Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Blackwell Legacy Review

The Blackwell Legacy, developed and published by Wadjet Eye Games.
The Good: Fairly interesting storyline, intuitive gameplay, high-quality voice acting, DVD-style commentary by the designer
The Not So Good: Short, seriously outdated graphics
What say you? Despite appearances, it’s one of the better adventure games: 6/8

I’m not a big fan of adventure games. My relationship with them is strained due to the implausible puzzles that are present in a lot of the titles. As I’ve stated before, when a game requires you to grind sea salt on a tombstone to make a building collapse, I tend to lose interest in it rather quickly. But every once in a while, I’m ready to have another try at the genre, and this attempt is in the form of The Blackwell Legacy. In this game, you’re following the circumstances surrounding the mysterious life and death of the main character’s crazy aunt. Will The Blackwell Legacy restore my faith in adventure gaming?

By far the worst part of The Blackwell Legacy is the graphics. The game looks like it was one of the first non-text adventure games that came out 15 years ago. The game runs at low resolution (640x480) and all of the characters and backgrounds are very blocky and pixilated. Now, the game was developed by one person, so this is really the cause of the issue; some of the lack of quality can be attributed to this, and it’s certainly more excusable than if The Blackwell Legacy was developed by a larger company. I will say that the more I played the game, the less I noticed the poor quality of the graphics as I got more involved in the story. Still, The Blackwell Legacy’s static background and rough character models won’t wow over anyone. Thankfully, the rest of the game is quite good, and this includes the sound. All of the in-game dialogue is voiced: pretty impressive. And the voice acting is fantastic: it easily competes with big budget titles in terms of quality. I was wondering why the install file was so large, considering the frugal graphics, but the quality of the voice acting explains everything. The Blackwell Legacy also features the ability to hear DVD-style commentary by the game designer during play, which is a very unique addition for a PC game. And even though the game has MIDI-like music (usually a sign of really annoying computerized tunes), the music is actually decent. While the graphics are definitely outdated, the voice acting certainly makes up for those shortcomings.

The Blackwell Legacy is rather traditional in its mechanics for an adventure game. Luckily, the game focuses less on insane point-and-click puzzles and more on the storyline and reasonable solutions. Clicking on objects will interact with them, but you won’t spend a lot of time endlessly clicking on things about the map to find what you’re supposed to find. Your inventory holds objects in your possession, and although you will need to combine objects every once in a while, The Blackwell Legacy is devoid of unfeasible MacGyver-like puzzles where you have to combine a rubber band, a toothpick, and dental floss to make a nuclear bomb. You will write down important facts in your notebook and need to combine them to reason out a conclusion (all of which make sense). You will also have conversations with various characters during the game, and you’ll need to pick appropriate responses. I don’t think you can “break” the game by picking mean responses, so giving the player at least the illusion of some control is nice. The story of The Blackwell Legacy maintains interest during the entire game; I did want to keep playing the game to see what happens next, which is more than I can say for most of the adventure games I’ve played. The Blackwell Legacy is short, but there are additional chapters planned for release in the future. It seems that having more episodic games is becoming a trend in PC gaming (see Half Life 2 and Sam & Max), which is fine with me, assuming that each installment can maintain a good level of interest.

The Blackwell Legacy is a well-designed and interesting adventure game that features reasonable solutions to each of the game’s puzzles. There’s nothing I hate more than dumb, unrealistic puzzles, and fortunately The Blackwell Legacy doesn’t have any. I tend to get stuck a lot in adventure games (one of the reasons why I detest them), but playing through The Blackwell Legacy was much better than most titles in the genre. That’s not to say that it was extremely easy, just that the game made sense. It’s difficult to design a game that’s somewhat challenging without being improbable, but The Blackwell Legacy seems to strike this balance pretty well. The fact that the game was developed by only one person makes this even more impressive. Of course, we’re stuck with outdated graphics, but the exceptional voice acting and solid gameplay more than makes up for this shortcoming. I actually had fun playing The Blackwell Legacy, which is the best thing you can say about any game, especially for one in a genre you don’t particularly care for. Don’t let the screenshots fool you: The Blackwell Legacy is a superb adventure game.