Take2 Interactive hit the mark with Black Dahlia, a game boasting top quality full-motion video, but the real news is movement effects. Never have I seen such a full degree of freedom implemented to create such fantastic, fluid character movements. Combined with a great plot and story, the outstanding video, dynamic, believable characters and fairly decent acting and you get a game worthy of high placement in its genre. Black Dahlia contains over sixty puzzles to warp your brain as you move deeper into the mystery of the Torso Murders -- a mystery taking Jim Pearson to more than seventy locations, spanning two continents. The rich 3D environments, coupled with great sound, music and voice effects truly make Black Dahlia a feast for the eyes and ears.
However, Black Dahlia is not without its problems, the first being difficulty. This game is hard! Some of the puzzles are quite tedious, even if logically laid out. Secondly, while the game is very interactive during the limited times you get to interact, Black Dahlia has a little too much great video, making the game a little weak in actual gameplay. The game will also require you to do a lot of reading, which, depending on your preference, may be a good or bad point. Of course, the difficulty level might explain why the real Torso Murderer was never caught.
Graphics: A varied, beautiful 3D world.
Sound: Great effects, celebrity voices, and music.
Enjoyment: A fun -- if somewhat tedious -- mystery adventure.
Replay Value: Limited, but with the game spanning "eight" disks, you get plenty of game for your money.
Actually I'm not one of those, who squat hours at the computer and forget the entire environment, but with "Black Dahlia" it happened that I was bound to the computer in such a manner, realizing that it was already 2 o'clock in the night. For me the game is one of those for a long time again, that is very much appealing me concerning atmosphere, graphics and puzzles that I wished, I could play it again, without any foreknowledge.
Whilst in Europe Hitler and his followers had the power and America stood a step before the entrance in World War II, a serial killer goes around in Cleveland, called "The Torso Killer". This never detained psychopath slashed his victims, left them bleeding to death and then finally packed them in newspaper. At first sight the murders don't seem to have anything to do with the investigations of Jim Pearson, freshbaked COI agent (coordinator of information).
He is examining a case of alleged recruitment of an industrialist for a Nazi plot. He discovers the "Brotherhood of Thule" and soon detects that his case is not only closely linked with his suddenly unseated predecessor, but has also a connection with the atrocious murder series. In the course of his investigations he discovers the "Black Dahlia", a mysterious, black jewel, which possesses apparently mystic powers and therefore attracts the interest of people from many sides. The plot protracts over more than 5 years, whereby the story, which begins with a "mere" murder case, glides over ever more into the fantastic.
The story is based on three true occurrences: The ascent of fascism in Europe, the never detained serial killer, who really roamed the streets of Cleveland in the 30's, and the mysterious death of the young actress Elizabeth Short, who was found 1947 carved up on an empty property.
The puzzles can be surely classified as fastidious. They are very varied, there are such, which one can solve with pure logical thinking and good combination skills and such, ,where you need some staying power and pertinacity. There are e.g. puzzles, where you must assemble a window picture, an extensive labyrinth, in which the only orientation guide is a compass, a math puzzle, where the knowledge about systems of equations is helpful, numerous combination puzzles, in which one must connect different hints to come to the solution and many more.
I liked the fact that not all puzzles had to be solved immediately. Thus there is for instance a task, that starts soon after the beginning, but can only be solved much later in the game. It's the correct assembling of a jewel-like thing consisting of rune tablets. To arrange the runes correctly you need 11 hints, which you must collect during the game at the most diverse places. Although I actually liked the rune puzzle very much, I nevertheless must admit the fact that it, as some other puzzles, was somewhat far fetched. Which reason should there be to cut individual fragments of the solution into an attic floor? One could ask such and similar questions about some of the puzzles, but I actually didn't feel disturbed very much, that not all puzzles were perfectly inserted into the game.
There are many puzzles, in which one must first understand the system in order to finally open a door, the cover of a small box or an important note. An example is the puzzle with the seal. Here the aim is for instance to produce a certain symbol at the end of a staff, whereby this symbol is divided into four picture parts, to be replaced by other parts situated beneath. By rotating certain parts of the staff you can move the lower and upper layers or down-shift the upper sections or up-shift the lower sections. If you once have recognized, which movement causes which action, it's no longer difficult.
Another sleight puzzle was the invitation, which nearly drove me to despair. You have to fold it in such a way that certain sections were on one side. In order to fold it, you can click the appropriate spot, to fold the paper here. However it can easily occur that you "mis-fold" it and unfolding the whole thing almost was a puzzle for itself.
