by Thomas Mikkelsen
reviewed on PC
Story is King
Gamers play for a million and three reasons. For me, story is king. I will suffer through the clunkiest controls and the glitchiest graphics if the story begs me to follow it. Black Mirror does that. I played it through because I needed to figure out what happened next. It’s just too bad the story is wrapped in such a broken piece of software.
Exploring Black Mirror
Point-and-click games went through many iterations before the genre was perfected by the likes of Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars. Then, 3D graphics showed up and everyone needed to jump on the bandwagon. The story of adventure games suffered due to the frustration involved in navigating 3D scenes, zigzagging back and forth through each level to make sure you didn’t miss anything, and having the orientation of your controls change with every camera angle switch. What followed was the dark age of adventure, with monstrosities like Escape from Monkey Island and Broken Sword: The Angel of Death. Brand killers, all of them. Today, with the aid of crowdfunding and, cheap development engines, and a roaring indie game market, point-and-click is back. For some reason, though, developer KING Art and publisher THQ Nordic have opted for a return to the camera set-up and control scheme that almost killed the entire genre at the turn of the millennium.
Black Mirror takes place in and around an old family mansion somewhere in Scotland. David Gordon, the protagonist, is summoned there following the death of his father, John Gordon, who had himself returned not too long before. David, as the direct male descendant of the great Edward Gordon, is to be the new owner of Black Mirror House. Through exploring the mansion and delving into his family history, he learns of the Gordon family curse and the seemingly unfair share of tragedies that have befallen his kin.
Use a controller!
Play Black Mirror with a controller. The mouse and keyboard scheme is virtually unplayable. You will need to use WASD to move around until interaction points appear and then use either the numbers on the keyboard or the mouse to interact with them. You will get stuck behind furniture so often that you will be begging for an analog stick to ease your suffering after ten minutes on the keyboard. As you move around the rooms in the game, the camera angle will change revealing areas that were previously hidden from view due to the camera’s angle. As your controls are oriented based on David’s location on the screen, i.e. pull down to move toward the bottom of the screen, the controls change with every angle shift. Suddenly, you will go from facing the camera to facing to the right, and you will have to readjust your control input accordingly. This annoyed me to no end.
In addition to the controls being offensively bad, the animations and graphics could have used a bit more time in the oven. This becomes more prevalent later on in the game, indicating that the team simply ran out of time for polish. You will notice a level loading with David’s model knee deep in the floor, and then rising out of it before you gain control of him. Texture glitches pop in and out of existence here and there, facial animations will play out talks when the character is sighing, and mismatched between audio and text will appear. None of this, however, deterred me from finding out how the thrilling tale of the Black Mirror House and the Gordon family curse concluded.
What did almost cause me to rage-quit the game were the long loading times and a game-breaking bug I encountered twice in the same conversation. Late in the game, you’re having a conversation with Lady Margaret, the family matriarch. When triggering the conversation, David spun around a few times and then stopped moving. All input was unresponsive and I saw no alternative but to reload the game. This time, in case it happened again, I saved just before that conversation. The dialogue played out all right, but then afterwards, the camera angle changes and David should walk toward it for a bit of an in-game cinematic. Instead, he tried his darnedest to walk through an old desk and gave up after a minute, leading to the same bug.
Great story, bad software
KING Art have made some of my favourite new point-and-click adventures, most notably the Book of Unwritten Tales series. They know how to write a great script. The know how to hook you into a game world. They know how to pace discoveries to give you that delightful sense of achievement when you discover a new piece of the puzzle. Despite the gripping story and the intriguing mystery, Black Mirror has a lot of software issues that detract from the enjoyment of the gameplay experience. I can’t help but feel that if the game had been designed from the get-go with a more Book of Unwritten Tales type control scheme and gameplay experience, most of my gripes would be dealt with. If you play games for their story, then do play Black Mirror. Just beware that you will have to suffer through the gameplay to get to it.
Intriguing mystery, solid characters.
Clunky gameplay, visual twitches, long loading times, and game-breaking bugs.