Everything seems to be retro these days – from afros to disco to Alvin and the Chipmunks. So why shouldn’t classic PC adventure games make a return in 2008? You know, those point-and-click stories from the ’90s like Sierra’s King’s Quest or LucasArts’ Monkey Island games, where your 2-D hero talks with characters, picks up items to store in their inventory and solves puzzles such as using a found key on a locked door.
Well, thanks to talented developers at Wadjet Eye Games and their Blackwell series, what’s old is new again – right down to the pixilated graphics and branching dialogue trees. While some might be turned off by this approach, Gamezebo found last year’s The Blackwell Legacy a fun, refreshing and kitschy experience.
This second adventure, Blackwell Unbound, serves as a prequel to The Blackwell Legacy, which takes place in 1973 and introduces Lauren Blackwell, the aunt of Rosangela, the protagonist from the first game. Back again, however, is the undead Joey, a family ghost who died in the 1940s but hangs around the Blackwell women generation after generation.
Unlike the original game, players can control two characters – in this case, the chain-smoking and coffee-guzzling psychic, Lauren, and the sarcastic Joey Mallone — each with different abilities. For example, Lauren is the only one with access to items from her inventory (after all, where would a ghost carry a camera, notebook and Dictaphone?), but Joey can do ghostly things like walk through walls. Therefore, depending on the task at hand, the player will toggle between Lauren and Joey or talk between them to discuss clues.
The two New York-based mysteries our medium and her spirit companion take on, which both need to be completed together instead of one after another, involves strange accidents plaguing a construction site on 53rd and Lexington Avenue and a saxophone-playing ghost on the Roosevelt Island promenade. These two seemingly unrelated missions are tied together, of course, but we won’t spoil how or why. Along the way, players will meet a handful of colorful characters including a wise-cracking nightclub piano player, a writer for the New Yorker and a strange old woman.
As with most classic point-and-click adventures, you can move Lauren and Joey around the screen by left-clicking items, or right-mouse clicking them to obtain more information. A map of New York highlights the places you’ll need to visit to solve the mysteries. Lauren’s notebook contains key clues and other interesting bits of information you can review at anytime by pushing the mouse to the top of the screen; doing so also shows the items in Lauren’s inventory, which you can click on to use in a specific situation or even combine two items to create something you need. Most puzzles can be solved by combing the screen with your mouse and click on all items and people to figure out what’s needed. You won’t likely need to search for an online walkthrough but you might need to jump from one location to another to see what you might be missing.
The writing is quite clever and the voice-acting is top-notch (better than The Blackwell Legacy) – though sometimes the actors speak too close into the microphone so you’ll hear a few *pops* here and there. As a special bonus for fans of the game, you can opt for audio commentary provided by the talented Blackwell creator Dave Gilbert and other developers.
A couple of minor bugs reveal themselves from time to time, such as dialogue with numbers beside them (example: "878 I’m already smoking one"), perhaps left in there when the game was programmed. These minor glitches don’t ruin the experience.
While on the short side – about 4 or 5 hours or so – the sub-$10 Blackwell Unbound is a fun adventure worth clicking through, especially those with a nostalgic leaning towards "old school" graphical adventure games. And of course this downloadable diversion might also whet your appetite for Wadjet Eye Games’ next game in the series, The Blackwell Convergence.