One of the unexpected highlights of my spring gaming has been an introduction to the outstanding work of Dave Gilbert, the multi-talented head of Wadjet Eye Games. At a time when questions are being raised about the relative value of next-generation graphics - the old "style vs. substance" controversy - Gilbert's contributions are timely and bring a breath of fresh air. Let's chat a bit about his major work to this point, The Blackwell Legacy, the first in a possible series of detective-adventure games.
Meet Rosangela Blackwell, a nerdy loner who is self-absorbed, troubled, not well-known to even her immediate apartment complex neighbors, a young woman without a sense of direction, socially uncomfortable and awkward. As her doorman comments: "You really don't get out much, do you?" Her neighbor sympathizes that "the city can be a lonely place." She is an anti-heroine who reluctantly, even painfully, finds she has a unique "talent" for detecting, leading her to become the center of our story (and ones to follow!). Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher, move over. There's a new sleuth in town!
As is revealed early in the story (and on the website), the Blackwells have a most peculiar family legacy - the ability to see and converse with a flip, film-noir type ghost named Joey. Giving in to his presence leads to often humorous, sometimes tense conversations and even unique assignments and detecting challenges. Not giving in to Joey's badgering causes headaches and a risk of hereditary dementia. Our Rosa succumbs to Joey's entreaties, leading us on a highly entertaining and quite unique journey investigating several area college deaths.
The Blackwell Legacy, an adventure game if you haven't already guessed, is played from a third-person perspective, point-and-click, complete mouse control style. The game engine defaults to a 640×480 resolution, leading initially to a rather shocking blockiness and pixelation. However, the backgrounds are colorful and as detailed as they can be given the resolution. One soon becomes accustomed to the early 90s graphics and concentrates, instead, on the story.
Rosa keeps a notebook, accessible from the top of the screen, where highlights of conversations are kept. Indeed, this notebook becomes the primary puzzle-solving tool, with earlier conversations sometimes needing to be revisited given new information you've acquired. There are several object-type puzzles, uncomplicated and logical, readily completed. For the most part, you won't be scouring rooms for things to collect. Saving anywhere is allowed, except during conversations or cutscenes.
You direct Rosa, mostly through conversations with some very interesting characters - paramount among them being her sidekick Joey Malone. When these occur, popups of Rosa and her interviewee bring the cast to life in a surprising fashion given the limitations of the game engine. There are a number of locations Rosa must visit, most more than once, and this can be done in an instant "teleporting" fashion. Within conversations, there often appear to be response choices that differ - ranging from accepting to argumentative. However, given the essential linearity of the story and steps that must be accomplished before being able to move on, I found that I really ended up in the same place regardless.
Clearly, the narrative is the key to this game. In that regard, the excellent script is accompanied by some equally fine voice acting, particularly from the cast voicing Rosa and Joey. Rosa ranges from timid and frightened to strong and assertive. Joey is sarcastic, annoying, sexist. Underlying both of them is a puzzlement as to why they've been picked to be in this situation.
Background music is satisfactory. A director's commentary, in the style of a DVD movie, is available, although it's suggested one not turn this on during the first playthrough. It took me about six hours to complete the game, not including note-taking for the review. However, with the commentary and fine script, The Blackwell Legacy is a good candidate for replay.
The Blackwell Legacy is an outstandingly written and acted adventure game, only held back by limitations of the fairly primitive game engine and, perhaps, some design decisions. It readily gets a "Thumb Up" from this reviewer. As one who particularly enjoys story and narrative, I found The Blackwell Legacy to be compelling, involving, memorable. Next-generation graphics were of little concern to me. There are, though, some adventure game players who especially enjoy puzzles, even of the obscure variety. For them, this game may not be as entertaining, given the emphasis on language versus objects.
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