Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Blackwell Series

The Blackwell series is pretty much Wadjet Eye Games' flagship product. (Yes, if you haven't guessed by now, I really like Wadjet Eye Games. What can I say? They make products of the highest quality.)
Anyway, back to the review: The Blackwell series the the story of the Blackwell women, specifically Rosangela and her aunt Lauren, who are spirit mediums. With the help of their inherited spirit guide, Joey Mallone, they must go about helping the ghosts of those who have died and been unable to move on to whatever awaits their spirits after death. But not all spirits are just ready to go, they need to be convinced, in one way or another...

The gameplay is, once again, your classic point-and-click adventure game. You go about collecting items and clues, and fitting them together. Unlike most adventure games, there is more focus on clues than items. As you learn things pertaining to the particular case you're working on, you get entries in your notepad. You then "combine" clues, much like you would items in most other adventure games, to figure new things out and get new dialog options. (At least in the first two games. The third game does away with combining clues, for which I am grateful, but I'll get to that later.) The Shivah worked in a very similar way, with both clues and items to gather, and a lot more clues than items. I actually really like this because since the games take place in a world very much like our own, it seems and feels more realistic. Most people don't go around picking up all the random garbage they find and then rub the items together to see if it forms something that is incredibly yet inexplicably useful for a rather specific purpose. No, information is what matters most. Granted, there is a bit of item-gathering, but it's fairly low-key. The only annoying part of it all is the aforementioned need to combine clues. My problem with is stems from the fact that I would make the connections mentally and end up forgetting that I still needed to tell my notepad that I made the connections. So I would end up wandering around talking to the same people over and over again, insanely hoping for a different outcome for about 30 minutes before realizing that I'm an idiot and then combining the clues on my notepad. It was rather frustrating, to be honest, and I was glad they got rid of the need to combine clues in the third game, though by that point I was so used to it that I found myself trying to combine clues unsuccessfully before realizing that I didn't have to anymore. (Stupid muscle memory.) But it's a small thing. Sure, it's kind of annoying, but it's not that big of a deal in the end, and most of it was my own dang fault for forgetting in the first place.
As with the other Wadjet Eye Games I've reviewed, these games are rather short. Individually they're about as long as the Shivah... probably a little bit longer, but not too much longer. But this is once again made up for by the fact that they are pretty inexpensive: $10 for one game or $20 for all three. (More are under development, but so far only three have been released.) Also, the games come with developer commentary, making a second playthrough worth it. So, really I'd say that these games are pretty good deals since, true to the developer's form, they are fun games and manage to tell their story very well and get us to like the characters in such a short period of time. The stories (or maybe I should say "story", since all the game's stories are interconnected, if not directly sequels) are very intriguing, if not the most groundbreaking. Unlike the Shivah, there's not as much pathos to deal with, so it's a little bit harder to care for Joey and the Blackwell women as it is to care for Russel Stone, but that's okay, I think. These are different kinds of stories. The Shivah was a noir story, while the Blackwell series is more of a classic ghost story type deal. Regardless, as I've said, the Blackwell series is still storytelling done well. Done well enough that even though I think that Russel Stone is a more interesting character, the Blackwell series are the better-told stories overall. I love the Shivah, but in the end I do think these games are better. Granted, part of that is probably because the Shivah came before Blackwell and Dave Gilbert has been able to use his experience to work, which is great. I love it when a good author gets even better. It's a sign that the investment of time that you've made in their earlier works has been worth it and a good indicator that their future works will be even better.
Other than that, there's not too much to say. The art is good. A little bit better than the Shivah, but not a ton. The games run well on my netbook, and the voice acting is... Hit-and-miss. I'm a little surprised at this, actually, since The Shivah had really good voice acting. The games in the Blackwell series have mostly good voice acting, but each has a couple of characters that could have been done better. The first game is the worst offender, but each game gets successively better at reducing the amount of below average voiceovers.

Bottom line: Par for the course for Wadjet Eye Games. Great adventure games with great stories for low, low prices. There are a couple problems; the games aren't perfect, but I can live with that. They're great fun, and dang cheap when you buy 'em in a bundle. My advice is that if you like adventure games, check these out. You'll be glad you did.

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