There are many different reasons why people play point-and-click adventure games. Sometimes the story is engaging. Sometimes the visuals are beautiful. And sometimes it’s just fun to explore the world that the game puts you in. But Black Circle: A Carol Reed Mystery succeeds in none of these aspects, instead offering up a completely uninteresting mystery that will leave you both scratching your head in confusion and yawning with boredom.
Black Circle throws you right into the fray with little explanation. There’s a brief, optional tutorial that gives you a rundown of the controls, but there’s no real set-up for the story itself. Instead, protagonist Carol’s neighbor simply tells her about a mysterious man he saw earlier, who he believes was dead, but now the body has disappeared. Naturally, she decides to investigate. Her search leads her on a trail involving a mysterious cult, though the story is difficult to understand, as it makes a number of strange twists and turns. There’s so much back-and-forth that what should be an exciting crime solving expedition instead turns into a rather dull scavenger hunt.
The game plays out as a traditional point-and-click adventure: you view the world from a first-person perspective, searching the environment for clues and other objects that you can use. You move around by navigating a series of still screens, using arrows to direct where you want to go. It’s all fairly simple, though the way the some of the areas are set-up can make it easy to get lost, especially when you’re navigating a series of nearly identical screens, such as when you’re in a forest or a dark, abandoned warehouse. You’ll also frequently come across other characters who you can talk to, though these conversations are incredibly linear, as you have no choice over what Carol says or when she says it.
The problem with the gameplay though, is that there simply isn’t enough to do. Each area holds only one or two items to collect and maybe something else you can interact with. And that’s it. There is so little environmental interaction that it often feels as though the whole experience consists of moving around a series of bland areas and not really doing anything at all while you’re in them.
To make matters worse, the game uses a hint system that makes those few tasks you actually have to complete so obvious it’s almost as if the game is playing itself. Carol carries a notebook, which tells her exactly what to do next, and does so in not-so-subtle terms. Somehow, despite never having been to a location before, Carol makes sure to note “don’t forget to look under her bed.” This does nothing but suck the joy of discovery out of the game, an aspect that was already severely lacking in the first place. The only real challenge comes from finding some of the objects, which are often very small and blend in to the background very well.
Visually, the game uses actual photographs to portray the various places you’ll explore, which has somewhat of a mixed effect. Some of the areas, especially the outdoor ones, look quite good, as the photographic style adds a hint of realism to the experience. But some areas have strange filters put over the images, which immediately takes you out of that realism. And then there are the characters in the game. These also consist of actual photographs, and the characters will constantly shift positions as they talk. Since they’re not animated in any way, this makes everything look awkward and cheap.
And the audio doesn’t fare much better. The voice actors sound bored and uninterested and, worse still, some of the characters are clearly being played by the same actor/actress. When you only have a handful of characters to begin with, having actors take on several roles makes the already bad acting sound even worse. Things pick up somewhat when it comes to the soundtrack, which features several relaxing themes coupled with some serviceable ambient sound effects.
It’s tough to come up with a reason to recommendBlack Circle. The story is as uninteresting as it is confusing, the gameplay is boring, and both the visuals and voice acting feel dull and uninspired. Really, with so many other adventure games on the market, why anyone would actually play this game is the real mystery.