Mature storytelling in games is slowly but steadily becoming a standard in the industry, but adventure games still have to learn quite a lot to tell the kind of stories with puzzle solving to touch people and be intriguing to play through. So it’s refreshing to see the start of the evolution with Wadjet Eye Games’ point-and-clicker The Blackwell Legacy.
The Blackwell Legacy
(USA 2006, developer/publisher: Wadjet Eye Games, platform: PC)
Freelance writer Rosangela Blackwell finds out that a ghost called Joey Malone is a constant companion for her family, and she also has to cope with the suicides of a group of friends at university by helping the apparitions to move on.
Realism in talking
Introducing a new character who is a realistic portrayal of a real person isn’t an easy feat, but The Blackwell Legacy does just that. The main protagonist Rosangela is vulnerable, angry and all these different emotions which make a person who they are: human. The first scene in which she scatters the ashes of her aunt are already an indication of how well written and spot on the script is. Despite the supernatural elements, even the ghost Joe illustrates how thought-provoking writing can carry a story and make the player care about these persons. Their conversations are presented in a natural way with witty and touching scenes, and so are the other characters the two meet. The game is a bit text-heavy, but it’s the right mix between serious and funny comments to prevent the player from skipping the dialogue scenes.
Surrealism in walking and telling
But it’s not only the characterization which keeps the player interested. The plot itself is also highly engaging and touching at various points. With a mixture of drama, fantasy, ghost, horror and crime story in the film noire category, there’s a lot in here which despite all these different influences (and a certain trash factor in the end) still manages to be original. The way one discovers more about Rosangela’s family and the role she has to play is just as suspenseful to play as trying to find out the bizarre deaths of a group of university friends. The sense of place is felt throughout the game as well with many locations set in New York being populated by an illustrious cast of characters who never feel like fillers, but all having an interesting unique personal trait to remember them. Only in few instances do the tragedy elements feel to be delivered in an exaggerated, sentimental way.
Progression in the game is rewarding enough even for newcomers of the genre, as gameplay is more about finding clues, talking to people and in few instances interacting with the environment in the classic point-and-click way. There is an inventory, but object-combinations are very rare. more prominent are the combinations of statements and cluse to open up new branches of dialogue. Despite the lack of real head-scratching conundrums and overcomplicated solutions, at some points, puzzles can become a bit obscure and with few clues, only trial and error works. The very short playtime of about 2-3 hours is only slightly rectified by the inclusion of different endings, depending on the player’s choices, although these only become apparent in the final part of the game. Still, after completing the game, bonus features like commentary and funny outtakes are a welcome reward.
Minimalism in presentation
Something which will divide modern gamers is the graphical presentation: the retro style reminiscent of old Sierra games has certainly a nice nostalgic factor, but its low resolution can also make certain objects hard to distinguish, while animations and facial expressions aren’t anything to get excited about, despite the character portraits/photos being very well drawn. The low budget is also present in the audio quality. In general, the voice actors do a decent job, but they sometimes suffer from overacting and always from low audio quality. Subtitles aren’t always synchronous with what’s spoken, either. Still, despite these flaws, there’s generally a very good timing of simple but effective music, sound effects and silence to create a nice atmosphere.
A strong beginning
The Blackwell Legacy is a wonderful example of how mature storytelling can compensate for almost non-existent classic inventory-based puzzles. With a great script, memorable characters and a suspenseful, touching story, the introduction to the world of Rosangela Blackwell and Joe Malone is well worth visiting, even for those who’re still undecided if games (in particual old-fashioned point-and-clickers) can achieve what so many movies and books have done in the past: evoke genuine emotions, no matter how outdated the graphics and sometimes amateurish the voice acting is.
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