Review: “The Blackwell Epiphany” (Computer Game)

2016 Artwork Blackwell Epiphany Review Sketch

Earlier this year, I reviewed the first four “Blackwell” games (my reviews can be found here, here, here and here) after buying them in a collection called “The Blackwell Bundle” during an online sale.

However, I foolishly didn’t get a copy of the fifth and final game – “The Blackwell Epiphany”- at the time. By the time I realised the error of my ways, the game had gone back up to full price.

However, thanks to another sale on GoG a few months before this article will be posted, I was able to pick up a DRM-free digital copy of “The Blackwell Epiphany” for a little over two quid.

If you buy “The Blackwell Epiphany” at full price then, at the time of writing, it costs a little over a tenner though. Judging from the two times I’ve seen this game on offer, there seems to be about a three-month gap between the times it goes on sale.

Although I’ll get on to the review in a bit, I should probably point out a couple of things first. The first is that you need to have played the first four “Blackwell” games for the events of this game to make any sense to you. It isn’t a stand-alone game! The second thing is that, at the time of writing (mid-February), the GoG release of “The Blackwell Epiphany” doesn’t really come with any extras, unlike the “Blackwell Bundle”.

Finally, it almost goes without saying, but this review may contain SPOILERS. I’ll try to avoid major ones, but there might be some here.

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

Blackwell Epiphany Title screen

“The Blackwell Epiphany” is a 1990s-style paranormal detective/ horror/ thriller “point and click” adventure game by Dave Gilbert that was released in 2014.

Like the previous “Blackwell” games, you play as both a medium called Rosa Blackwell and her ghostly companion, Joey. Their job is to help ghosts pass into the afterlife by convincing them that they are no longer alive.

 Trust me, this makes sense if you've played the other games.

Trust me, this makes sense if you’ve played the other games.

The game begins in modern-day New York during a particularly harsh winter. After the events of the previous game, detective Durkin has hired Rosa to investigate strange cases off the books.

However, what starts out as a simple investigation of a haunted building quickly spirals into something much larger and more menacing. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but this game is as much of a plot twist-filled thriller game as it is a horror game.

Hmmm.... He looks friendly, we should say hello...

Hmmm…. He looks friendly, we should say hello…

However, I should probably warn you that the story of this game is a lot creepier and a lot darker in tone than a couple of the earlier games are.

There are plot twists that will make you gasp. There are bittersweet scenes that will make you cry. There are also a few scenes that literally made me take a deep breath and say “wow, that’s really f**king dark!” Although this depressing stuff is leavened by a decent amount of humour, don’t expect this to be a cheerful game. However, the plot is so compelling that you’ll probably want to keep playing regardless.

In addition to this, the game also provides a satisfying resolution to many of the long-running plot threads that have appeared within the previous four games. We also get to learn more about pretty much all of the characters too. For example, two playable segments in the game even allow you to see some of the countess’ backstory.

 This would make an absolutely awesome prequel game. Unfortunately, it's only two short segments....

This would make an absolutely awesome prequel game. Unfortunately, it’s only two short segments….

In terms of the gameplay, the gameplay mechanics are fairly similar to what I remember of the fourth game. You can switch between Rosa and Joey at any time (and you’ll need to do this to solve many of the puzzles) and Rosa still uses her smartphone for note-taking, clue combining and internet searches:

 Damn it, the notebook and the computer are literally RIGHT THERE! Why can't I just use them instead?

Damn it, the notebook and the computer are literally RIGHT THERE! Why can’t I just use them instead?

One subtle gameplay change is that, when you’re playing as one of the characters, you can walk to another screen and then press a button in order to call the other character to your present location. This saves a lot of time and is a rather cool feature. Another cool feature is that, if you’re playing as Joey, you can leave one of the game’s locations without having to switch back to Rosa again.

That little button in the corner of the screen might not look like much, but it can come in handy.

That little button in the corner of the screen might not look like much, but it can come in handy.

Talking of locations, this game has more of them than in any other “Blackwell” game. Although you still have to jump between locations using a world map, the larger variety of places to explore helps to make this game feel a bit more like a traditonal adventure game than some of the previous games do.

Plus, the world map looks really cool in this game too.

Plus, the world map looks really cool in this game too.

However, this game is somewhat more difficult than many of the previous “Blackwell” games are. Although all of the puzzles still make logical sense, they can be somewhat more challenging than you might expect. For example, even the introductory segment involves finding a hidden key, solving a complex puzzle involving a fuse box and solving a couple of clue/dialogue-based puzzles.

Even so, I’m not really very good at adventure game puzzles and I was still able to work out the solution to all but about three or four of the puzzles without consulting a walkthrough. So, by adventure game standards, it’s probably still a bit on the easy side. Although, by the standards of the “Blackwell” series, it’s fairly difficult.

