In an attempt to recapture the gaming experience of Gemini Rue, I hunted through its developer’s catalogue. The Blackwell series caught my eye, and I took advantage of a sale to snag the bundle (because who buys anything at full price?!).
TL;DR for the series? It’s not as amazing as most of the other puzzle games I’ve played, but it was definitely worth some #SiblingTime.
The premise: Rosangela Blackwell’s life turns upside-down when she discovers she’s a medium and inherits a spirit guide from her aunt. Her guide – the saucy ghost Joey – teaches her of her mission in life: helping spirits come to terms with their death and “move on”.
Not my usual genre at all…but half of “paranormal detective” is detective, right?
The Blackwell Legacy
“Rosa” Blackwell is a reclusive writer in New York City who hasn’t even formally met her next-door neighbor. The death of her guardian aunt (who’s been confined to a mental facility for twenty years) seems to be just another element to her stressful day, as her boss at a suburb newspaper ropes her in to cover a college student’s suicide.
If you’ve watched the trailer or read the blurb, though, you know there’s far more to it than that.
Legacy tries to roll the “detective” element of the story into the mechanics: important clues or names are recorded in your notebook. And sometimes you must combine two clues to create a new conclusion, thus opening up new dialogue paths. I’ll admit I didn’t find this mechanic intuitive, and usually resorted to mashing clues together in hopes it would open up a new path.
Weighted toward dialogue or inventory puzzles, there is however one timing puzzle that was so frustrating it even crashed the game 😛
You shouldn’t expect too much theological solidity in a game about GHOSTS…but Legacy gets the most dicey. It features a ghost terrified of ending up in Hell…until he becomes reconciled to his fate and “goes into the light”. Rosa’s idea of being philosophical is to say, “Maybe there’s not a hell.”
Big help, lady.
BTW, there is a Hell. And real people heading there. Do I care enough to get up from my computer and talk to them about it? *squirm*
After watching Rosa take her first steps into her new role, we get to see Lauren and Joey work as a (dysfunctional, yet experienced) team helping restless spirits come to grips with their situation and let go.
The core of this investigation is to research who the dead person was, find out what was important to them, and help their death-fuzzy minds realize their new condition.
And then…Lauren and Joey uncover something even worse. Some of these deaths are linked…there’s a killer loose.
Unbound gives you the ability to switch between Joey and Lauren as playable characters, opening up some interesting puzzles and play dynamics. Naturally, Joey can’t touch anything (being a ghost) or talk to anyone who isn’t also dead — but then, living people don’t notice him sticking his nose into places to find out what they need to know.
The climax of Unbound turns up the creepy factor, without dragging Hell or other spiritual considerations into it. Lauren and Joey also have a snarky-yet-sweet relationship that makes this a better game than Legacy.
The Blackwell Convergence
The technology jumps are dealt with humorously, as Lauren had to pound the pavement with nothing but a phone book, but Rosa has the internet to help her in her researches (by Blackwell Deception, she has a smart phone!). And Joey, since he lived his life in the 1930s, shamelessly derides Rosa for her fancy, “incomprehensible” technology.
Dialogue and inventory puzzles share space with more use of the “clue notebook”, and Joey gets even more play time as he floats off to recover important clues.
The leads’ relationship is also more fun than their first meeting. With more experience under her belt, Rosa is a more confident person than she was when her adventures started. She’s given up the grouchy attitude, reconciled to the fact that Joey’s there and can’t leave, and is more interested in helping the people they meet.
She’s also geekily excited about her updated gadgets…and coffee!
Joey is still snarky, but has glimmers of deeper sensibilities that help make him endearing.
And…they’re hunting another killer. This time: a killer ghost. Can you feel your skin crawl?
The Blackwell Deception
Rosa and Joey have modernized their business model. After all, now we have a place where you can talk about communicating with spirits and moving to the next world without being thought crazy: the internet.
Then, they get a case that’s more personal than any they’ve dealt with. As Rosa follows up some interviews for an old co-worker from the newspaper, we wonder…what about those other spiritualists and psychics who advertise their services? Are they all hacks, like Joey insists?
Or are there some connections to the spiritual world that are less than benevolent?
Not everybody is out to help others, like Rosa and Joey. Some are out to feed themselves…no matter the cost to other people.
The resolution is a tad nihilist. After all, Rosa’s been helping these ghosts…but no one knows. She feels good for helping people, but in a world with no God laying down objective right and wrong, is she really better off helping them? Is her life worth living? Is any life really worth living – when they all spin down to “going into the white light”?
Without God saying, “I made you — so the worth of your life is tied up in Me because I value you”…what are we left with?
We’re left with Rosa saying: the bad guys are still out there, somewhere. And she’s going to find them.
Which echoes the heroic tones of Jesus, rescuing His Bride…and makes the ending philosophically bittersweet.
In the End
My playing partner thought Deception was the best of the four, which is true — but as they each build on each other, this is almost like saying the climax of the story is the best part. Legacy may have been a weak start, but by the end we’d had some laughs, bent our minds toward some puzzles, and unraveled a couple mysteries.
There is a sequel, but the resolution of Deception is more like a leading hint than a cliff-hanger. The problem of each individual game is wrapped up nicely, although I sometimes wished we could learn more about some of the side characters.
I’m glad the four games are published as a bundle, since it’s really best to play them in sequence — and the references and in-jokes from one game to the next are cool. (I did start wondering, though, if New York City isn’t really that big — since the same characters all seem to be connected.)
Also, starting with Unbound, there’s an over-arching series plot that develops and builds very nicely.
Buying them as a bundle also helps you feel like you got your money’s worth, since each game is pretty short (Legacy might be the shortest, but that might also be my perception). Legacy and Unbound also feature cinematic scrolling intros which cut down on play time…I guess by the time they got to the last two games, they were confident enough in their story and characters to just jump into the action straight off.
There are scattered profanities. The theological premise is, y’know, squishy. And Blackwell Deception includes a female ghost coming on to Joey.
I don’t know if one could have them actually do anything, since – duh, our playing team didn’t choose that option! (And, thankfully, you have the choice to turn her down.)
The one other complaint I’d make is about the retro pixelation. The world is not dark, gritty, or rainy — it’s colorful and full of life. So it would have been nice to be able to see it more clearly. The character portrait insets that appear when people are talking help give the people definition, but a little higher detail in the rest of the world would have been nice, too.
I wouldn’t call it a good game for kids, but people mature at different rates. For my brother and me, it scratched the puzzle-game itch and gave us something to do together. (See, I played Halo 3: ODST with him, so then he played Blackwell with me.)
Now to wish-list the sequel so I can get it on sale…
The Blackwell Bundle is available DRM-free on GoG.com. System requirements are: Windows (XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10), Linux (Ubuntu 14.04, Ubuntu 16.04, Ubuntu 18.04), Mac OS X (10.6.8 or above). Note: the GoG download client requires like Mac OS 10.11, but if you select the menu option for Downloader Links, you can download only the game without having to upgrade your whole system. #askhowIknowthis
You can also find it on Steam (including Blackwell Epiphany, which I haven’t played yet! But remember Steam DRM-locks their software).