Black Mirror (2017)

 

 

Genre:    Adventure 

Developer:   KING Art

Publisher:   THQ Nordic            

Released:  November 2017              

Requirements (minimum):

  • OS: Windows 7, 8, 8.1, 10 64 bit
  • Processor: Intel Q9650 or AMD Phenom II X4 940
  • Memory: 8 GB RAM
  • Graphics: Radeon HD 7870 or Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 with 2GB VRAM
  • DirectX: Version 11
  • Storage:  GB available space

 

 

By flotsam

 

Black Mirror (2017)

THQ Nordic

Not a remake of the Black Mirror that resides in the GB Hall of Fame, but the inspiration for a re-imagining, this Black Mirror will appeal on many levels but may well frustrate many players with the controls, especially when death can come upon you.

First things first though.

A ramble up a cliff and a self-immolation cut scene leads me to an old house. “I” am 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 blow outside.

It looks impressive from the get go, 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 lavish attention to detail. I thought the lighting effects were exceptional, the ambient sound as equally well done, as was the non-intrusive music, used when necessary to heighten a mood, otherwise absent. The voice acting is very good, in keeping with the tone. The early part (and much of the rest) is spent inside the house and despite the pall and the darkness it was an enticing environment across the board.

The website speaks of “madness and psychological distress”, and the game talks of curses, a day of reckoning, and ancient powers for which the debt is still to be repaid. Visions begin to plague David, ones which can end in death, and what went on here, and is still going on, is not at all of this world. Whilst not frightening, there is a moody Poe edge to the unravelling and escalating events.

The game plays in the third person, and while the mouse can be used for some things it is largely a keyboard game. Or a gamepad, which is the only input referenced in the menu in terms of game play and controls. The game itself provides ongoing instruction however, and the standard WASD keys for moving around are used, so it isn’t hard to get on with things.

Moving David about with the keyboard was generally ok, albeit that I occasionally crashed into walls or missed doorways, exacerbated sometimes by a shift in camera. The keys work (largely) 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.

Piloting is easier when David is in motion. If I was standing still and wanted David to turn to his left, I was far more likely to cause him to do a little pirouette that ended up with him facing leftish. This doesn’t matter a whole lot, except when it does.

Come with me

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. You do need to have David oriented the right way to trigger the action icon, which doesn’t matter a whole lot (just move him about), except when it does.

When it does for both aspects is when you can die.

I mentioned David has visions, and you will usually have to interact with each vision about three times in order to move on. Simplistically, interaction involves activating a hotspot, usually on a character, and interacting with it. However if you linger too close for too long to these characters, you invariably end up dead. You will be aware you are too close because the screen starts to contract darkly from the edges, a sure sign you need to back off quickly and then try again.

The visions are short recurring loops, and if you watch them for a while from a safe distance you will usually have an idea of where the hotspot might be as there will a short glow on some part of the scene. What you then need to do is move David in, orient him in order to get the hotspot to activate, and interact with it, which will allow you to retreat and work out the next one.

Which sounds simple enough, until you factor in all the foibles of the moving about I mentioned, and it can then become a frustrating chore. I died numerous times in some visions, overshooting the hotspot, or failing to be able to micro-manipulate David in the window I had available. There was lots of moving in, missing the mark, and then moving away unharmed, able to try again but no more advanced. The most frustrating aspect is if you die on the third hotspot; you will have to start the vision from the beginning as there is no save during these sequences. Indeed, one will throw you back to a point before you completed a key puzzle, and you will have to do that again as well.

I grew to dislike these sequences, which is a shame because the visions themselves are important to the events and the narrative.

There is also a sequence near the end where you have to move David across a floor following instructions from a companion and also a vision of your father. Suffice to say that the instruction, turn left and move forward, given the vagaries of the locomotion, is easier to vocalise than it is to follow. At least in this sequence death isn’t the immediate result; a little “balance” game is played which if completed in time will prevent David falling into the abyss masked by the floor. Then you get to try the floor again.

Mental gymnastics

This balance game pops up in different guises throughout the game. It involves keeping a floating object inside a floating circle until the circle is complete. Frenetic mouse clicking and moving is involved. It is often a sign that David needs to “pull himself together”.

There are times when clicking the mouse is also needed to achieve a feat of strength (open a door) or prevail in a struggle with another character. They aren’t hard, and even more benign versions exist (hold down the mouse while a circle fills). They do like they are there to give you something to do.

None of these things make it an action game by any means. But the earlier ones are what I suspect will leave an unhappy flavour in some players’ mouths.

In the ordinary game world, you may have more than one action or conversation topic available at a hotspot. If so, 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.

The rummaging about I mentioned earlier also involves a little bit of fiddling. You again use the WASD keys to move about, 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 activate the hotspot and take the candle. So if you see one of those small white circles, fiddle about until it allows you to do something.

From the above it should be clear that while the mouse is involved, it isn’t the dominant input. Other mousey things are to “leave” a close up and to pan up and down or left and right in an ordinary scene. Given its somewhat redundant nature, the rather large bright yellow cursor, like the point of a spear, seemed incongruous. It was also a distraction.

What of other things?

David’s visions are of people he doesn’t and couldn’t know. There are also numerous real world people with whom to engage. The maid clearly knows things, including about David’s 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. 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 the first time I met him. The woman who treated my father became a friendly companion, but not so Eddie.

Secrets abound. Dark ones that have claimed the sanity of many Gordons. There are deaths that aren’t limited to David’s misadventures. Get to the end and there will be more, and a reckoning with the Black Mirror itself. Peace may have come to some.

Quests (objectives really) show up in log, as do diary notes. There are out and out puzzles, more towards the front half of the game. Some involved inventory items, and having the item is enough. You don’t “use” the item by dragging or 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 (more than once). Items will be removed from the inventory when no longer needed. There are a few codes too, and it pays to examine your inventory items from every perspective.

The game remained visually appealing till the end, and some of the cutscenes had a cinematic construction about them. Little details in the characters bring them to life, and while there is a stiffness in the visage of some characters, the craggy nature of some paradoxically softened their features. There is a lot to like about the modelling, and the attention to detail remains - if only the hair was more natural. Much of the game is at night or cloaked in darkness, and the first time you get outside in the daylight really is a breath of fresh air.

You have complete freedom of movement in the game world and can save at will (except inside a vision). Choose “continue” in the menu to start from where you left off.

If what I have written of Black Mirror sounds like a lot of negativity, don’t take it that way. I do think certain aspects will be important to many gamers, and so I have been have fulsome as possible about those things. Despite some frustrations, I thoroughly enjoyed my 7 hours as David, and there is a lot to like.

I played on:

OS: Windows 10, 64 Bit

Processor: Intel i7-6700 4GHz

RAM: 32GB GDDR5

Video card: AMD Radeon RX 470 8192MB

 

GameBoomers Review Guidelines

December 2017

design copyright© 2017 GameBoomers Group

 GB Reviews Index