Review: Black Mirror (PS4)

BM_squareThere are two important things to realize straightaway about King Art Games’ Black Mirror. First of all, nope – it’s NOT related to the popular streamed show at all. This is a remake of a PC game that was initially released in 2003 that later got two sequels, all before that Netflix show was a whisper in someone’s mind. The second thing is, those who’ve played the original will likely appreciate this game a good deal more than those going in cold (or thinking of that show) because even with two patches, it’s got a few issues that still render the experience somewhat imperfect. We’ll get to those below, but let’s take a trip in time to a gloomy Scottish castle and its gloomier inhabitants circa 1926.

David Gordon rolls into the moors armed with a cryptic letter and plenty of questions upon learning his father has died rather horribly somewhere in the vicinity. The game actually opens with the events that lead to the fiery demise which seems to be suicidal yet somewhat supernatural. David soon finds that although he’s heir to the castle, there may be some who don’t want him around or perhaps want him to stay, but more or less permanently no longer among the living. Cue up the spooky music and sense of impending dread, ladies and germs. The end results are a pretty decent take on the horror/adventure game with a few modern touches, not all of which work as well as they need to.

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The welcome things here that seem to be meant to address a few familiar problems with older point/click adventure games are also going to be drawbacks for some. While David moves quickly through the assorted environments, his walking speed coupled with a semi-floating camera that’s either locked to some points or allows assorted variables of control can make simple navigation awkward. In a weird way, it reminded me a tiny bit of Ghost Vibration, a Japanese PS2 game with a too cinematic camera It would have been nice to have the choice to unlock the camera and let it follow him around while also letting players look wherever they pleased. On the other hand, searching objects and certain areas where puzzles are involved requires three dimensional thinking as you’ll need to rotate inventory items or look at as many sides of some objects in order to progress.

Also, the door thing is a problem on two big fronts. One thing a good mystery game needs is complete immersion in its plot and characters and while you do get some of this, the load times too often break the immersion almost completely. While the second patch halved the loading times between rooms, the current times ranging between 8-14 seconds is still too long when you’re wrapping your head around story points or a puzzle that may have you briefly backtracking to gather items. Worse, you’ll automatically trigger a load screen if you walk by some doorways or the camera angle changes and you go back into a room you just left (oops). Interestingly enough, the game also has a few doors that require keys or other means of accessing them. The end result’s inconsistency is somewhat disappointing, but it’s something that some players will be able to deal with in the long run.

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Another thing that starts off fun but gets old fast is the object manipulation elements. While you can (and need to) look carefully at your inventory, item rotation is sluggish and in the case of items such as the Master Key, tricky to figure out because it’s hard to get a decent angle to view from. Well, it’s just me, most likely. I had no problem using that key on the first puzzle where it cones into play, but I got temporarily stuck on another spot that needed unlocking thanks to a combination of not being able to see the shape required to twist the key into. That said, the bulk of the puzzle elements here after the first couple aren’t as challenging, but that’s not at all a knock on them. It’s just that opening with a few cool ones leads to expectations of even harder brainteasers.

While the stylized visuals are quite nice, they come with their own set of problems. Character designs reminded me of the late Berni Wrightson’s work on some of those House of Mystery and Warren comics, and the game tends to be a bit dark even during daytime segments. Adjusting the gamma and turning off the grain filter helps, with the caveat of too much brightness makes certain scenes washed out when you’re in an area that’s well-lit. Unfortunately, the game also suffers from a few glitches such as some textures and backdrops seen through windows popping in and out along with occasional choppy frame rate/pacing. At least the music is solid and most of the voice cast does good by the script. Don’t expect perfect speech syncing, as the game was made for a number of languages and you’re meant to pay attention to the twisted story more than whether everyone’s mouths are moving perfectly.

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As for the fright factor, the game works well enough with subtle scares and a few nifty jolts if you slap on a set of good headphones and play this in a dark room. David has occasional bouts with his sanity (which makes for a very quick bit of QTE action) as his trip around the castle grounds takes its mental toll. There’s no combat or weapons to deal with at all, so if you’re looking for some sort of “survival” horror experience, look elsewhere. The most interesting things about this remake/reboot/re-imagining is how it deviates from the original game on some key fronts and makes that original worth checking out if you’re looking to compare at some point. One thing the game really needs is a map for the castle because even though you’re limited to a few locations, the constant camera switching can be confusing even if you have the best sense of direction.

At the end of the day, Black Mirror is still in need of another patch to fix those graphics glitches, load times (they really need to be even shorter) and other performance problems. Still, it’s got a certain old-school dreary charm to it, that opening sequence is a killer, and once you get through its issues, that story has a way of getting its hooks into you. If you like a good mystery with a horror tone tingling away, you’ll probably find this one’s right up your alley, warts and all.

 

 

Score: C (70%)

-GW

Review code provided by the publisher

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