of the game’s individual characters annoying and unlikeable (in the game’s defense most of them were supposed to be unlikeable). Somehow this game just wasn’t really fun to play and, at this point, I was also sick of The Countess.
Deception was the first I played and probably my favorite. It again follows Rosa and Joey but doesn’t feature any other direct connections to characters from the other stories (at least as revealed in this game). Rosa gets a smart phone in this game so, woohoo, not as many trips home!
As with all the Blackwell games Deception has the same dialog puzzle issues. Additionally, the new smart phone search is a bit anal about exactly what you type. It reminded me of some of the old school text adventures and the hours of my life lost to Sierra’s Goldrush getting the exact phrasing of “Put Chains on Wheels” correct.
Deception features great storytelling and voice acting. The graphics are somewhat updated but still fairly old school. It ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger so I can’t wait to see what the final installment of the series brings us in 2014!
The reason why I played the series out of order is the older Blackwell games in the AVS engine don’t work in Steam Big Picture on my PC. I either get sound or video to work but never both at the same time. My system is complicated with a 52 inch TV going through receivers, HDMI, 7.1, etc. I received some troubleshooting help from the studio and the AVS forums with no luck. Ultimately, I gave up and eventually played on the 27 inch monitor with my regular desktop PC instead of the one hooked up to the TV.
Overall, I highly enjoyed these games.The strong story telling makes up for annoying dialog puzzles and dated graphics. I am really looking forward to seeing how it all wraps up in the final installment due out this year.