Here’s a hint to all adventure game designers out there: When you’re making a game in a genre that relies heavily on good voice acting, well-written dialogue, and strong plot, be completely certain that you actually produce a game with good voice acting, well-written dialogue, and a strong plot. Puzzles alone do not an adventure game make. That’s a lesson that, unfortunately, was not completely heeded in the making of The Adventure Company’s latest offering, The Black Mirror.
Playing through The Black Mirror at first was bad. Very, very bad. And it was for one very simple reason—the voice acting was atrocious. Well, to be more specific, most of the voice acting ranged from fair to not-so-good. That in itself can be overlooked. The biggest problem, unfortunately, was with the voice acting of the main character himself. It sounded as if the actor was reading, ever so carefully and clearly, straight out of a dictionary. Almost each syllable was over-pronounced, almost every word was enunciated with all the emotion of a bored news anchor reading a teleprompter. To make matters worse, there’s a lot of dialogue in this game. Gobs and gobs of dialogue. At one point, when Our Hero opened a particularly lengthy tome and began to read the entire thing, I almost wept aloud. It was Just That Bad. Combined with the questionable quality of the other acting, it was almost enough to cause me to throw in the towel on this one. As a last resort, I checked out the options, and found the wonderful ability to call up subtitles and, more importantly, to mute the vocals. Suddenly, the Black Mirror became quite playable.
That’s not to say that it became a great game, but it certainly became a much more entertaining adventure romp. The story is a rather dark one, with Our Hero Samuel returning to his ancestral home following the death of his grandfather. As with any self-respecting horror, that home is a Forbidding Castle (complete with Secret Underground Chambers), surrounded by an Olde European Towne populated by a Cast of Colorful (And Possibly Shady) Vict…erm…Citizens. The initial death, at first ruled a suicide, seems a bit suspicious, and so Samuel sets out to figure out the mystery and inevitably finds himself neck-deep in Things Man Was Not Meant to Know. Nothing all that original, but the plot itself is interesting enough.
Being an adventure game, most of the time is spent picking up anything that isn’t nailed to the ground, talking to everyone ad naseum, and solving oodles of puzzles involving the aforementioned items and characters. Most of the puzzles are of the “find the correct item to use here” variety, although there are a few “mini-game” puzzles thrown in for good measure. The puzzles themselves are set at just about the right difficulty—not easy enough to simply waltz through the game, but not often so difficult as to bring about much cursing at the computer.
The forward momentum of the game, however, is not done as smoothly as the puzzles. Like most adventure games now days, it’s not possible to move on to the next scene or chapter until all of the necessary tasks are accomplished. In a good adventure game, it’s usually apparent which tasks need to be done, or at least once a something vital is accomplished, it’s obvious why that particular task was needed to forward the plot. In The Black Mirror, however, it’s not always readily apparent. At one point, for example, I was waiting for a character to finish a task for me. I kept going back, asking him if the job was done, to no avail. I decided to wander around, talk to everyone (again), and pretty much retraced all my steps. Nothing seemed to help. Finally, I noticed (somewhere completely unrelated) a broken window, clicked on it, and Samuel made some offhand remark about the rain coming in. That must have been the final trigger necessary to move the plot along, because now the job was done and I could move forward. Problems like this make for some frustrations.
The Black Mirror is a lot more lethal than most of the recent adventure games. Mistakes and wrong moves can result quickly in the “Game Over” screen. While this is a bit frustrating (and makes it much more important to save frequently), it does add a bit of tension to the game. The “try everything” approach still works, but only with frequent reloading.
The background 2D graphics are quite good, and it usually easy to discern what’s happening onscreen. The character animations aren’t as impressive, though. Again, most are fairly well done, but Samuel’s animations just aren’t the same quality as everyone else’s. Or it might just be that more of the game is spent staring at Samuel, so any shortcomings are more noticeable. The sounds (other than the acting) are decent, and the music is properly threatening and ominous.
The Adventure Company puts out some solid adventure games. The Black Mirror is certainly not their best, but during this time of scarce adventure titles, we’ll take what we can get. On that note, this is not a title for those wanting to try out adventure games for the first time. For die-hard adventure gamers, The Black Mirror will do a decent job of holding us over for a while. Just as long as we remember that “mute” command…
A fairly decent adventure game with some surprisingly bad vocal work. Subtitles are our friends.