Review: “Blackwell Unbound” (Computer Game)

2016 Artwork Blackwell Unbound Review sketch

As I mentioned when reviewing “The Blackwell Legacy” recently, it was seeing footage of “Blackwell Unbound” that originally made me interested in this series of games.

“Blackwell Unbound” is the second game in the “Blackwell” series, and I got a collection of the first four games (out of five) when they were on special offer on GOG back in November.

Even though this game isn’t a direct sequel, it’s probably best to play “The Blackwell Legacy” before playing this game. If you don’t play the previous game first, then you’ll miss out on a lot of backstory and subtly ironic moments when playing “Blackwell Unbound”, not to mention that the ending to this game also won’t quite have the emotional impact that it should.

I’ll try to avoid them, but I should probably warn you that this review may contain some PLOT SPOILERS though.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Blackwell Unbound”:

Blackwell Unbound - Title screen

“Blackwell Unbound” is a short 1990s-style film noir/ paranormal detective “point and click” adventure game from 2007.

Although it is the second game in the “Blackwell” series, it’s actually a prequel to “The Blackwell Legacy” that is set in New York during the summer of 1973.

In this game, you play as Rosa’s brilliantly cynical aunt Lauren – who is a medium. Along with the family spirit guide, Joey (a ghostly gumshoe from the 1930s), she tries to help ghosts cross over to the other side by investigating their deaths and trying to find a way to convince them that they’re dead.

Yes, this isn't your average film noir detective game.

Yes, this isn’t your average film noir detective game.

Anyway, in this game, Lauren and Joey investigate two intriguing cases – a spectral saxophonist haunting the park and a mysterious woman haunting a construction site. These two cases seem to be totally separate, and you can choose which one you want to solve first, although it isn’t too long before Lauren and Joey start to see connections between both of them….

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that if you’re expecting it to be a genuinely creepy horror game like “The Blackwell Legacy”, then you’re going to be slightly disappointed.

The only really creepy part of the game is probably one part near the end of the game (which I won’t spoil), and the rest of the game is much more of a detective game than a horror game. On the plus side, this game is less depressing than “The Blackwell Legacy” was.

Likewise, this game contains one of the best main characters that I’ve seen for a while. Unlike Rosa from the first game, who was much more of a “realistic” kind of character – Lauren is a cynical, wise-cracking, chain-smoking, world-weary badass who has a wonderfully messy apartment (rather than a boring neat one).

Yeah, she's almost like the opposite of Rosa from the first game. Even her spirit realm (?) looks cooler.

Yeah, she’s almost like the opposite of Rosa from the first game. Even her spirit realm (?) looks cooler.

She’s the kind of character that 1990s-style adventure games are made for. Not only does she have a few hilariously cynical conversations with Joey (and Joey is a much more amusing foil in this game than he is in the first), but she can also be a fairly “serious” character in some scenes in a way which isn’t quite as depressing as it was in “The Blackwell Legacy”. She can also be a total badass sometimes.

Yes,  instead of choosing a "paranoid response", you can show contempt if you want to. Contempt!

Yes, instead of choosing a “paranoid response”, you can show contempt if you want to. Contempt!

Another thing that I love about this game is the style and atmosphere of it – from the film noir-esque New York night cityscapes, to the fact that you can stand on a balcony and look at the city, to the vintage fashions to the background music (which mostly consists of smooth jazz music that goes absolutely perfectly with the game).

This game is wonderfully atmospheric and it’s a welcome break from the “modern” settings in “The Blackwell Legacy”.

Yay! This is so cool!

Yay! This is so cool!

Not to mention that you also now have a balcony you can stand on and see the city from too.

Not to mention that you also now have a balcony you can stand on and see the city from too.

Although “Blackwell Unbound” certainly has it’s serious and slightly depressing moments (especially if you’ve played the first game and know more about Lauren) – I really liked the emotional tone of this game. Whilst it slightly lacks the constant subtle comedy of many classic 1990s adventure games, there’s at least some humour here to balance out the darker parts of the story.

In terms of gameplay, there are some subtle- but significant – improvements when you compare this game to “The Blackwell Legacy”.

For the most part, it’s pretty similar – but the menus look slightly better, there are many more clickable background items and the game now also gives you the chance to switch between Lauren and Joey.

This is a central part of the gameplay since there are some things that only Joey can do and some things that only Lauren can do. Joey can talk to and interact with ghosts (and walk through walls too) and Lauren can talk to and interact with everything and everyone else.

 Of course, in Joey's case, this can involve annoying the saxophonist... and getting hit with his spectral saxophone. This is one of the funniest parts of the game.

Of course, in Joey’s case, this can involve annoying the saxophonist… and getting hit with his spectral saxophone. This is one of the funniest parts of the game.

In terms of puzzles, this game thankfully moves away from the slightly more puzzle-heavy gameplay of “The Blackwell Legacy” slightly. Yes, there are still a few puzzles – but most of them can be worked out without a walkthrough (although some of them require you to solve them in a very specific way even after you’ve worked out what you’re supposed to do – so a walkthrough can still be handy).

However, the main emphasis of the gameplay in “Blackwell Unbound” is on good old-fashioned detective work.

You’ll spend most of the game researching things, walking around, talking to people, taking notes and talking to people again. Although this can sometimes involve a bit of repetitive wandering back and forth between locations, it makes the game feel a bit more like an interactive story than a traditional “point and click” game.

 And, being set in the 1970s, you have to look things up in the phone directory rather than searching the internet.

And, being set in the 1970s, you have to look things up in the phone directory rather than searching the internet.

In terms of length, this game is fairly similar (if possibly slightly shorter) than the previous one. I completed it in about 2-3 hours, with occasional use of a walkthrough. So, it isn’t a gigantic game – even if it’s a really interesting one.

All in all, “Blackwell Unbound” is a really cool game. Yes, it mostly lacks the chilling creepiness of “The Blackwell Legacy” – but it’s wonderfully atmospheric, wonderfully retro and it has a really awesome main character too. This game has a bit more of a sense of humour about itself too, which is a refreshing change of tone from the depressing bleakness of the previous game.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

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