On his father’s passing, David Gordon returns to Scotland to the family’s ancient manor, a place hiding a terrible dark secret, one tied to the house’s namesake, the Black Mirror.
Developer: King Art
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Release Date: November 2017
Played Full Story
Purchase At: Steam
I remember the original Black Mirror trilogy, the story of Samuel Gordon, the ancient family curse and everything beyond the first title, including the twists the story takes, some of which surprised the hell out of me at the time of playing.
So, when I heard this reboot was coming out, I approached it with equal parts excitement and trepidation, as is often the case with reboots of beloved franchises in any media.
Fortunately, German studio King Art knows what they’re doing and not only is Black Mirror a worthy entry in the series, but they nailed the most important aspect for a game in this franchise: the atmosphere. The Black Mirror games in the past had variable quality in their storytelling, puzzle design and even audio-visual quality, but one thing they had going for them was a gripping atmosphere and this reboot is no different, with the manor and key locations having an almost oppressive feeling about them. Despite knowing with utmost certainty that nothing will jump at you, walking across the foyer of Sgathan Dubh House made me jumpy every time.
One aspect of this atmosphere is the soundtrack and overall sound design. Music is powerful and sombre, setting the mood for the adventure. And while I would have liked a few more dramatic pieces inside the house, to really up the intensity of the oppressive atmosphere, the hum in the background is enough to make you uncomfortable, which I think is a stroke of genius.
For players of the original game, Black Mirror offers a similar premise. The protagonist, David Gordon, travels from his home in India to the family’s ancestral manor after the death of a close family member, though unlike Samuel in the original, it’s not David’s grandfather but his father who’s suddenly passed.
But as David arrives, it becomes apparent fairly quickly that the family has many secrets and those living in the manor have no intention of sharing them with David and in fact would love it if he were to just disappear. For all David knows, his father died a raving lunatic, but is that the truth?
The plot is fairly good if straightforward, with very well-defined good and bad sides to the story, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. In fact, the lore of Black Mirror in this game is much more coherent and better told than that of the original, including some elements of character backgrounds that are perhaps even darker than those of the original, which was already pretty dark in itself.
Characters are great, and though there are a couple with very little screen time and development, the rest make up for it, with Rory the gardener being by far my favourite. He’s blind, haunted by his past and his ties to the family but is also the only one willing to offer a straight answer to David, something not even his new family will do. It also helps that his voice actor is superb, a difficult task with such a heavy accented character, when it’s so easy to cross the line into a cartoonish performance.
In terms of gameplay, Black Mirror reminded me of the last couple of games in Frogwares’ Sherlock Holmes, with interaction hotspots becoming visible and available as you approach them and with closer examination having its own separate zoomed-in view, where you can pan around, view and uncover secrets. It’s fairly intuitive even if it lacks the exploratory value of the traditional point & click interface. On the upside it does provide a more cinematic experience, which is something I know the developers were aiming for—I heard them say it in an interview when the game was first announced.
One aspect of this cinematic experience is the series of visions David sees, where even the environment changes and you witness a traumatic point in the past. As true haunts, they are but echoes of the past and will replay until you’ve looked closely enough to figure out the important information they’re trying to convey.
But, as a fun twist, if you touch them for too long, they will turn on you, the spirits or echoes turning deadly. You get a small glimpse of this behaviour, as a clue, during the prologue but it’s only later that it’ll come back to kick your butt!
Sadly, a series of glitches and lockups hurt that cinematic adventure experience, especially early in the title. More than once did I have to restart the game and reload an earlier save because I moved David too close to someone to start a conversation and he just locked up in place, unable to continue. And even worse are the moments where just after an interaction you will find the characters unresponsive as the game is still loading the environment interaction hotspots—this particular beauty of a bug happened to me throughout the first couple of chapters very frequently.
One particular part of the gameplay is the series of sequences where you must place a cursor in a circle to overcome David’s haunting-induced migraines. It’s a wonderful piece of storytelling meeting gameplay, but they are impossible to complete if you’re using a keyboard. I had to switch over to my gamepad for all those sequences, as the cursor refused to budge more than a couple of inches in either direction. In fact, the game seems poorly optimised for keyboard & mouse, being more comfortable to play with a gamepad.
Another element of the gameplay that annoyed me is the subtitles, as they tended to change for a few characters with alarming frequency, sometimes including accents in them and other times not at all. Rory’s use of the word “ken” instead of know or knowledge is one of the most common cases, sometimes appearing in the subtitles and other times replaced by their more common counterpart, yet the Gaelic word “bairn” appearing in subtitles every single time. It’s a simple case of “make up your minds!”
But even with the above flaws I had a hell of a time with Black Mirror, enjoying every moment of every chapter and excitedly coming back for more. And while you can interpret the ending as meaning there will not be further visits back to this universe, there are enough hints at perhaps much more stories to tell in this setting.
At least I hope I ‘m not reading too much into it. And if I am, I hope King Art read this and just work on proving me right. They know the secrets of the Black Mirror and I think their vision of this world deserves plenty more visits.
4.5/5 – Amazing!