Sunday, 22 July 2012

Black Mirror: Game Design Review

Black mirror has consistently received high praise and promised to be a horror adventure game . Sitting down to play however, I found it to quite disappointing. There are some spoilers in this design review so reader beware.

Graphics and atmosphere- The game is quite beautiful and has a good graphic style.

Good interface- If you've already looked at something and the description has already been read out and has no further use, it will not be selectable again. I quite like that system because it reduces red herrings and  lets the player know that the object is no longer necessary.  I quite like this system and I think a similar system should be adopted in most other adventure games.

Terrible pacing and poor atmosphere that promises horror but never delivers - Terribly dragged out and nothing really horrifying happens in the game until about 80% way through. There's a lot of atmosphere and potential for atmosphere in the game considering Samuel is suppose to be the evil one. Yet aside from the strange dreams Samuel has and some death scenes, there wasn't really much horror in the game.

A key idea that the developers could really have developed would have been to have the supernatural slowly invade reality reflecting upon Gordon's slow mental breakdown. Perhaps create a few scenes where Gordon and the player are uncertain are even real yet have somehow impacted the real world. And then rather than claiming 'it was a magical family curse' all along, leave the ending somewhat ambigious. Perhaps the trauma of losing someone has caused Gordon to completely flip or have an ending where he either commmits suicide and redeems himself or ends up in an insane asylum.

Main character is unlikeable - Samuel Gordon seems boring but I suspect that it was a deliberate 'bored nobleman' persona. Bribery and throwing rank around seems to be one of the key character traits and is often available as a 'first solution' to many problems and puzzles. Samuel comes across as an uncaring aloof rich noble person with very little feelings of guilt on his actions. That being said, this contributes the boredom in the game.

I think there was an opportunity to create a complex character here but because of the lack of opportunities to showcase his more human and caring side; it is very difficult to like him. There just isn't a sense of empathy or tragedy surrounding him despite a tortured past. I think delving into his past a bit more and understanding what made him leave in the first place and turned him into such an angry person might have been better.

Bad puzzles and one dead end - Most of the puzzles are really boring. Mostly fetch quests where people just give you keys or items. There are also two puzzles requiring you to exit out of the game and try and find information on things in real life. The first is on the order of the planets of the solar system which is something which you can easily google or look up in a book and fairly obvious from the puzzle setup.

The second however, is the horoscope and requires to know the order which they appear in. The puzzle linked to this however is in the form of a sliding puzzle and it's difficult to know exactly the order of the horror scope. It's a real difficult puzzle as a result because nowhere does the game hint at the actual order.

Finally there is a dead end with a gun and a wolf which I found infuriating. I thought we had left out dead ends back in the early 90s?

Promising but never delivering on that promise or horror and action, Black mirror just isn't fun or interesting or atmospheric. I would personally avoid it and spend your money on some better adventure games like something from Telltale or AGS adventure games like the Blackwell Trilogy.

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