Reviews: Black Mirror
Samuel Gordon returns to his ancestral home and investigates the questionable circumstances surrounding his grandfather William's recent untimely death, during which he uncovers ancient family secrets and comes face-to-face with madness and murder.
Publisher: Future Games
Release Date: 2003
Note: First published 29 July 2003
Introduction by Randy Sluganski
Over the years, one thing Just Adventure has learned is that adventure gamers do not recognize international boundaries. When they want to read about an adventure game, they let us know loud and clear.
Thus it was with Black Mirror, a wonderful-looking game developed in the Czech Republic. Unfortunately, despite our repeated requests to the developers that were never acknowledged, the only information we were ever able to acquire was from the website. So - since we are Just Adventure after all - we decided to send reviewer Michal Necasek to the Czech Republic to play and review Black Mirror (so okay, he was going there anyway to visit his brother!), but regardless, the bottom line is that those who love adventure games will not be denied!
Now enjoy the first anywhere English review of Posel Smrti, known in the rest of the world as Black Mirror.
The game I played was in fact not originally called Black Mirror, its name was Posel Smrti (which could be translated approximately as Death's Messenger). That's the Czech name of Black Mirror. An English version of Black Mirror was published in North America by The Adventure Company in late 2003.
Black Mirror is the name of the ancestral seat of Gordon family, located somewhere in England. Black Mirror castle and the surrounding area is where most of the game's story takes place. The opening sequence starts with a shot of the castle, at night and in stormy weather. An old man (who we later learn is William Gordon) is sitting in his study in the old castle tower, writing a letter to grandson Samuel. The letter is hinting at dark secrets related to the history of the Gordon family. The old man is afraid. The night is dark and scary. There is a suggestion of something crawling up the tower. The lights go out. There appears to be a brief struggle - and the old man falls out of a window and plunges towards his death.
When the actual game starts, you find yourself in the role of Samuel Gordon, the youngest of the Gordons, who hasn't been to Black Mirror for 12 years. The Gordons have just returned from William's funeral and the atmosphere is understandably not very happy (that will persist for the rest of the game, and possibly get even worse).
Everyone seems to believe that William's death was a suicide, but you - Samuel - don't. You start an informal investigation into the circumstances of William's death and his research of family history. The Gordon family tree goes back to middle ages and legends mention black magic and sorcery. In the course of the game you will learn whether or not the legends are true.
Black Mirror is a very dark game. And I don't mean just visually since most of the time it's evening or nighttime. The story is dark and even bloody. The death of William Gordon is the first but not last, as others will follow. In some ways Samuel Gordon is similar to Gabriel Knight, with ancient family history catching up with him, and very strange nightmares at night. But there are also very significant differences which you will notice if you play the game.
I cannot give away much of the plot without spoiling the game but I'll say that there are several murders, some of them rather gruesome. Black Mirror is spooky in places, especially when you play at night and with the lights off. The final revelation and the ending are rather unexpected and tragic - a truly dark tale.
Enough about the plot, let us examine what Black Mirror is made of, starting with graphics. All background images are 2D, rendered from 3D models. The backgrounds are very detailed, dark and bleak. There is a good deal of animation and it's often raining in the exterior screens. I have serious doubts about the historical accuracy of the environment (and some plot elements), but if you're willing to accept the game as fiction, the graphics work well to create a dark and spooky atmosphere. The character models are 3D, fairly detailed and well-animated. The cutscenes are smooth and crisp.
I liked the music in Black Mirror, although there wasn't much of it. In most locations there is no music, just ambient sounds like wind or rain. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the voiceovers. The voices of Black Mirror characters belong to some of the best Czech film/theatre actors and it shows. The voice acting is very professional and greatly improves the gaming experience.
The interface deserves a mention because I found it very pleasant to use. It is strictly point-and-click, with one new twist. On many screens there is a number of "filler" hotspots, objects that you can click on and get a description of (sometimes up to two or three times, different each time) but which are not essential to the game. After you've exhausted the descriptions, the hotspots will simply disappear. Likewise, the hotspots of objects that you've used and which are no longer needed will disappear. It is inevitable that some players will welcome this method because it makes gameplay easier, while others will condemn it for precisely the same reason.
The inventory is located at the bottom of the screen; if you pick up and move an item around, it will start flashing once it is over an object that it can be used on or combined with - this technique has been seen before, notably in The Longest Journey. Double-clicking on an exit will "jump" to the next screen, which is a most welcome feature and one that should be mandatory in all games. Conversations and cutscenes can be skipped with a mouse click. And last but not least, hitting the Tab key will reveal all available exits in a location, which is a feature not strictly necessary but occasionally helpful.
The puzzles in Black Mirror are varied. The majority is inventory-based, but there are other types as well; for instance, several riddles or a slider puzzle with the twist of having to figure out how the tiles should be laid out before you start sliding them into place. There is one "labyrinth" near the end but it's very small and impossible to get lost in. I found the puzzles on the easy side and never even contemplated looking for hints or a walkthrough, although that does not necessarily have to be the typical experience.
The game is split into several chapters and the progress is fairly linear, perhaps too linear. Usually only a few locations are available and you have to finish an area before you can move on to the next one. More than once you will revisit the same location, but often at nighttime vs. daytime or in different weather.
I must say that I liked Black Mirror. The story is original, even if it is not likely to appeal to everyone. There is one rather interesting - if not entirely unexpected - plot twist near the end of the game. The mood is pleasantly dark and depressing and for once it's nice to see an ending that's not an obvious set-up for a sequel. Black Mirror is technically well-done, with the exception of a paranoid copy protection scheme which (besides copying) prevents the game from running on certain configurations - but that will hopefully be limited to the Czech release. I found Black Mirror a little short and easy, but that's hardly different from most other recent adventure games. More importantly, I enjoyed the game and my final word is a B+.