The Blackwell Deception Review (PC)
When Dave Gilbert founded Wadjeteye games, one of the first titles they released was The Blackwell Legacy. Following the adventures of Rosangela Blackwell, it was classic point and click fare with a retro look that was irresistible to those who grew up with Sierra adventures games like Police Quest. Even those more familiar with the more popular Monkey Islands and Broken Sword games will feel at home going on adventures with Rosangela. Although the tone of may be somewhat less overtly humorous than Guybrush’s pirate-based capers, it nonetheless has some of the same feeling of whimsy and lightness of tone as Lucasarts classics or more recently, The Telltale games.
The Blackwell games revolve around the cases and stories of Rosa and her ghost partner Joey as they investigate paranormal mysteries, most of the involving spirits of some description. Frequently the goal is to put the spirit to rest and let them pass on by resolving issues left when they passed away. Its a sign of good storytelling that despite having essentially the same plot as the tv series Ghost Whisperer, the mysteries themselves are fascinating and, when they are finally solved, pleasantly satisfying little narratives. As the newest in the series, Deception spends little time setting up the two lead characters and instead drops you straight into your first mystery to solve. Its a wise decision. The characters are likeable but to some extent they conform to archetypes and the dynamic between the two is clear and strong from the start. Pleasingly, its Rosangela who is a little more roguish and morally grey than Joey and having a female character cast in this role is refreshing.
The story and characterisation may be good, but the technology underlying the whole experience is pure marmite. You will either love or hate the retro style of it, complete with big chunky pixels and hit-or-miss animations. In truth its hard to imagine that modern gamers who didn’t play the games that inspire Deception will have much appreciation for the visual style. For those who remember the days of PC point and click masterpieces though, its gorgeous in its own way. I love the look of the game, but be warned – this is not a conventionally good looking game. In fact, its not even conventionally adequate looking and the absence of basic pre-requisites like wide screen mode or graphical options of any kind will be jarring for those unprepared.
Despite this lack of polish in the visuals the voice work is good though and the soundtrack is a particular highlight. From the jazzy saxophone music that plays in your apartment to the tension inducing crescendos that build during action sequences, the whole thing sounds astounding.
The puzzles are a good mix and they manage to straddle the fine line between insultingly easy and stupidly obtuse. When I was stuck I frequently found that three or four minutes of snooping around or talking with my partner for clues helped me reason my way to a solution. This meant that I was neither powering through the game and missing out on exploring the atmosphere and environments but also I wasn’t tearing my hair out searching for some tiny collectible I missed.
The most original gameplay mechanic is the way that both Joey and Rosangela are playable. While Joey can get to places that Rosangela cannot (like through locked doors) he cannot interact with objects. This leads to some ingenious puzzles involving both characters working together. It also keeps your interest level up as each character sees a given situation slightly differently. At the most basic level looking at an object with one will produce a different response from the other. Cleverly though, this includes the interaction between the two, so if you ask Joey what to do next with Rosangela you will get a different response from Rosangela asking Joey.
Perhaps the clearest indication of how much I enjoyed The Blackwater Deception is that it made me want to go back and play the previous games in the series. The story, characters, atmosphere and soundtrack make this a nostalgic adventure that’s also a great game in its own right. It’s pure niche; if you don’t like point and clicks then stay well away, but if you do then its essentially unmissable.
With games like this, Dave Gilbert and Wadjeteye games have shown that the rumours of the death of point and click games are greatly exaggerated. If you need shiny graphics and polish in your games knock a few points off the score. Otherwise…
8 Deceptively deceptive deceptions out of 10