Note: This review was written in cooperation with Future Sack editor Annagram.
It’s tradition with our annual Halloween gaming special week to review classic trilogies, and what better way to start than with Future Games’ point-and-click Gothic adventure Black Mirror?
Black Mirror (PC)
(Czech Republic 2003, developer: Future Games (defunct), publisher: THQ Nordic, platform: PC)
Samuel Gordon returns to his family’s estate after the mysterious death of his grandfather with murders following him like a curse wherever he goes.
A Gothic tale about a bloody curse
A good story doesn’t necessarily have to feature original ideas or complicated chains of events. It just has to keep the reader, or in this case gamer, anticipating each new chapter. This is what Black Mirror achieves in spades. It has just enough exposition and explanations by characters to be interesting and engaging throughout playtime. Mysterious and bloody events follow creepy situations in even more unsettling surroundings, something Gothic horror stories are known and loved for.
Picturesque character scenes
The dialogues aren’t too long or too short, while memorable characters make Willow Creek and its surrounding areas worth revisiting. The locations are varied and represent both a romantic and foreboding scenery, exemplified by a cozy pub, a beautiful castle garden, or a churchyard and an asylum. The way these places are slowly unlocked by progressing through the suspenseful story with its many twists is also a nice touch, as it goes hand in hand with discovering more of the Gordon family’s secret without overwhelming the player with too much freedom.
Puzzle design is usually well integrated without too many items to be carried around at the same time, while combinations or applications are often logical. This also has to do with specific goals in each chapter so that one is rarely lost. A useful feature is how points of interaction in the environment disappear after they’re not important anymore, dispensing with overloaded locations. Unfortunately logic puzzles, a labyrinth and some death scenes rear their ugly heads near the end, making progression unnecessarily tedious.
It’s a nice gesture to offer the player the option to reply in a negative or positive manner and tell the truth or lie, but it doesn’t change gameplay, character or plot development in any meaningful way. The game’s linearity isn’t always good, either, because some trigger events aren’t obvious and pixel hunting becomes a problem as well without a hotspot key.
Painting the scene in red and dark shapes
Backgrounds still look great, often evoking the feeling of looking at a macabre or romantic painting with some nice weather effects complementing the mood of the places, while the cinematic cutscenes are done quite well, too. Only the repetitive gestures and slow walking animations of the characters show the engine’s problems.
Listening to screams and whispers
The audio presentation is of a very high quality when voice acting and sound design are concerned, although the former is only true for the German version (with the voice actor of Johnny Depp doing the voice of Samuel), as the English actors sound pretty bored when they read out their lines. Music and especially the creepy sound effects add to the Gothic horror atmosphere.
Classic gameplay and storytelling
Adventure games with a horror theme don’t always have to show lots of blood or feature jump scares when they’re as subtly done as Future Games’ Black Mirror. It might not have won many glowing reviews with the English version, but the German one does everything right in the audio department. Puzzle design isn’t very original and it’s not perfect, but from beginning to end, the game is suspenseful, creepy and simply tells a great Gothic story with memorable set-pieces.
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