The Blackwell Series Review
Wadjet Eye Games is a truly respected developer and publisher of old school point and click adventure games that has offered us gems like Gemini Rue, Technobabylon, Shardlight and of course The Blackwell series. In this review we will take a trip back in time, in 2006 to be exact and we will try to figure out why a series that took eight years to complete is so beloved by adventurers everywhere.
The Blackwell series is a metaphysical mystery point and click adventure. It consists of five episodes that tell the tale of Rosa Blackwell, a young woman who inherited the power to see, speak and help deceased people pass to the afterlife. This power passed down to her by her aunt and before her, her grandmother. To help her understand and control the power, she has a spirit guide named Joey Mallone, a ghost himself who for some reason stayed back on the land of the living to help with the task. They will need to cooperate in order to persuade the ghosts and at the same time they will have to learn to live with each other. In the span of the episodes we will see Rosa mature and learn to accept her gift and also learn how to live with it.
As far as mechanics, this is a pure point and click adventure. You will do everything with your mouse, move, interact, pick items etc. Sometimes you will have to search for names or places and only then you need to use your keyboard. Other than that, everything is pretty straight forward. Through the series you will get to use both characters to do different things. For example, Joey can pass through doors or windows since he is a ghost, but he cannot pick up items. Rosa on the other hand is the one who will do all the physical actions and interact with living characters.
As I mentioned before, this series spans eight years and it shows in every game. The first one for example, The Blackwell Legacy, is generally simplified in terms of visuals and actual puzzles. It is a pretty easy and short game but it excels in storytelling. You will get introduced to the characters and the world and will try to help Rosa accept her new life. As the episodes progress, so does the general quality of the games. The visual style becomes more busy and alive, the voice acting is giving life to each character and the puzzles become more complex but still logical. The highest point is Blackwell Epiphany, the final chapter of the series, a beautiful game from every point you look at it.
All the episodes are self contained, meaning that you mostly don’t have to have played the previous ones to understand what is happening in the world. You will definitely miss some references though, but that’s ok. The only exception is that Blackwell Convergence is a direct continuation of Blackwell Unbound, so if you want to know what you are dealing with, maybe play those two in order. Personally I prefer to know exactly what is happening and why, and I don’t like missing backstory information, so I played everything from the beginning.
The Blackwell Legacy
This is the first episode of the series and this is where we meet our main character, Rosangela Blackwell. She is a young woman with social anxiety (she lives in the same building for five years without knowing anyone) and she is struggling as a freelance writer, trying to publish her book reviews. All that will change though the moment her aunt dies and she inherits the legacy of her family, Joey Malone, a spirit ghost that will assist her to help spirits pass to the afterlife. The game might look simplified in visual style and gameplay for today’s standards and it probably is, as it also is a bit short in duration. But the characters it introduces are instantly likeable and the story is totally interesting that will hook you until the end.
In the second episode of the series we take the role of Rosa’s aunt, Lauren, as she and Joey investigate two seemingly unrelated murders that end up being connected to a sinister character. This is the only episode that we actually control Lauren instead of Rosa and we get a bit of background information about the Blackwell family. Also it is the episode that introduces control of Joey too, enabling him to pass through doors and get information from spirits that are unreachable to Lauren. The visual style and gameplay don’t change much but with the contained world it builds, the interesting npc’s and the creepiness of The Countess, this is definitely a story you will enjoy.
This is the third part of the series and is a direct continuation to Blackwell Unbound. We once again take control of Rosa in present time as she is solving cases related to spirits and seems to have accepted her new responsibilities. Her investigations lead her to the murder of an actor that connect everything to a vengeful spirit. The visual style of Convergence changes and becomes more detailed with some beautiful locations to visit, the pixel artwork is more smooth and also Rosa can now do research about names and locations on her computer. The duo have learned to live and work together, their relationship shines from the writing and the player feels it.
In this fourth installment, Rosa is now introducing herself as a medium and as she tries to help a former colleague with a case he was working on. In her investigation she will unravel a conspiracy of some dangerous individuals that prey on human souls. At this point the series is confident with itself. The characters feel like we know them forever, their relationship feels like it matured and in general Deception weaves a much bigger story and stakes.
