Ghosts From The Past – Help the Blackwell clan solve paranormal mysteries once again in Wadjet Eye Games’ Blackwell Unbound for iOS
Sometimes searching for the answer to a question only leads to more questions. This was definitely the case for The Blackwell Legacy‘s protagonist Rosa Blackwell. Having both just suffered the loss of her aunt, and finding out that she was medium, Rosa’s life quickly turned upside down in a matter of days thanks to a mysterious and ever-following ghost named Joey. While playing through the game, the player found out that Rosa was but one of many in her family gifted with the ability to interact with the paranormal. In fact, the aunt that she watched over for so many years before her death was the previous Blackwell medium. Rosa always knew that she was uninformed about her aunt’s life, but only recently did she find out just how little she knew. Exactly what happened to her Aunt Lauren? That’s where Blackwell Unbound, the second installment of the series and prequel to The Blackwell Legacy, steps in.
Blackwell Unbound, as previously stated, is a prequel. That is to say that, rather than moving on with Rosa’s story, Unbound jumps back several decades and places players in control of none other than Rosa’s aunt, Lauren. At the time that the game takes place, Lauren is already right in the thick of her duties as a medium. While The Blackwell Legacy was the first game in the series and therefore needed setup, Blackwell Unbound is well aware that most people have played the previous installment. Upon starting the game, you are immediately thrust into Lauren and Joey’s latest case, this time involving multiple spirits at once!
The gameplay is exactly like that of its predecessor; Blackwell Unbound is a Point-and-Click game that dips into the world of paranormal investigation. The game once again focuses largely on conversation with others, as Lauren and Joey try to find out the mysterious and cloudy past of the spirits that have been haunting various locations. Lauren, like Rosa, also has a notepad with her. The notepad is used to jot down clues and keywords, and is automatically done when a conversation reveals a choice bit of information. The keywords and phrases on the notepad can also be combined with one another (although only two can be combined at a time) in order to discover new information.
Similar to the notepad, Lauren also ends up making frequent use of the phone book located in her apartment. While the book does indeed contain all of the known numbers and addresses in New York City, there are simply so many listed that it would take much too long to have our heroine go through the dull process of checking out every single entry. This is where the player comes in. During gameplay, the dynamic duo comes across the names of several people and places. While names that come up that are considered to be at the core of the mystery are recorded into the notepad, the names of more minor people and places are not. If a name sounds important but is not recorded in the notepad, the player has the option to go back to Lauren’s apartment and search through the phone book for the name. Searching through the phone book for every name that the player comes across can indeed turn up some valuable leads.
Unlike in The Blackwell Legacy, Blackwell 2: Unbound presents itself with content that one might normally expect in the Point-and-Click genre. While conversing with others is still a major part of the game, the larger emphasis is placed this time around on interacting with the environment. This is especially true in regards to item-to-environment interaction. If a player finds themselves stuck with all possible conversation trees explored, they would do well to keep in mind that not everything is discovered from others. Sometimes it takes a bit of one’s own problem-solving skills to get the job done. [SPOILER] Take, for example, that saxophone-playing ghost. Boy, is he stubborn! I bet that a certain special song would loosen him up. But how to get the song to him all the way out in the park…? [END SPOILER] While some of the puzzles take a bit of extra brainpower, Wadjet Eye Games did a nice job of making sure that nothing was difficult just for the sake of being difficult. When a game such as this one is largely focused on the story, having too many mind-boggling puzzles only serves to interrupt the story that the developers are trying to get across. Unbound does a good job of balancing story with puzzle-solving, and the increased difficulty of some of the puzzles is rather nice as far as I’m concerned.
Blackwell Unbound has a very unique and fun art style, much like the game before it. Rather than trying to go all-out high-definition, the game adopts the look of a game that one might find on an older console or computer. In fact, it is graphically similar to older games in the Point-and-Click genre! I would go out on a limb to say that the style in which it was created was done for nostalgia’s sake and, as far as I’m concerned, was executed flawlessly. If one can forget that they are playing the game on an iOS device, it’s really quite easy to think that the game is being played on a relic PC of the past. It’s very charming. It does an outstanding job of creating a believable environment for the entire game and captures the decade in which it is set quite well. Despite the pixelated graphics, it is very easy to see where everything is. Never once did I sit there scratching my head, thinking “now what the heck is this supposed to be?” And, just in case you do have difficulty finding where every intractable item is in a room, Blackwell Unbound has a neat feature; merely press and hold your finger onto the screen and taa-daa; all items that you can interact with become highlighted! It’s a very useful feature.
Despite the old-school graphics pretending to suggest that the game is quite dated, Blackwell Unbound is almost entirely voice-acted; certainly, a feature that would not have been found in decades past. The voice actors are nice, and I can tell that they are trying very hard to convey a sense of realism. Despite this, however, I feel as though the overall voice acting quality was merely average. I personally found Joey’s voice actor to be quite good; I really enjoyed listening to him speak. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel as though any of the other characters measured up to him in the same regard. While it may be okay for some to look at the more minor characters not being voiced as strongly, I certainly don’t know anyone who thinks the same of main characters. Lauren was good for the most part, and I understand that the character’s personality was one of general disinterest, some of the lines felt a little too unattached. Despite any setbacks, however, the mechanical aspects of the dialogue were done well. The audio was quite clear, and there were not any background noises. It had a noticeably professional touch.
Musically, Blackwell Unbound was a vast improvement over its predecessor. I felt that, because music most certainly played a larger role in this game in regards to certain characters, a larger focus on the musical aspects of the game were necessary. While the game’s soundtrack did not astound me I enjoyed it overall, and found the jazz pieces to be especially enticing. The musical focus in this game is definitely headed in the right direction.
The overall feel of the game is very atmospheric. Things in Blackwell Unbound really seemed to give off a natural vibe. I mean, aside from the ghost-hunting part. The locations in which the games take place are as nice as they are varied. From the jazz lounge to the abandoned construction site, every location seems to be put together well, with characters and a soundtrack to match accordingly. The conversations all flowed well, and the puzzle-solving elements were nicely spaced out. Without giving anything away, the game also does an excellent job of tying into the first game, and does well with answering a lot of questions that players may have about Rosa’s Aunt Lauren. If you enjoy Point-and-Click games and want something new, check out Blackwell Unbound (although I would strongly recommend playing The Blackwell Legacy first). While the game is on the short side, you can easily tell right off the bat that a lot of effort has been put into making the game, and it really paid off.
Final Rating: 4/5
Available on: iOS (reviewed), PC; Publisher: Wadjet Eye Games; Developer: Wadjet Eye Games; Players: 1; Released: July 10th, 2014; Genre: Point-and-Click Adventure; MSRP: $2.99
Note: This review is based on iOS review code provided by the game’s publisher, Wadjet Eye Games