It’s been the
rainiest summer that the Swedish city of Norrköping has endured in 26
years, but the sun finally sprouts forth relieved at the beginning of
this, the sixth Carol Reed adventure by developers MDNA Games.
Carol’s neighbour Oscar is concerned over
the strange disappearance of a man whom he sees slumped against the side
of a dilapidated building along the route of his daily walk by the railway
bridge. As a retired doctor, Oscar feels sure the man was already dead, so
what could have happened to the body during the few minutes that Oscar was
away seeking help?
Carol’s investigations reveal a sinister
cult with bizarre rites of passage and a series of macabre murders.
I’LL SEE WHAT I CAN DIG UP
Leisurely strolling the streets, parks and
grassy banks of Norrköping has always been a delight of this adventure
series. Rummaging and poking through other folks’ houses and apartments is
a guilty pleasure; admiring the décor and ogling the bookshelves and
refrigerator contents - such joys uninhibited. Wait, what - we’re here to
solve a mystery too? Well, alright then, if we must! It’s just that these
glorious colour photograph screens we navigate around and which form
Carol’s game world are all so much fun to explore. Black Circle
plays in first person point and click, with no panning.
For the most part Carol undertakes a
solitary investigation. There are various characters with whom she
interacts, but dialogue is fairly brief and does not hold up the
all-important business of sleuthing. Subtitles are there if the player
should want or need them. The background music is simple and not
unpleasant, although I did find myself turning its volume down after a
short period to play in relative quiet. Relaxing ambient sounds of
birdsong, babbling streams, and the quiet dripping of broken water pipes
in the deserted foundry all add pleasingly to the atmosphere.
The puzzles are mostly inventory based, but
with a couple being of the “open the locked box but oops there’s no
keyhole” variety. There are no mazes or sliders, no sound or timed
puzzles. There is a sequence which I thought initially to be timed, but
upon replaying and deliberately dawdling found there to be no pressure to
race for the correct response. There are no fiendishly difficult
conundrums, and the game plays very logically and smoothly throughout.
Old friends make a return, albeit briefly
and with varying involvement with the story. Jonas the gardener reappears
in his new vocation as Norrköping’s tour guide for the curious travelling
adventure gamer. Meanwhile, Stina has a new job at a bakery and seems very
proud of her pretzels. My favourite, the eccentric multi-tattooed Janitor,
is working at the train repair depot where his duties consist of brushing
a small patch of grass until it begs for mercy, and mislaying various
personal possessions which are critical to the game’s progression and
therefore simply have to be found Now. Yes, Now - so hop to it, Ms. Reed,
or no pretzels for you.
For the eagle-eyed reference seeker - be
sure to check out the tube of toothpaste in the bathroom at Milly’s
LIGHT AT THE END OF THE SEWER
Black Circle is packed full of
features that make life easier for the novice gamer and which are useful
also for the more experienced adventurer. There is an optional tutorial at
the beginning of the game, and an excellent hints function via the
notebook at the top left of the screen. You will see a list of Carol’s
current objectives appear on the notebook’s left page: just click on any
objective for a set of hints to appear on the opposite page.
If you’re anything like me and despair at
games which carry a restricted number of save slots (necessary overwriting
= unnecessarily annoying), you’ll be pleased that Black Circle has
not only ample slots but also an auto-save upon exit. Dialogue can be
fast-clicked through, and can be replayed if necessary.
DO YOU REALLY WANT TO LEAVE CAROL HERE?
Faults, there are but a couple. The
characters are often voiced by other actors, as confirmed in the game’s
ending credits. For the older characters particularly, the voices do not
match well. The voice work by the native English speakers among the cast,
Carol included, shows very little inflection or emotion, even in
situations of anger or danger. Not a major problem but something of a mood
breaker in an otherwise immersive game.
I’VE NEVER CARED MUCH FOR RAIN
The game installed without any difficulties
and played flawlessly from start to finish.
If you’ve played and enjoyed the previous
installments in this series then you should love Black Circle. If
you haven’t played the previous installments but are drawn to the idea of
contemplative wandering and solitary exploration of varied and interesting
environs hooked to an intriguing storyline - then you should still love
Black Circle: A Carol Reed Mystery
is an Independent production of MDNA games, and can be purchased at the
game's website here.