This is the last chapter of the series and concludes the stories of Rosa and Joey in the most bittersweet way. An investigation ordered by detective Durkin at a rundown hotel leads our characters to a race against time, to save souls from an entity that rips them apart just before they reach the afterlife. Immediately, from the moment you start the game, the quality leaps from the screen. The visual style is beautiful and way above the previous entries of the series. What I love is the atmosphere, this dark, brooding feeling that jumps out from every area of the game. Rosa looks, acts and talks like she matured, like she’s a different character, in a good way, like she grew through the years. The story keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time, with some moments that are genuinely sad and heartbreaking, concluding with an ending that is deserving of the series and these particular characters.
For me this is a series that can introduce new players to adventure games. It eases them into the mechanics without hard puzzles and not too long to lose their interest. The story from the first moments does what every story should do : grip the player and make them a part of the world, make them feel for the characters and everything that is at stake. Especially detective/mystery lovers like me will definitely enjoy it. It doesn’t mean it’s the perfect series or that the stories are spotless, but the whole character and world building is so strong that you will miss it when you finish the game, same as I did.
I would like to describe my experience going into the series. I didn’t know anything about the story or the characters before playing the games. I knew that it was a well known series, I knew their creator Dave Gilbert is very respected as a developer and I knew that I loved Shardlight, which I reviewed for IGN Greece and Technobabylon which I reviewed for Hyper Light Up. So when the chance was given to me to review the whole series, I was pretty excited to find out why it’s so well known to adventurers everywhere.
The moment I started The Blackwell Legacy I was a bit disappointed with the graphics and the animation, it seemed a bit amateurish, even for 2006. These first moments, what kept my attention was the voice acting which I really enjoyed and sounded pretty good. I solved the frist puzzle and got to know Rosa a bit more, who she is, what is her living situation, who she knows etc. This information matters because this is the way of the developer to make you care about their character and make you want to know what will happen next in their life. Dave Gilbert managed to do that in the first 20 minutes or so of the game.
I continued playing just following Rosa around and doing the tasks she has to do, wondering where her story will go next. The moment she learns about the Blackwell legacy and Joey appears, is the moment that hooked me. I don’t know exactly what it was, maybe the way it happened reminded me something I experienced in my childhood by reading a book or watching a film. Maybe it was just cool. It really doesn’t matter because after that the first thought I had in my mind was “Thank God I have the whole series and I don’t have to wait for the next episode”.
So I followed Rosa and Joey on their adventures and the mysteries they had to solve, the characters they met and the ghosts they saved. I was in it for the ride, even when the artwork and the gameplay didn’t change that much in the next two games. There was an improvement but nothing that groundbreaking and to tell you the truth I really didn’t care. I just wanted to experience what will happen next. The fourth game in the series, Blackwell Deception was the one that for me had an ambitious story and introduced this secret organization which raised the stakes for our heroes. I liked where everything was going. And then came Backwell Epiphany.
I was really shocked by everything in the game. The visual style was so beautifully made with so much attention to detail and to shading that did what every low res pixel art should do : give the player enough information but also let them fill in the blanks. The atmosphere was dark and in that helped that many of the scenes took place in the night, with the snow giving a more confined feeling. Rosa was matured, she was a grown up strong woman, way different than the one we met in the first game and dare I also say, sexy. She didn’t felt like a different character, she felt like a mature one. I don’t want to spoil the story or anything else but even though some questions didn’t got answered the way that I would like or expected, the whole game and the ending are incredible. By the way the music in the whole series is top notch.
If you want to do yourself a favor, play The Blackwell series from the beginning. Only then you will have taken the same trip as the characters, you will have seen them grow and mature and they will feel like they’re a part of you. Only then the impact of the ending will hit you the right way and you will have witnessed the perfect way to conclude a series.
No score is needed for this series, at the moment this review is published the first four games are bundled and only cost 4,74€. Just go on Steam and buy them.
~Dimitris “Dimi Kaye” Kalyvas