After three or four years of playing every Telltale Games episode of every Telltales Games season, I took a long and necessary sabbatical from point-and-click adventures. While it was hard to miss out on their Batman games, and not so much with Minecraft, I’ve fallen back in love with the genre and games similar to it like the recently released Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier. So how does the quasi-reboot of 2003’s The Black Mirror fare in an age where linear, story-focused adventures have gained popularity?
Reality vs. Delusion
Black Mirror opens with our protagonist, David Gordon, claiming the inheritance of his legendary and wealthy father: Black Mirror House. The year is 1926 and the pastoral groves scream of the Scottish countryside, but you’ll be doing a lot of detective work away from it. The suicide of David’s father after his inquest into their dark family history gives off a lot of Lara Croft vibes – as does the similarities between Croft Manor and Black Mirror House – and that’s where the best storytelling lies. Players tilt the camera around and motion towards interactive objects in the environment, although there’s a lot of wiggling around that needs to be done as the game’s camera controls are far from precise. As the players begins to get a feel for the place and engage with other characters via dialogue options, there’s a sinister aura to the place and its inhabitants that leads to a lot of fantastic back and forth wordplay as David tries to learn more about the other characters. They, in turn, will also attempt to cox any morsel of information out of the now wealthy heir.
The problem with the storytelling lies in its delivery, with characters coming off as totally uninterested and dry. David has a bit to do with the nightmare sequences in the game that act as seminal moments of discovery in order to push the plot forward. Besides that though, the delivery of his lines are monotone and flat. It’s even worse with the NPCs like an extremely unlikable butler and a tricky lawyer that could have been used to greater effect. It also doesn’t help that the developers at King Art Games have went for a linear story with minimal branching paths. I don’t berate developers for not making two or three complete story arcs that involve totally different environments, but it just seemed like nothing I chose had any meaning or consequences down the line. While I have my fair share of issues with Telltale’s The Walking Dead series, the player is guaranteed to experience dozens of moments of true choice, and that’s simply not present in Black Mirror, which instead feels like an interactive movie that only serves to get you to the next cutscene.
But with all that said, there is an interesting narrative that involves David’s father weaved throughout the game, and the Gothic atmosphere of the house is exceptionally creepy, even if it’s not particularly novel. What I loved most was the feeling of being all alone and of powerlessness when walking through catacombs and thinking that I spotted some type of ghostly apparition. It’s haunting and exciting at the same time, and the old-school adventure game feel works great in these types of settings.
Enter Room, Load Screen
The aforementioned cutscenes also come with their own set of issues, most notably a lack of polish. While the game is filled with long load screens that are sometimes inexplicable, I would have been able to ignore those moments and regard them as forced breaks if that same lack of polish was not also applied to the cutscenes which completely destroyed any sense of immersion. NPCs will randomly move into the position they were supposed to be in and technical hitches will slow your progress. The movement mechanics definitely need some work as I can only compare it to that frustrating feeling in The Witcher 3 when you get caught in the level geometry and have to perform some type of ritual dance to get back into position in order to interact with an object.
The camera system is equally at fault with its smooth yet nauseous movement as I constantly fought the controls. It works well in cinematic moments where I panned the camera from one side to the other to match the happenings on-screen, but it fails miserably when trying to find clues in tight corridors or attempting to run across the level to get somewhere before an interaction icon pops up and throws you for a loop as you attempt to hit the brakes and turn around. Minor aspects like that turn what would otherwise be a half-decent adventure into a frustrating drag.
That is simply the best way to describe the game—it just doesn’t work. Besides a clever story that reveals itself every so often and an eerie atmosphere that is perfect for this type of game, Black Mirror is a missed opportunity to truly modernize the 2003 original. I feel like the game hasn’t learned anything from the likes of Tales From The Borderlands or Life Is Strange in the same way that Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier has. It feels like a game that is purposefully ignoring its competition in an era where Andy Serkis and other filmmakers have made it a point to get into the story-focused, adventure game genre. Black Mirror, unlike the Netflix show with the same name, refuses to trek into the future, instead resulting in a game that feels stuck in the past.
Black Mirror review code provided by publisher. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.