The Blackwell Epiphany (PC) Preview
So, it’s almost a month to go before the release of The Blackwell Epiphany. For those of you who have no idea what that means (and let’s face it, that’s probably most of you), it’s the fifth and regrettably final chapter in the Blackwell series of old-school point-and-click adventure games made by the talented Wadjet Eye Games. And they are exceptional examples of the genre, complete with excellent storytelling, beautiful pixel art, great voice-acting, and clever, satisfying puzzles. If you have any interest in the point-and-click genre, then I can’t recommend them enough – they are, simply put, the best examples of indie point-and-clicks that I’ve encountered. The rest of Wadjet Eye’s back catalogue of adventure games are certainly worth a look too.
But enough waxing lyrical about earlier games – is this new Blackwell game going to maintain the quality of the previous ones, I hear you cry? The answer to which, after playing the press demo, is a resounding yes. I won’t spoil anything of the story, but suffice it to say that so far, it’s looking like it’ll wrap up the story of the series in style. However, due to the story-driven nature of the game, you’ll probably want to play the previous Blackwell games first, if you’re new to the series.
A little bit of explanation might be useful here: one of the things that makes the Blackwell games so compelling is that its central ‘gimmick’ (if such a good idea can be called that) is that you play as two characters simultaneously – as Rosangela Blackwell, a psychic investigator (that is, she’s a medium who investigates things); and her spirit guide, the wisecracking Joey Malone. Joey, being a floating ghost, is unable to touch or manipulate things, but locked doors or gaps in the floor are no obstacle to him; whereas Rosa might be impeded by physical constraints, but she can also pick up and carry items, use computers and the like, and talk to people. This arrangement leads to some excellent puzzle design, requiring you to switch between both characters and use their strengths to overcome the problems you’ll face. Added to that is the rather nice idea of giving Rosa an in-game smartphone, allowing you to research people and organisations in the game, or phone characters rather than having to walk across the city to get to them.
But of course, the most important thing about adventure games is the story, and The Blackwell Epiphany follows in the traditions of the other Blackwell games, having excellent writing and storytelling. Rosa and Joey’s job is to safely escort lost spirits into the next world, and so the story explores a lot of serious themes about death, loss, abandonment and so on – but it very rarely becomes morbid or depressing, due to the excellently-written and often amusing rapport between the two main characters. Good writing, of course, can only be as good as the voice actors that deliver it, and the cast certainly don’t disappoint, living up to and in some cases exceeding the level of quality we’ve come to expect from Wadjet Eye Games. And that’s a high level of good presentation that’s found across the board – the ambient music is varied and characterful, and the beautiful pixel art seen in the previous Blackwell titles returns (though Wadjet Eye have gone for a more ‘film noir’ feel to things this time around). Character portraits are also nicely stylised, and there’s a lot more sprite animation than in the previous games.
However, while it’s nicely presented, with stylised pixel-art graphics and excellent, engaging storytelling, the Blackwell Epiphany does seem to fall into the same pitfalls as its predecessors: many of the puzzles – despite using the clever mechanics mentioned above – have solutions that will feel painfully obvious to seasoned adventure-gamers. Rarely do you get the satisfaction of working out a complex chain of events, and sometimes it’s even possible to see the solutions to problems before they arise. Nevertheless, despite this, it’s also possible to feel like you’ve reached a dead end occasionally – fortunately it’s unlikely you’ll get completely stuck, as the game has a built in hint system, accessed through getting your two characters to talk to each other. Aside from inconsistent difficulty, its main flaw appears to be the same defect that afflicts any indie game – it’s too short. Previous Blackwell games have certainly suffered from this, so it’s to be expected – but I played through the press demo (apparently half the game) in only 1-2 hours, which indicates the finished game could be disappointingly short.
In conclusion, then: The Blackwell Epiphany looks like it’ll be a more than worthy conclusion to the high-quality Blackwell series. I’d highly recommend playing the previous games first, though.
The Blackwell Epiphany will be released on PC on April 24th.