The Blackwell Legacy
One of the big differences between commercial and indie games is purely financial - large companies can afford large numbers of staff, while smaller developers are often no more than two or three in number. As a result indie games tend to be smaller and less content heavy than their commercial counterparts. To produce the level of content that some commercial companies offer, a small indie group would need to work flat out for several years - time that isn't being spent earning money to live on.
It is therefore understandable that particularly content heavy games are a rare sight in the indie community. One such genre, one that I particularly enjoy, is the increasingly rare graphic adventure. Scores of locations, hundreds of puzzles, the problem of writing dialogue for characters that can take a dozen different paths... there's a lot of effort involved. Imagine my delight, then, when The Blackwell Legacy arrived in Bytten's virtual office.
I'd best give a brief explanation of the plot. Rosa Blackwell writes book reviews for a local paper. She starts the game by scattering the ashes of her aunt, suffering some nasty headaches and writing an article for the paper on a recent suicide. Amidst all this she meets up with Joey, a ghost from the 1940s that has been guiding her family for decades. He tells her that she is a medium, and that her task in life is to help ghosts cross over into the next world. The Blackwell Legacy is, in fact, the first of a series of "episodic" adventures. Presumably this means further adventures involving Rosa and Joey are planned. Whether these are sequential or standalone I do not know (I hope a little of both, so that both old and new players can enjoy the later releases).
The Blackwell Legacy is very easy to play. Click on objects with the left mouse button to operate them. Rosa will know how you want to interact with an item - click on a door and she will open it, click on a person and she will talk to them. The right mouse button looks at things. You can access your inventory by moving the mouse to the top of the screen and when speaking to people you can choose dialogue paths by clicking on the relevant line at the bottom. A new approach here is, rather than displaying exactly what Rosa will say, you can choose options like "Make a joke", "Be evasive", "Confrontational response" and so on.
The game plays half like a traditional graphical adventure, and half like a detective novel - rather in the style of "Discworld Noir". After a gentle start Rosa will pick up her notebook, at which point talking to people and interacting with things will generate notes. You can then ask people about these notes by selecting them, or combine notes to make connections. Notes form a far greater role in the game than the usual inventory but there are items you can pick up as well.
The graphics in a graphics adventure are a major point, and I'm pleased to say that The Blackwell Legacy performs well in this area. The main playing area sometimes seems a little low res, but this actually reminded me of playing games like Monkey Island and Zak McKraken in my younger days. Besides which, animation is good and closeups of peoples faces appear when they are talking. Items you can interact with are named as you move the mouse over them.
Sound is the major cause of the large download size - voice actors read out the characters lines and the overall effect is professional. There are occasional differences between text and speech and sometimes the levels seem a little too loud or too quiet (though that could be my ears) but the quality is always high. I also liked the way ghosts echo. Speech, music and sound effects can all be separately turned off.
The Blackwell Legacy is very easy to play. It is also (to the best I know) impossible to go completely wrong, so if you get stuck you simply need to look around and try something else. The puzzles are sometimes a little tricky - combining notes, using Rosa's computer to research things and Joey's talents are all things that had me stumped at first. I also felt the game was too short - though I spent some hours in total on it, so this only goes to show how involving I found it!
There is a special bonus feature hidden in this game. If you find your way to the end you will see a code word that unlocks it - I will not spoil anyone's enjoyment by telling them what it is, but suffice to say that I was laughing my head off. Little bonus features like that are absent from most games, indie or commercial, much to their detriment. They show the efforts, the ideas and the fun that goes into producing them.
Go and take a look at this game. If nothing else, your support for Wadjet Eye will ensure they keep making adventures for Rosa and Joey, and that will lead to one very happy reviewer. But seriously, graphical adventures are all too rare these days. This is an excellent example of the genre with a good plot and great characters and I hope to see more appearing soon.
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