Sanitarium, Leave Me Be! BlackBay Asylum won’t leave you in a padded room but you’ll long for home.
BlackBay Asylum describes itself as an adventure/puzzle/horror/comedy in an H.P. Lovecraft-inspired setting. Horror games rarely come without the “survival” prefix nowadays, it’s refreshing now and again to play something horror themed that takes a step away from killing zombies and hiding in closets. Blackbay Asylum definitely sets itself apart from the horror genre, but there are quite a few giant missteps that prevent this game from being memorable. The game sets up an atmosphere that could be something special but knocks it down with overblown puzzles, poorly written dialogue, and a mixed bag of visuals that make it a struggle to play all the way through.
BlackBay Asylum opens with a disclaimer warning the player of potential blood, gore, violence, drugs, nudity, ethnic, sexual and stereotypical references. In the game’s defense at least they tried to cover their tracks early, but as a reflection of how poorly written most of BlackBay Asylum is the warning came loud and strong. You are Doug Dunaheiw, a mass murderer obsessed with his Teddy bear and locked up in Blackbay Asylum. One day you wake up and notice your cell door is open. The rest of the story unfolds like a giant reference to H.P. Lovecraft without ever using the specific names of the creatures and ideas he created. The writing shifts its focus on wacky to surreal to full blown Lovecraft without taking time to do a great job at any.
Controls are simple; walk Doug around, hit your use button on everything that looks useable. Double click on the item when nearby. The point and click mechanic works fine for the most part but is never truly engaging. Items may as well all be keys for the first half of the game. It isn’t until later when the notes become vital, even requiring the player to take some of their own if they plan on figuring out how to input the data. At one point during a final puzzle, I continuously died and had to redo a puzzle. The first time I solved the puzzle, the game wouldn’t actually register that I had succeeded until I had rotated the pieces an extra time.
When interacting with your environment Doug has a comment or two about everything that isn’t a generic wall but it always tries for witty humor and falls flat. Every time you see a computer screen he says something about porn. Every time you see a dead body he talks about how neat it is. Every mirror you see he makes a crack about how hideous the painting is. There’s no character here, just a sixteen year old boy who has listened to one-too-many Insane Clown Posse records and made a character out of what information they gather. Doug is very one-dimensional and simple. If it weren’t for being reminded constantly that he were a psychotic killer I would have never thought of him that way, even with one or two sequences of actually killing people. His relationship with Teddy starts to expand a little bit toward the center of the game, but it is quickly forgotten in place of Lovecraftian situations of ancient beasts and attempting to resurrect the great old ones. The focus is never clear and the player has no reason to empathize or even be humored by Doug’s pseudo shenanigans.
The game plays in a top-down perspective similar to that of the first couple titles in the Grand Theft Auto series. You walk from room to room collecting the pieces to unlock the next area and find hints as to what’s going on in the Asylum. In a couple circumstances the game mixes it up a little and switches to first person. The first circumstance of this doesn’t occur until a few chapters into the game, and it becomes a weird mess to control having to click in and out of using your inventory. However, the first person moments were still the highlight of the game. These sections were relatively surreal in nature and found ways to actually induce real scares. The scene that stuck out for me leaves you walking down the hall into a dark room with nothing but a lantern. There are only a few moments in the game where you can actually be killed, but even knowing this I was creeped out to move into the corridor of cut up bodies and a giant doll statue that swiveled its head as I’d walk by. The moments are fairly linear but despite this it made for some variety in a game that needed it.
Each chapter has a different feel, taking you from courtyard to flooded basements, cell blocks to churches, and other cool environments that made the game more interesting. Most areas in the game were great to look at even in the top-down point of view. The creatures in the game are really awesome. There is very little interaction with them outside of cut scenes and quick moments, but they stand out compared to the character models which look like Doom 3 monsters that haven’t finished rendering yet.
Though there have been a resurgence of adventure games lately with Telltale Games’ Walking Dead and Wolf Among Us series, the genre still feels like a throwback unless you do something different with the mechanics beyond point and click item drops. As the missions progress, the item gathering system takes a back seat for puzzles. Some of the puzzles are simple, relying on memorization or clues you find nearby. Others aren’t so intuitive and require more of the player than they might anticipate based on the first few areas. There are notes written in your journal, but going between the puzzles and your inventory requires you to close them, so it’s a back and forth memorization unless you have a pen and paper handy. Some of the puzzles work well, while at other times I’d have to rely on trial and error because there was no hint anywhere in the vicinity to tell me what I was supposed to do. Sometimes I’d feel accomplishment but a majority of the time it was relief so I could move on to the next section.
BlackBay Asylum could have thrived if it ditched the whole psychotic killer bit and taken itself a little more seriously. The main character could have been an investigator of any kind and the storyline still could have made it from point A to point B without suffering any losses. Unless you’re on the older side and looking to play as many adventure games as you can I can’t say I’d recommend BlackBay Asylum. The game isn’t nearly as offensive as it would like to be, and if it shifted its focus and smoothed out some of the kinks it could have at least been noteworthy.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: KISS Ltd.; Developer: Tad Production; Players: 1; Released: Aug. 1st, 2014; Genre: Adventure/Horror; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review key provided by the game’s publisher.