Black Mirror 2017
an extended First Look by flotsam
So I have started playing and any publication is currently under embargo. Release is about 6 days away, and I don’t know how far real life will allow me to get by then, so I will write this as I play, kind of like a blog, and if it isn’t finished then it will be an extended first look.
Let’s get started.Play 1
The game took a little while to download (the Steam folder on my hard drive contains about 10GB of data) but went off without a hitch. I always like to start games up, even if I am not going to play them straight away, to make sure the install happened properly etc. By all accounts it’s all good.
Fired it up and went to the menu to see what I could do about the controls. In short, nothing through the menu. It showed me a gamepad set of controls, none able to be customised, and let me work out the PC controls for myself.
Not much of which is with the mouse. WASD keys for moving, and very little is seemingly point and click. I will get a better idea as I play. It’s a third person perspective.
It looks great I have to say, even if the character visages are a little wooden. There are screen loads of 6 or 7 seconds when you change rooms or scenes, presumably indicative of the detail. It promises a great sense of atmosphere, perhaps even the “madness and psychological distress” spoken of on the website.
A ramble up a cliff (a little jilted as I manoeuvred with the keys) a self-immolation cutscene, and I have arrived at an old house. Time for bed.Play 2/3
(sorry, fell behind the writing!)
The “I” is David Gordon, the house is his ancestral home, and he is here for the first time in his life. It is Scotland in 1926, and there is a gloom that blows through the corridors as surely as the wind and rain blows outside.
I am about an hour in, and David is in the midst of a late night exploration of the house. It’s a rich and detailed place, and lighting effects are exceptional. The ambient sound is equally as well done, so too the low key score, and despite the apparent pall it is/will be an enticing place to be.
More of the story later – what about the mechanics.
The controls are somewhat fiddly, primarily around interacting with a “close up” in the environment. I have gotten used to them, and certainly understand them better, but I don’t think I will ever completely warm to them.
WASD locomotion is fine, allowing for the fact that I occasionally crash into walls or miss doorways, accentuated by a shift in camera. The keys work relative to the screen, not the character, which I always find easier. If you want to move towards the left of screen, it’s the A key (or left arrow); the fact that the character is facing that direction does not make it the “move forward” (W) key.
I like the fact that you explore with David. You don’t paint the scene with your mouse, looking for hotspots, rather you move David about and when close enough to something he will “notice” it (a small white circle will appear). Get closer still and the circle will likely become an action, and perhaps even more actions will become available as he (e.g.) sits at a desk and starts rummaging about.
If you have more than one action available, or more than one conversation topic, each will have a number beside it. You can use the keyboard to select the number, or you can point and click at the desired action with your mouse. About the only thing you need the mouse for in the gameplay world is to “leave” a close up and to pan up and down or left and right in an ordinary scene.
Given the somewhat redundant nature of the mouse, the rather large bright yellow cursor, like the point of a spear, seems incongruous. It is also a distraction.
It is in the rummaging I mentioned earlier that the controls get a little fiddly. You move around in the close up by again using the WASD keys, and this can occur across a number of surfaces. Take the desk; you can move in all four directions on its top, but you can also move “down” to examine the draws, or “left” to move around the side (perhaps). It took me a while to realise this and I missed a surface in a desk puzzle as a result. It pays to be thorough. You also might need to move back and forwards to interact with items in the close up; a combination lock in the desk is a case in point. Ditto to be able to “activate” all the hot spots. Early on there is a candle in a box, from which I had already taken a note. I could see it, but until I moved my orientation slightly I couldn’t take it. So if you see one of those small white circles, fiddle about until it allows you to do something.
Did I mention you can save at will? And that you just hit continue in the menu to start from where you left off?? If not, consider it mentioned.
David has visions of people he doesn’t and couldn’t know. The maid clearly knows things, including about his father, but she is afraid. How to win her trust?
Clippings and notes talks of things somewhat sinister. Lady Margaret, a rather beautifully crafted wizened old lady, knows things as well and may or may not talk about them. David occasionally has options in how to respond – deny or be forthright. They might be relevant to who will tell him what.
The butler remains taciturn and a dominant presence. The gardener with his milky white rheumy eyes, sitting quietly in the dark eating from tins of fish, gave me a start. Eddie who I met in the basement does not appear likely to be my friend.
Secrets abound. Dark ones, according to the website, ones that have claimed the sanity of many Gordons.
The voice acting is so far very good, in keeping with the tone. A reading from Poe or similar keeps things in that realm.
Night has become day, another hour or so into the game. I have achieved a number of the quests (objectives really) that show up in the log, and worked my way through a number of out and out puzzles. Some of those involved inventory items, and having the item is enough. You don’t “use” the item by dragging and clicking to enable it, rather an action will be available which might say “pick the lock with the wire” or something similar. For some of them I had to manipulate the item in the inventory; getting the teeth of a key in the right orientation to fit the lock is an example. Items will be removed from the inventory when it is no longer needed. There have been a few codes too, and it pays to examine your inventory items from every perspective.
There is a journal in the inventory screen as well, and you will know when it has been updated.
I am trying to get outside. There is a quest which requires it, a door which leads to the garden, but a trigger I haven’t yet found is obviously preventing my egress.Play 4
Life intervened but I was determined to get outdoors. And so I did. As David said “finally some fresh air”. It is a much more colourful environment outside and I look forward to exploring it. Things might even lighten up!
I have had two interactions so far that suggest some active puzzling might be in store. One simply involved clicking a mouse key until a circle was completed. The other required me to get David to pull himself together by keeping one floating object inside another floating object until the circle was completed. Not hard, but a different type of challenge. And another use for the mouse.Play 5
Three hours in and things have romped along. There is talk of curses, a day of reckoning, ancient powers for which the debt is still to be repaid. And other things you can find out for yourself.
I have played another “pull myself together” game and have also died. The game restores you to shortly before the fatal sequence, and it was easily resolved once I knew death was possible.
It continues to look and sound good, and some of the cutscenes have a cinematic construction about them. Little details in the characters bring them to life, although the stiffness in the visage remains. You have a great degree of freedom in moving around, and all in all it is rather enticing, and I look forward to getting back to it.