During the game process it is also sometimes necessary to travel by hypnosis to a kind of dream world, where a classic example of a fastidious combination puzzle can be found. Thus one hears all kinds of sentences, depending on place and direction, which at first sight make no sense ("The sun loves the bird, but only, if it is alone"; "Fishes are creatures of the moon, but she refrains from them",...). this are hints to help to bring some pictures (fish, moon, sun, crown, key...) in the correct order to open a door.
Whenever you walk into a puzzle, it makes sense to get information with F1, to experience, what is actually the momentary objective. Thus this help-function gave me the crucial note to solve the window picture puzzle. If you are not working on a puzzle, the F1-key gives only general information about the game controls.
The scenarios are actually quite multifaceted. From various buildings, like a club, a restaurant and a church asylum over wide underground labyrinths and aged burial places up to dream worlds and other surreal areas, whereby generally a rather dark atmosphere prevails. Each location is initiated by a short, old monochrome film scene, before you can actually begin to play. The rooms and locations are 3D, and you can move to different points, from where you can look down and in all directions by keeping the left mouse button pressed while moving around. The furnishings and other objects are very detailed and designed reliable, the surfaces exact and drawn in an realistic way.
You play out of a 1st-person-perspective, i.e. you see everything from the view of COI-agent Jim Pearson, who will later become an army officer and then again a civilian. You can only see him when discovering new objects, when entering new locations and during conversations. Interrogations of suspects and conversations in general take a significant role in the process of the game, as they are an important source of information.
The actors' performance did strike me. Every person embodies his or her very own character in each case and largely reflects a unique personality. So for instance very busy inspector Mosley is a hard (working), stressed human being. The investigations afflict him badly, but he is nevertheless ready to help Jim and support him. Alice however embodies an always friendly, almost naive type of woman.
The game is supplemented and completed by numerous film scenes, which are nevertheless quite passable in quality.
I had a problem with reading some texts, which were very small and blurred (sometimes unusual old letters came in addition) that my eyes rather soon began to burn. Here it would have made more sense, if the designers would have used more distinct letters, even if that would have meant that the respective documents wouldn't look so old and thus reliably any longer.
Basically the game is played with the mouse, whereby you can allocate individual keys as you wish with Save, Load, Quit, etc..
From the starting point you can turn into each direction. According to whether an object can be manipulated or a person is addressable the cursor changes its form. In "Black Dahlia" you can find the following types of cursor: The turning "wait"-cursor, a compass-cursor (standard cursor), a narrow arrow (action cursor), which shows that one can examine or move an object or ask a person or the like, as well as a broader arrow, which enables you to access the next location. Then a backward showing arrow to zoom out and various other arrows, with which one can turn and shift objects.
Moving to another location is not a bare change of pictures but comes sliding. The sliding can be interrupted by the ESC-key.
When pressing the Esc-key or right mouse button a mini menu appears, out of which one can access the inventory, the note pad, the save and load functions etc.. The inventory takes the entire screen and is divided into a small right and a much larger left section. On the right all objects are listed, which are in Jim's possession. On the left you can find a detailed view of the objects, you can turn them around here, manipulate them or simply look at them. Many of the collected items hold still more secrets and mysteries, so it is worthwhile to have a closer look at every object. To use one of the found things you simply have to press the "use"-key within the inventory.
The quite practical note pad has two different functions: On the one hand you can note there important things for yourself.
Substantially more important however is the fact that Jim also notes all the information automatically, that you can't access later any longer, but need to solve certain puzzles. This affects particularly the rune puzzle I already mentioned, for which you have to find 11 clues at the most diverse places.
I consider the music very felicitous. As the plot may be more calm or more exciting you hear the suitable music which supports the atmosphere but does not disturb. Also the sound effects are quite passable. The speakers are professional and convincing; they mediate in a very clear and expressive way the feelings and the character of the concerned person.
The save and load function was designed quite pretty. The last played scene is shown in stamp-style, what makes it easy and practical to regain the required savegame. Finally I would like to point out that this game is not suitable for children or in general for more sensitive humans. There are some scenes, which are definitely precarious, even despite or because of only suggested acts of violence.
A very good game, which particularly convinced me because of the varied, many and good puzzles and the extremely intriguing story as well as the convincingly personified characters. Small negative aspect: The translators could have exerted themselves a bit more.
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