12th Dec2017

‘Black Mirror’ Review (Xbox One)

by Matthew Smail

black-mirror-xbx-cover

Neither a remake nor a direct continuation of the 2003 game of the same name, Black Mirror is a point and click horror/thriller that takes place in the late 19th Century and features a story of supernatural and the occult, as seen through the eyes of one David Gordon, youngest member and heir of the Gordon family. Made by KING Art Games (also responsible for Battle World Kronos, Book of Unwritten Tales 1 and 2 and The Dwarves) Black Mirror has a lot of potential, but does it live up to expectations?

In a word, no. But that’s mainly because of a whole raft of technical issues that hamper the gameplay and prevent the player from enjoying what could otherwise have been a fairly enjoyable storyline. The game opens with David’s father running panicked through a maze in the middle of the night. Mumbling incoherently, he rushes towards a somewhat unexpected conclusion that offers a tantalising insight into what the story has to offer. Whilst this brief scene sets the bar fairly high in terms of plot, the game consistently fails to live up to expectations.

Firstly, there are numerous glitches in Black Mirror which, in isolation could be ignored, but considering that it’s 2017 and KING Art are an experienced developer of similar games (including some that are very well polished) they do begin to grind you down. Walls and floors disappear, assets fail to load and textures pop in and out fairly regularly. Without labouring the point too much further beyond this, even when the game is fully functional, it looks dated at best. The animation is kind of jittery and all of the characters look fairly strange, often with googly eyes or bulging necks or whatever.

This juxtaposes with the voice acting, which is generally done to a high standard, with David the kind of dull but inquisitive protagonist that this game tends to favour, his grandmother a dour and haughty woman and a cast of other characters that ooze mockery, derision and various other forms of contempt for him. Naturally, no one wants him to be present at the titular Black Mirror mansion, so David is forced to solve the mysteries of both his fathers demise and the wider intrigue that surrounds his family and the house itself.

Exploring the house conjures another strange mix of feelings. The game is played in third person using a pseudo-fixed camera that is reminiscent of a modern Resident Evil. Thankfully, despite presenting its own movement challenges (it’s hard to work out which bits of background scenery will or wont block David’s progress) Black Mirror is certainly easier to control than Capcom’s classic, but I can’t really believe I’m even having to make that statement in this day and age.

Black Mirror is also a very dark game, so I am also grateful that the developers have included a change in icon whenever players hover over a point of interest that can be interacted with. Combined with the darkness though, this often results in swinging David wildly around each room upon first entry, because seeing the icon change is much, much easier than attempting to discern a point of interest with the naked eye. You’ll also want to check each room thoroughly the first time you visit as well, because loading times in Black Mirror are truly astonishingly bad, even though I tested the game on an Xbox One X using a digital copy of the game.

Puzzles are also sub par in Black Mirror, with the exception of three or four that play out a bit like puzzle rooms. One of these comes early enough that telling you about it won’t be a spoiler and briefly, it involves identifying the object that must be manipulated, obtaining the right tool for the job and then interacting with the pairing from multiple angles and over several layers. This level of challenge and intrigue is retained for one or two other puzzles, but this really trails off in the second half of the game, where fetching items and trudging through loading screens becomes more the norm.

The lack of any more engaging puzzles is tragic, really, considering the potential shown early on, and this is also true of the characters. The voice acting really could have saved the game’s plot, but sadly the writers seem to have run out of creative steam as well, because barely anyone has anything interesting to say beyond the first two or three times you meet them. Rory, the groundskeeper is perhaps the notable exception, although I think that is only because his world-weary witticisms and apparent hardship is delivered so convincingly that it doesn’t want – or need – further investigation.

When the bulk of the story beats begin to unfurl later in the game, few of them deliver truly satisfactory outcomes, although you can just about say that you have played through a supernatural thriller that to me felt more like an Arthur Conan Doyle story (a la Hound of the Baskervilles) than a H.P. Lovecraft one, although I can’t say either way if that’s what Black Mirror was intended to achieve.

I don’t feel particular revulsion towards Black Mirror, but I do feel massively disappointed by what is a clear missed opportunity. There are countless better point and click adventures out there, although relatively few present the exact same kind of dark, period theme. If that’s really what you want, then you’ll probably find some enjoyment here, but you’ll need to be patient to extract it through some funky technical issues and more than a few long loading sequences.

** 2/5

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