[REVIEW] Black Mirror

Back in 2003, Czech developer Future Games (which began with only five people) released a successful point-and-click horror game entitled The Black Mirror, which followed the cursed bloodline of the Scottish Gordon family.

Fast-forward to 2017 (or, rewind, I guess, now that it’s 2019), where the series was apparently relevant enough to receive a reboot by German developer King Art Games, who were known for their work on The Book of Unwritten Tales and The Raven adventure games. These types of point-and-click adventures tend to work better on PC than console, and Black Mirror is really no different. It’s a clumsy, clunky mess of a game with framerate issues and frequent (and long) loading screens, but it does present an intriguing occult mystery set in 1926 Scotland.

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Although I do own the original game and its two sequels on PC, I’ve never played them, but after reading over The Black Mirror’s wiki entry (big yikes, I know), it’s safe to say that both plots share a lot of similarities. Each game sees a member of the supposedly cursed Gordon bloodline returning to the Black Mirror manor after a family tragedy and uncovering their history in all things arcane along the way. The entire family appears to have skeletons in their closet and I found the story beats to remain intriguing throughout, but man, this game could have benefited from being a full-on point-and-click as opposed to a 3D game with semi-fixed-camera perspectives.

The game begins with your father evading a pursuer while fending off constant voices inside of his own head, before performing some sort of ritual and committing suicide by immolation. Upon receiving notice of his father’s death, David leaves his home in India and travels to the Black Mirror manor where other family members await his arrival. He’s to be the manor’s new owner, much to their dismay, but this is the least of their worries.

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Upon arriving, David begins seeing the ghosts of his deceased relatives and, like his father, hears voices that no one else seems to acknowledge. After digging deeper into his family heritage, he uncovers the long history of their involvement with the occult and a mysterious “object” known as the black mirror, which is said to grant great power — but at what cost?

In typical point-and-click fashion, Black Mirror is centered around exploration, conversation, and puzzle-solving. Rather than clicking around the environment, however, David is controlled with the left analog stick while maneuvering around 3D environments that have terrible semi-static cameras that often made navigating them a gigantic pain in the ass. David already moves around like a brick shithouse, making wide turns and sticking to everything around him, and this is exacerbated by the game’s ridiculously dark gamma setting that only seems to offer “close your eyes and play” or “washed out” options. There is no happy medium.

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The manor is also of substantial size, but there’s no map to help keep track of your surroundings. Worsening the situation, the static camera views often fail to match the layout of the rooms that connect to one another. For instance, walking toward the back of the screen down a hallway will shift to the kitchen entrance, which is now at the top of the screen facing downward. It’s disorienting. I also encountered a weird bug where the character I was supposed to talk to wouldn’t respond and no matter which door I exited I would appear in a different location entirely.

Disorientation is bad enough on its own, but Black Mirror’s reboot has constant loading screens that sometimes last upwards of two minutes. There are quite a few short, two-to-three-second cutscenes toward the end of the game, so imagine all of those broken up with extended trips to the loading screen. One puzzle, in particular, has a room’s layout rotate each time David exits and reenters. You enter the room, wait for it to load, exit, wait for it to load, reenter, wait for it to load, exit, wait for it to load, enter again, wait for it to load, and repeat until it’s in the correct position.

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David also experiences “visions” during the game, in which he sees residual hauntings and needs to interact with ghosts at very specific times during their animations. It’s trial and error at its most frustrating since David can die if he remains too close to the ghosts during the wrong windows of opportunity. This boils down to watching the scene play out repeatedly and guessing when you need to run up and click on them in order to progress the scenario. Of course, dying means more loading screens to look at.

It’s these types of poor design choices that really bog Black Mirror down from being an enjoyable adventure game. The story itself is quite interesting and each of the game’s characters are well voiced. It’s only a 4-5 hour game and the smaller cast prevents them from tripping over one another for screen time. The puzzles are also pretty well thought out as well and avoid the genre’s infamously obtuse solutions almost entirely.

It’s just a shame it’s so damn clunky.

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Graphically, Black Mirror isn’t exactly easy on the eyes (especially the character models, their awkward animations, and the soulless look in their eyes) but some of the environments are kind of nice to look at whenever you can actually see them. Even when you can’t, it’s still easy enough to locate interactable objects so there’s no need to “pixel hunt” if you get lost.

Unlike the original 2003 release, thankfully, this version of Black Mirror doesn’t boast 150+ rooms to explore, nor does it have its 5-plus hours of spoken dialogue. It’s a fraction of the duration, but still presents a story that, while interesting, isn’t unique enough to warrant suffering through its abysmal controls and camera angles.

I had an alright time for the $6 USD I paid during the recent PlayStation Halloween sale, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend Black Mirror at its full $30 USD price. There are far, far better games to spend your money on.

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