Black Mirror Review
Disclaimer: PC Aficionado was provided with a code for the purpose of this review. All thoughts and opinions expressed in the review are the writer’s own and are not influenced by the developer and/or publisher in any way.
In retrospect, my expectations for KING Art’s new point-and-click adventure reboot Black Mirror were somewhat unrealistic: I hoped it would be scary and suspenseful like the classic Alone in the Dark, and as well-written and designed as Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within. Instead, what came out was an unremarkable game with no particular strong suit.
Not having played the original trilogy developed by studios Future Games and Cranberry Production, I had no expectations of faithfulness to the original plot, and yet I was particularly disappointed at how poorly written the game is: a predictable plot cobbled together with unremarkable and uninteresting characters with few or no remarkable traits.
The prologue sets up a fairly intriguing premise, in medias res, with the protagonist’s father immolating himself amidst a ring of standing stones after reciting a Gaelic phrase. It does a good job of hooking the player into a web of questions and suspicions, but it soon feels underwhelming as you unravel the mystery bit by bit.
For all its smug references to Poe, Lovecraft and Horace Walpole, Black Mirror fails to instil in the player any sense of dread, horror or awe. It fails when it tries to be serious and it fails when it tries to be light. It could have made something interesting and unusual of its Gothic themes and sensibilities, but instead it centered on a dysfunctional family soap opera.
As an adventure game, it is mostly mediocre, with puzzles that at first seem more complex than they really are. Particularly the second main puzzle involving runic symbols: there I was, pen and paper in hand, researching the runic alphabet and looking for patterns, when I just had to look around with the movement keys to find the ridiculous solution.
The gameplay progress is rather funneled; there is not enough freedom at times to look at the bigger picture, which makes for an overall unsatisfying gameplay, with the usual point-and-click adventure issues involving pixel hunts. Black Mirror seems to try to appeal to the Telltale Games crowd while lacking their finesse and (usually) more elegant design.
As a story-driven game in 2017, it is sorely lacking in animation quality. The voice acting is decent for the most part, but the animation belongs in a 2010 game at best. Lifeless eyes, artificial-looking textures and a general lack of nuance and inner life make it even harder to relate to the already poorly written characters.
The most annoying parts of the game involve a QTE with a high-pitched din as you try to keep the cursor inside a randomly moving circle, which is supposed to represent the protagonist’s panic attack, or something. It is extremely lazy and annoying game design that most players will hate especially if they’re playing with headphones on.
On top of all these issues there are also performance issues, which the developers informed will soon be addressed by a patch. While I did not come across any game-breaking bugs or glitches, I did experience a fair amount of awfully long loading times, unusual for such a graphically undemanding game, particularly as I was running it on my SSD.
Playing it on mouse and keyboard I also had my fair share of annoyance with the camera, which tries to be dynamic and move of its own accord as you move the protagonist, but it often gets janky and jerky, often making it hard to reach the sweet spot to interact with an object or a character. I suppose it might work better with a controller, but mine is broken.
I really wanted to like Black Mirror, but unfortunately it just reminded me why I play fewer adventure games than I used to. Growing up with the LucasArts point-and-click adventures, Myst, Gabriel Knight, Alone in the Dark, etc, it seems there are no worthy successors to those games and the genre is dying (perhaps with some few exceptions).
- Half the price of a AAA game
- Couple of decent puzzles
- Poorly written and predictable story
- No freedom or player agency
- Slow loading performance
- Janky camera and movement
- Obsolete-looking animation
- Unsatisfying gameplay