Blackwell Legacy 1The Blackwell Legacy is the first episode of Dave Gilbert’s The Blackwell Series, published by Wadjet Eye Games. It was actually originally released as Bestowers Of Eternity, created with the AGS engine and winning several awards in the process. Yet The Blackwell Legacy is more than a mere graphical update and the addition of voices to an old title. Much has changed, and the game is certainly a more polished, engaging experience the way it is presented now. This is the story as it is meant to be told.

And what a story! Straight away, the game grabs the player and gives an immediate sense of intrigue and mystery. The protagonist, Rosangela Blackwell, is a young aspiring writer living in New York City. Her Aunt Lauren has recently died as the game begins, Rosangela’s last living relative. However, it seems there is a dark family history waiting to be uncovered, holding secrets that just won’t go away. Enter Joey the ghost, who has been passed on down the family, and is now intent on teaming up Rosangela to help restless spirits find eternal peace!

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The pace of the game is gentle, and doesn’t waste much time in getting the player interested in the Blackwell women of the past, and what their fates now mean for Rosangela today. Rosangela herself is pitch-perfect: smart, sarcastic and oddball enough herself that her partnership with her spirit-guide Joey comes across both believable and hilarious.

Joey is even better, a kind-hearted tough guy who never gives away more than he has to, and constantly comes out with quips and actions that are hilarious in the context of the world: only Rosangela can see Joey, and times such as when she is about to confess to her deceased Aunt’s doctor about Joey, whilst he screams disapproval and excuses not to, show genuine comic timing and true charm.

The graphics are colourful and surprising: although the game may look a lot like the older LucusArts’ classics with regards to artistry, it is clear that some modern day tricks are being applied every so often and it really helps sell the world. The effects and animations used throughout are top notch and actually often surpass the more recent Emerald City Confidential, which although undoubtedly more impressive graphically, could often feel slightly stiff. I also really enjoyed how the outside scenes utilised the full height of the screen, whilst indoor scenes are shown in a letterbox style. This adds variety and is a simple yet effective way of immediately identifying the location in an original manner.

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Sure, the graphics are certainly pixely, but the backgrounds and characters all gel very well together and after a while it is easy to forget that you are not looking at some ridiculously high resolution and just enjoy exploring and interacting with the world. When characters talk, a larger image of their face appears in one of the top corners of the screen, and this a great compromise between not having as much detail on the characters themselves, and still feeling engaged with other characters. The use of a central-hub map system does a good job of giving the illusion of freedom in what is admittedly a more on-the-rails affair.

Talking of which, the supporting cast are great, ranging from hard-nosed students to welcoming neighbours to in-denial spooks. Still, the main draw is defiantly the two protagonists, with Sande Chen as Rosangela Blackwell and Abe Goldfarb as Joey Mallone hitting the ball clean out of the park here. Both actors are fantastic in their respective roles, delivering performances that simply put a lot of commercial offerings to shame. They have great chemistry. (I don’t know if they recorded their lines together, but regardless they are a perfect match, their verbal sparring becoming a true joy as the game progresses.)

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The rest of the sound is great too, with the music knowing when best to fade into the background, and when to make itself known again all of a sudden with a thumping drum beat to pick up the pace. I always enjoyed the tunes on offer, and due to the short length of the game they never outstayed their welcome. They also did a good job of matching the visuals to the sound, with daytime and nighttime scenes offering very different aural accompaniments for example.

I think the most controversial elements of this game will be the game mechanics themselves, and the length. Unlike most adventure games, Blackwell Legacy does not feature puzzles in the style of using inventory items on other items and characters in the world. In fact, you cannot do this at all! Items are collected, but they are usually looked at for more information, or used automatically when a certain choice is made. The main puzzles are implemented with the use of Rosangela’s notebook, with clues used as topics to ask questions. This will then open new topics and notes, which can later be combined to form new ideas. This works very well, and although not very challenging, is satisfying in it’s delivery. It reminded me of a similar system used in Discworld Noir several years ago.

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The puzzles therefore take a backseat to the experience of just enjoying the story. This brings us to the game’s completion time. I believe it took me between 3-4 hours to complete, not awful but certainly not of staggering length. The story itself works well although I have a feeling there is a greater potential in the future to make the ghost investigations more involving and complex. I also think inventory puzzles could have still been used alongside the notebook mechanic, and perhaps this would have added more complex and involving gameplay and therefore helped to prolong the experience for the player.

Still, this is a fantastic start to the series, and I personally enjoyed it a lot. As a game perhaps it suffers slightly (it is more of an interactive story so far), although the use of a creator’s commentary feature offers great replay value for gamers who want to know more about the behind-the-scenes of the production, or the indie development world in general. Still, it is worth checking out simply for the two main leads, and I think there is great potential in the sequels for the story to be expanded upon and the interactivity to progress in the future. Highly promising.

Marty’s Score: 3+ of 5 starks