Review: the Blackwell series

Blackwell

The Blackwell video game series is a series of point-and-click adventures that came out between 2006 and 2014. I played the whole set recently, so I’ll share my thoughts on the games.

The series consists of five games: The Blackwell Legacy, Blackwell Unbound, the Blackwell Convergence, the Blackwell Deception, and the Blackwell Epiphany. The series is episodic. All the games are separate stories, but they have a single overarching plot. They are not very long, but they are very engaging. I played through the entire series in a little over a week, and I loved them.

Style

The games were made by independent video game developer Wadjet Eye Games. The games are not from the so-called AAA tier of games, and have a pixelated art style reminiscent of the late nineties.  This isn’t to say the games are ugly. The adventure games of the late nineties, like Gabriel Knight, aged well. The games clearly go for style over graphical grand-standing. Less pixels but more mood.

What I did find a bit annoying is that the graphics style changes a lot over the course of the games. The second game actually looked less good than the first, and the fourth and fifth suddenly do away with facial animations.

Characters

The games focus on the Blackwell family, or rather, two of the women of the family, over two generations. The family is cursed – or blessed if you look at it another way – with a personal ghost companion called Joey. Together the two must guide ghosts that have not accepted their fate to the afterlife. In the first, third, fourth, and fifth games you play as Rosangela Blackwell, and in the second you play as Rosangela’s aunt Lauren Blackwell.

In the first game, Rosangela is a socially awkward wannabe writer, who mostly stays in her apartment. Then her aunt Lauren, who has lost her mind twenty-five years earlier, dies in an institution. Lauren’s death transfers Joey to Rosangela, throwing her life out of whack. Over the games, Rosangela goes through a very interesting growth arc, from a fragile snarky girl to a determined – but still snarky – woman.

Over the games we also learn more about Joey, who was a tailor from the twenties before he died, aunt Lauren, and about the various ghosts you meet.

The characters are well written. By that I mean that they feel like real people, who are thrown into an adventure. The same goes for most of the ghosts that you have to help. These ghosts have to be helped by unraveling their death and past, meaning you really get to known them. This alone makes for a very enthralling set of games.

Plot

The way the story unfolds is well-paced and reveals are nicely staggered throughout the series. In the end, the entire series from a single story, which is masterfully handled. The writer – Dave Gilbert – is a great storyteller, and that is reflected in every aspect of these games.

One of the things I really like is that the games do not change their basic premise throughout the series. You have to help ghosts cross to the afterlife by unraveling their past and showing them that they’re dead. Books and television shows often abandon that kind of basis once they get into a greater overarching plot, which often makes the story collapse because suddenly the overarching plot has to carry the entire story, making it strung out. The Blackwell games do not suffer from this, partially because the overarching story is very good, but also because it is woven into the smaller stories of each episode.

Conclusion

As I wrote above, I really loved this series. I do admit, I have a weak spot for point-and-click adventures. This is because this genre leans very much on good story-telling, which is what is my main reason for loving or hating any game. I can forgive a game bad gameplay, crappy graphics, and a host of bugs, if the story is good, but not the other way around.

The Blackwell games have good gameplay, stylish (although not great) graphics, and only a few bugs, and the story is brilliant. So, yeah, it’s good.

 

Author: Martin Stellinga

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands

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