This was one of the parts that I ended up using a walkthrough for.

This was one of the parts that I ended up using a walkthrough for.

Whilst the additional difficulty helps to increase the length of the game somewhat, “The Blackwell Epiphany” only took me between four and six hours to complete (I played it in two sessions and used a walkthrough infrequently).

Even though this is fairly long by “Blackwell” standards, it’s still a bit on the short side when compared to other classic “point and click” games.

Although the game’s relatively short length is more than made up for by the extremely high quality of the story, voice acting, characters, dialogue etc… it may be worth waiting for this game to come down in price or to go on special offer.

In terms of graphics, the “Blackwell” series has consistently got better and better, and this game is no exception. I absolutely love 1990s-style pixel art graphics and it’s great to see that the character sprites have received something of an upgrade in the game. The digitally-painted background and character artwork in this game is, once again, even better than in the previous game. Seriously, this game is a work of art:

Not to mention that it's wonderfully atmospheric too :)

Not to mention that it’s wonderfully atmospheric too 🙂

As for the music, it’s absolutely stellar! As you would expect from a “Blackwell” game, there’s a decent variety of instrumental jazz music, ominous ambient music and even the occasional song too.

One of my favourite pieces of in-game music was the surprisingly epic theme tune to a MMO game that Rosa has to look at during one part of the game (don’t ask). This sweepingly dramatic music is also foreshadowed by a haunting piano version of the same song, which is surprisingly creepy in the context of the scene when you first hear it.

 It's a MMO game, on a smartphone. I SHOULD hate it, but the music is just too cool!

It’s a MMO game, on a smartphone. I SHOULD hate it, but the music is just too cool!

However, this excellent soundtrack is let down slightly by the fact that – at the time of writing – the GoG release of the game doesn’t include the soundtrack as a bonus download. The “Blackwell Bundle” is sold with a complimentary MP3 copy of the soundtrack, so why isn’t it included for this game?

All in all, this is the best game in the “Blackwell” series. It’s the stunning conclusion to one of the most dramatic, compelling, well-written and intelligent series of games that I’ve ever played.

“The Blackwell Epiphany” will make you gasp. It’ll make you think. It’ll make you laugh. It’ll make you cry. And it’ll make you wish that the “Blackwell” series was longer than a mere five games.

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

4 comments on “Review: “The Blackwell Epiphany” (Computer Game)

  1. Christopher Lampton says:

    I’m impressed by your detailed review of the entire Blackwell saga. Good work! I’ve just binge-played the whole set and was impressed, particularly by the way Gilbert threads common story themes throughout the entire series. His puzzles struck me as fair, not so hard that I gave up in frustration but not so easy I didn’t feel like a genius when I solved one. (For the record, I only looked up a walkthru once, for some puzzle in the first game. I hated myself for it.) I discuss the series at considerably less length in the latest post in my own gaming blog, Sublime Confusion, which I might as well plug while I’m here.

    • pekoeblaze says:

      Thanks 🙂 Your review is really cool too, and it seems to have much more of a journalistic quality to it too :). You certainly seem to have a comprehensive understanding of the history of adventure games (most of what I knew about this subject, I’ve learnt over the past 1-2 years from watching a Youtube channel called “PushingUpRoses”)

      But, whilst I also play adventure games for the exploration – I mostly tend to play them for the story (which is, for example, why “The Longest Journey” is one of my all-time top five games, despite needing a walkthrough for the puzzles – which are sometimes some of the worst ‘moon logic’ puzzles you’ll ever see.). So, I can see why the puzzles in the Blackwell games would probably be a lot fairer and less challenging for more experienced fans of the genre LOL!

      The trend for modern retro style games is one of coolest things ever – and not just because they’ll actually run on my computer LOL! I’ve also heard of “Kathy Rain”, but it’s probably one of the many games (Wadjet Eye games’ “Technobabylon” is another one) that I’ll probably get when they’re eventually on special offer on GoG.

      I can also see how binge-playing all five of them would be an absolutely amazing experience (I binge played the first four, but foolishly didn’t get the fifth one when it was on offer at the time). But, yeah, they’re bascially just one larger game in five parts rather than five short games.

  2. Christopher Lampton says:

    And the climax, which could have been hokey, managed to be thoroughly satisfying, making it worth playing all five games in a row. They may be short individually, but taken together they’re an epic.

    • pekoeblaze says:

      Totally. I was absolutely stunned by the ending and, as you said, it had the potential to be cheesy – but it ended up being surprisingly emotional and dramatic.
      Although the episodic format is kind of strange in a retro-style game (most of the times I’ve heard of this format, it’s been used in ultra-modern games), I can also see how it allows each game to have a greater ‘gap’ between them (eg: the time jump between the first and second games) without confusing the audience. Plus, as mentioned before, it’s more like one epic game in five parts than five separate games.

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