Blackwell Unbound




Genre:   Adventure

Developer & Publisher:    Wadjet Eye Games

Released:  September 2007





by Looney4Labs

 “This one looks promising.” Lauren


Independent game producer, Wadjet Eye Games, introduced us to Rosangela Blackwell and Joey Mallone in December 2006 with its release of The Blackwell Legacy. This release was planned as the first in a series about the pair. 

Blackwell Unbound continues this series, but as a prequel to the first game. While Joey is still central to the story, Rosangela has been replaced by her aunt, Lauren Blackwell.

Story: “Life. Death. Tormented souls. It’s all the same to me.”

This game is set in the New York City of 1973. As it opens, Lauren and Joey have culled the newspaper searching for unexplained events that could be linked to spirits which haven’t quite made the final journey. They have settled on two—one involving unexplained music heard from time to time at the Roosevelt Island Promenade, and another involving mysterious accidents plaguing a construction site. Though neither is positively identified as a ghostly phenomenon, Lauren and Joey feel compelled to check into them.

Characters: “I wish I could feel sorry for you, but I don’t feel much of anything anymore.” Lauren

Lauren and Joey are an odd couple inexplicably joined by fate. She is a sad, troubled, nearly apathetic, chain-smoking medium who assists spirits into eternity. It’s not what she wants to be or do, and brings her little joy. But still, she is destined to do it.

Joey is Lauren’s spirit guide, joined to her in some undefined way. He is a ghost with an attitude, as their mocking banter plainly shows. Their friendship is evident, and yet, at times, there is a well-defined tension between them.

You have the ability to freely switch between both characters. You’ll find that each brings a unique skill set and you will need to take advantage of both to successfully conclude your adventure.

In addition to this dynamic duo, there are several non-player characters. Among others, you’ll meet a weird psychotic lady who turns up in the oddest places spouting incomprehensible jargon, a saxophone playing ghost who is not happy to be interrupted, and a pianist who might or might not know more than he is letting on.

Dialogue: “A joke. Yeah. I’m a riot.” Lauren

Dialogue plays a central part in Blackwell Unbound, both unfolding the story and defining the characters. The amusing repartee between Lauren and Joey contrasts quite effectively with the pathos of Lauren’s inner questioning. We learn a bit about both main characters from what they say, as well as what they don’t say!

Accordingly, there is a lot of chatting in this game, but it is usually entertaining. It is important to pay attention to what is being said, as you may need that information on down the line.  

I liked the way the dialogue tree displayed. Instead of showing you the exact wording, it displayed a choice of general comments such as: “State the obvious,” or “Be direct,” or (my favorite) “Keep pushing.” This allowed me to be surprised at what the character actually said.

Be warned, there are a few mild expletives scattered throughout. In addition, there are several instances of profanity which may offend those with religious sensibilities. In my opinion, it added nothing to the game but it is no worse than that found on television.

Sound: “It’s been years since I heard his voice.” The Countess

The voice acting in Blackwell Unbound is professional and enjoyable. Each voice seemed to fit the character well. None were aggravating, and the two main characters were particularly apt.

Dani Marco provides Lauren with a sad voice, with mostly flat inflections. As she is initially portrayed as a woman burned out and fed up with life, this depiction fits like a glove.

Abe Goldfarb brings Joey to life, which is a great accomplishment, considering that Joey is dead.

I must give kudos to the background music. It runs the gamut from moody, sad, and melancholy -- then ventures into the upbeat, and then races over to the dangerous. It is never intrusive, but does successfully set and intensify the atmosphere.

There are few ambient sounds in this game. No footsteps, no opening and closing doors, no wind noises—in short, not much of what most gamers have come to expect. However, because of the retro feel, it works.

Sometimes, it worked too well. Each visit to one location sent my dogs running upstairs to bark madly at our front door in response to the in-game door bell.

Graphics: “Oh look at the sweat on this guy's brow.” Joey

The characters, the dialogue, and the story are more important than the graphics, which have a decidedly dated look. Characters and details are blocky, simple, and low resolution, reminding me of the games of long ago. Lip synching is adequate and in tune with the nostalgic feel.

You’ll explore seven locations. Most are simple backgrounds for the character interaction, but there are one or two exceptions.

Lauren’s apartment provides a peek back to the time when a TV with rabbit ears was standard, ashtrays populated every room, and a candle in a bottle was considered chic.

