The Blackwell Convergence is the third installment of Wadjet Eye Games’ Blackwell franchise. For many, the wait has been even more of a killer than The Countess herself; originally slated for release in 2008, the July 2009 release of Convergence has had much to live up to. Delays usually lead to two main progessions of thought in a gamer’s mind: the game will either be of a lesser quality than before due to problems in development, or polished to a finer shine than was originaly expected. Luckily, at least in the looks department, Blackwell Convergence immediately delivers. Those of you familiar with the demo will be perhaps glad, (and no doubt somewhat surprised) to discover that the entire game engine seems to have been given a complete makeover in comparison to the last two games. The graphics, although still undoubtedly ‘old school’, look nothing short of fantastic. The artistry and love on display here really blew me away, and coupled with the recently glowing review I gave Downfall, I find it amazing how these smaller indie companies can create such beautiful (sometimes even hauntingly beautiful) moments that rival anything a triple AAA multi-million game could ever hope to achieve.
But I must stop now before I descend into bias praise, this is a review afterall. However, I will make it clear from the offset that with each progressive game, this series has won me over more and more. It is difficult sometimes to take a step back and see the bigger picture. (I guess many people will be in the same position as me.) If you liked the previous games, you will like this as well. If you didn’t, perhaps this will be the one to convert you.
The immediate use of teeming rain effects in the opening section really elevates the graphics of Convergence from what we have seen before in the series. There is also a definate boost in background clarity and detail; the resolution is in all likelihood actually still the same as before, yet the images really pop and mesh in a way that feels very fresh and upgraded. The best way I can describe the upgraded visuals is to ask gamers to look at Rosangela’s apartment, and compare it to what it looked like originally in The Blackwell Legacy.
Ian Schlaepfer returns as a ‘Portrait Artist’, reinstating a feature that I felt was sorely missing from Blackwell Unbound. The new portaits are fantastic, especially Rosangela who looks every bit the heroine, matching her newfound confidence.
The game states that only 6 months time has passed since the first game. I have noticed some players think of this as a plot hole, seeing as Rosangela seems a lot older and more developed personality-wise. I would address this in a number of ways. I think Joey is actually a positive influence in many areas of Rosangela’s life. He discreetly gives her plenty of support, and the cases they solve surely make her feel a lot more fulfilled than her small-time reporting job ever did, therefore increasing her confidence. To be fair though, this does lead to the plot-hole of where Rosangela’s income comes from: she is not seen working even once during the few days over which the game takes place. I can forgive this though because it kept the storyline tight and focused, and leads nicely to the decision she makes in the coda at the end.
I was initially somewhat dissapointed that the original voice actress for Rosangela was not returning, but soon after hearing Rebecca Whittaker’s dulcet tones I knew the right choice had been made. The character needed a new edge, and Rebecca has delivered big-time, adding maturity and determination to the role. I really loved the new take on Rosangela’s character in this game, and therefore the new dynamics caused between her and Joey (voiced to perfection yet again by series regular Abe Goldfarb. Can this guy ever read a dud line!?)
The story is great and kept me intrigued during my playthrough. I cannot decide whether it was better or worse than the often lofty heights of Unbound, yet it gripped me throughout and made me want to constantly play onwards (into the early hours of the morning), which is all I can ask of a game’s story to do really! The way the various cases fit together, from a dead actor who thinks he is still filming his latest flick, to the investment company that seems to profit in highly unusual ways, are all woven together with great skill and care. This is only heightened by the wonderful dialogue and voicework. I don’t think I ever once skipped a line, it was too much fun to hear what everyone had to say!
The music is even better than in Blackwell Unbound, sounding truely cinematic and matching each scene with apparent ease. The jazzy saxophone theme tune had me tapping my foot as soon as the opening credits flared up, and the end credits again feature a professional standard, specially composed song that I really enjoyed. Everything in-between is as a soundtrack should be in a computer game: complimenting and never intrusive. Sound effects are likewise spot-on.
I don’t think playing the previous games would be totally, 100% necessary, although I think it would be best for most people to start from the beginning regardless. The way everything ties together is brilliant, and I have purposely left out any real plot points so that players can unravel the mystery themselves, spoiler free. The story is by far the most important aspect of the whole production, with one particular moment that actually got my heart racing due to excitement! Cleverly, some past characters also make surprising returns and the fact this never feels forced is again a testament to the storytelling prowess of the studio.
Another new plus is that there are plenty of different environments, adding some much-needed variety. It is pretty cool to hear of a place, check it online on Rosangela’s computer for an address, and then travel there via the in-game map. It is all very smooth. Puzzles have came quite a way as well, allowing some nice inventory-based solutions. Still, the game isn’t exactly hard per-se. I did get stuck a few times, but it was mostly just because I hadn’t clicked a certain conversation topic enough times, or revisited someone after a new event etc. Still, it would help if the game was a little clearer on what is exhausted and what is fresh during the many conversations encountered. Perhaps a hint system would alleviate these small woes in future installments. It can seem slightly unfair to be stumped, only to realise you need to select something that you had tried before a million times and had thought redundant by that point!
The notebook has also been toned down, which I think is a real shame. I used to really enjoy combining clues, and the mechanic’s removal felt in many ways a step backward: the notebook is reduced to little more than a topic selector. I guess the game is now more of a typical adventure than before, but I do hope Dave Gilbert reconsiders this in future. Its absence isn’t game breaking, but I did miss it. Luckily, even without the clue-combining aspect, Convergence has a very respectable length (at least in my eyes.) I feel it could take a good 4 hours to complete, and is certainly a tad longer than the other Blackwell games.
So in conclusion, more of the same, with a new lick of paint and a great continuation of a wonderful narrative set in a fascinating new indie universe. Please note, not since George and Nico and Manny and Meche (adventure geeks unite!) have I seen such great chemistry between a male and a female lead, so for that alone this game deserves a look. If you love puzzles over story, perhaps you will be dissapointed. Certainly, some small stumbling blocks hold Convergence back from a perfect score. Yet there were moments, especially near the end, where I looked at those pixels and cared about them with a fondess usually reserved for the greats of the past. Dave Gilbert and Wadjet Eye Games have a 5 star (or stark!) game in them, I am sure of it. I cannot wait to review it.