“We’re All On A Journey.”
Games are a wonderfully unique medium. They have the ability to communicate concepts unlike any other form of media out there due to how exclusive our experiences are with them. This gives games the luxury of constructing messages that can become very personal and visceral, eliciting emotional responses and triggers that enrich narrative and gameplay. Blackwood Crossing is one such game, exploring sibling relationships, growing up, and ultimately the sense of loss and failure.
You play as Scarlett, waking up on a train to the call of her kid brother Finn begging for help. From there, things get dropped rather swiftly into the uncanny valley. The appearance of a rather disturbing half boy-half rabbit figure haunts you just before the mystery begins. Meanwhile Finn, true to little brother form, simply wants to play games and run around the train cars as Scarlett chases after him. Doing so reveals that this train is not what it seems. You are, it seems, on an adventure that is going to reveal some very dark realities about yourself and your family the further you go.
Blackwood Crossing is a charming experience with lively environments and lovable, energetic characters. The controls are a tad sluggish, leaving something to be desired for maneuverability. Fortunately it’s not too much of a handicap as your movements and actions are limited to slow walking and interactions via QTEs. Puzzles are a big part of the gameplay, varying from fetch quests to solutions involving guessing dialogue sequences between assorted, strangely masked characters that are familiar to Scarlett and Finn, but not the player.
As you piece all of these things together the story begins to take fruition. Scarlett and Finn are orphans who are being raised by aging grandparents. Finn is alone in his inability to recall what his parents were like and seeks help from Scarlett, while also just trying to recapture his sister’s attention. However, the further you go the more Finn’s sense of betrayal become evident. We learn that Scarlett, like any girl her age, was becoming less interested in hanging out with her baby brother and more interested in friends and boys. Despite this, the kids form a bond over a newfound sort of literal magic and art projects back in their childhood tree house. Yet right when the joy reaches its peak things take a quick turn and plunge all too swiftly into the realm of the disturbing.
The magic is a strange touch in Blackwood Crossing. It was clearly added in to build onto the puzzle solving element, but was the only aspect of gameplay that didn’t have a clear meaning. Scarlett moves fire and stretches black goo, or “umbra”, to help her brother and solve puzzles, while both share the ability to breathe life into paper creations. The latter may be a representation on lost innocence while Scarlett’s own skill may reflect the control and position of responsibility of an older sibling. Regardless, these elements are still unclear, and these speculations are purely my own.
The story devolves quickly into darkness in every literal sense imaginable. Meanwhile, to avoid the typical narrative trope, the plot very much thickens. It starts to become increasingly clear that something very grim has befallen someone.
Without adding any spoilers it must be said that Blackwood Crossing grips at the heartstrings and tugs with abandon the minute it takes hold. The game tackles very real and personal issues such as the growing apart of siblings, loneliness, abandonment, grief, rage, revenge, and the pain of loss, and that’s just naming a few. These are not taken lightly either. The game itself begins to reflect these themes from the first time Finn explodes at Scarlett (both literally and figuratively), telling her that “it’s all her fault” even though we’re not sure what “it” means.
The player is also continuously haunted by the aforementioned rabbit boy, another unclear element of Blackwood Crossing. His stance as friend or foe is never terribly clear. Whether he was the imaginary friend of Finn, or some strange stretch of the imagination at a concept personified was never really clarified. Regardless, he remains a very disturbing entity as he tantalizes you through your progression.
Blackwood Crossing is in line with games such as The Witness, FireWatch, Dear Esther, and others that combine walking simulation with puzzle solving mechanics. If these sorts of games appeal to you, Blackwood Crossing may be right up your alley. If you are triggered by any of the aforementioned themes it may behoove you to buy a tissue box as it is very heavy. The game is only a two-hour investment providing the puzzles give you no issues, and with an asking price of only $15 it is well worth every moment, even if half of the time you’re left sobbing into your keyboard.
Final Verdict: 4.5 / 5
Available on: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC (reviewed); Publisher: Vision Games Publishing LTD ; Developer: PaperSeven; Players: 1 ; Released: April 4, 2017 ; ESRB: E for Everyone ; MSRP: $14.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PC review copy of Blackwood Crossing given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.