Though the upper body area is well defined, the lower bodies of Joey and the other ghostly characters trail off into nothingness.

This is a static game. Environments provide a background for the story, but there is no movement from within them. Usually that would bother me. But in this game, in this framework, that’s okay.

Puzzles: ”What was I supposed to do? Give you a towel?” Joey

The puzzles in Blackwell Unbound are overwhelmingly dialogue based. It’s a matter of soliciting the correct information and then combining it with other facts to lead Joey and Lauren down the correct path.

Occasionally, an uncomplicated inventory puzzle arises. They are all very straightforward.

There are no mazes, no timed sequences, no sliders, no music or color dependent puzzles. There are no mini-games and you cannot die.

Interface: “Think you can handle it?” Lauren

Blackwell Unbound features a point and click interface and tells its story from a third person perspective. There is no paper manual, but instructions are in the downloaded file and also available in-game from the help menu.

Switching between the two playable characters is as easy as clicking the mouse or pushing a button on the keyboard. While you move between locales swiftly using the in-game map, you will have to elicit certain facts before some sites become available.

Left clicking moves Lauren and Joey around and performs actions. Right clicking examines items, and often results in a droll description.

You’ll have a notebook which automatically updates as you discover new information. A neat innovation is that by clicking on the notebook, you can have Lauren look for connections between disparate facts.

There is a tutorial which would be great for a gaming newbie. However, it cannot be turned of from within the game. If you elect to skip the tutorial, this information can also be accessed via the options menu.

Saves are at will, you name them, and they are unlimited. The game is Alt+Tab friendly. Options include subtitles, speech, author’s commentary, and a photo album.

Bonuses: “I don’t know. Something’s different.” Joey

The author’s commentary is an interesting and welcome addition, and adds replay value. It works much the same as commentary found on DVD movies. Once turned on, Dave Gilbert (writer, producer) pops up from time to time to add tidbits of information about the scene, the character, the animation, etc. Obviously, this would detract from the story the first time around (so leave it off), but gives you an incentive to play again to see what he has to say.

Also, there is the photo album. Taking certain pictures during game play unlocks special content. I only took one bonus photo. It enabled me to hear some of the lead artist’s thoughts on the game. I will go back again and see if I can unlock the rest of the content as time permits.

The credits feature snapshots of each of the major contributors. Normally, I don’t stick around for the credits (if I have a choice), but I enjoyed seeing the faces that had created this game.

Also, there is a bit of individualized game trivia revealed at the end of the credits.

Game length: “What a surprise.” Joey

Blackwell Unbound is a short game. I downloaded it around lunch time and finished by dinner time with a break for a short nap and several other interruptions scattered throughout.

Stability: “Maybe tonight will be an easy night.” Joey

I experienced no glitches or crashes and there are no patches at this time.

Delivery System: “Bam. You’re right into the thick of it.” Dave Gilbert, from his commentary

This game is available directly from Wadjet Eye Games either by download or on CD.

Download took about 15 minutes on my medium speed DSL line. The CD version is more expensive, but comes with an extra CD of the game’s soundtrack.

Summary: “Okay, I’m finished.” Lauren

Blackwell Unbound provided me a pleasant afternoon’s gaming. The story, while fairly predictable, revealed itself in such a manner as to keep me playing. The dialogue has its funny moments. The graphics, while primitive, are adequate to the task of giving background to the story. The voice acting is good, and the background music enhances the atmosphere.

This could be a good introductory game to a novice adventurer, or just the game to play upon finding yourself with a few unscheduled hours.

Grade: B –

Short List: “You’re the one carrying the list. Why don’t you take a closer look at it?” Joey

3rd person view point

Point and click (though you will need the keyboard to answer a few questions)

Save at will

Name your own saves

Alt+Tab friendly


Notebook updates as information is discovered

Voice acting well done

Mood-setting background music

Few ambient sounds

Preponderantly, though not exclusively, dialogue puzzles

No mazes, sound, color dependant, or timed puzzles

No mini-games

No dying

No action challenges

Simple graphics

Humorous dialogue

Some mild expletives

Several profanities which those with religious sensibilities might find offensive

3 to 5 hour playing time

Stable, no glitches or patches

Bonus features included

I played on:  

Win XP Professional SP1

3.2 GHz Intel Pentium 4

1 GB Dual Channel DDR400 SDRAM

128 DDR NVIDIA Geforce FX5200 Ultra (video card)

September 2007

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