Review: “Kathy Rain” (Computer Game)

Ever since I watched this ‘first impressions’ video by PushingUpRoses, “Kathy Rain” has been one of those games that ended up on my ‘I must play this someday. This is my kind of game!‘ list.

However, although my computer met the system requirements for it, the game seemed somewhat pricey at the time. But, eventually, it went on sale. So, I was able to pick up a DRM-free copy of the game for £2.39 on GOG during their Black Friday sale last year. And, yes, I write these articles very far in advance.

Plus, since Halloween is only a few weeks away, this seemed like the perfect time to review this game too.

So, let’s take a look at “Kathy Rain”. Needless to say, this review may include some SPOILERS, but I’ll try to avoid major ones.

“Kathy Rain” is a horror/detective “point and click” game from 2016. The game begins in September 1995, when a journalism student called Kathy Rain returns from a wild party, only for her roommate Eileen to tell her that she read something in the paper about a man who had died. He had the same surname as Kathy. The man is none other than Kathy’s grandfather.

Interestingly, many of the characters here are people you meet during other parts of the game.

The next day, Kathy travels back to her old hometown for the funeral. But, after talking to her grandmother, Kathy learns that something happened to her grandfather in 1981 – which left him a hollow shell of his former self. Bewildered by this, Kathy decides to look for an explanation…..

Well, it would be a very boring game if she didn’t investigate.

One of the first things that I will say about this game is “WOW!” The best way to describe it is that it’s a little bit like a cross between “Twin Peaks” and “Silent Hill 3” – with some hints of “American McGee’s Alice”, “The Longest Journey”, “The Last Door” and Dave Gilbert’s “Blackwell” games too. In other words, it’s an interesting, intelligent, dark and mature character-driven game. It’s shocking, creepy, funny, depressing, intriguing and compelling.

Whilst I’d love to talk about the game’s story in depth, I’m wary of spoiling the plot too much. But, don’t be put off by the slow pacing (and lack of scares) in the earlier parts of the game. This game is something of a slow burn, with many of the game’s more dramatic, dark and/or disturbing moments happening later in the story. The game is a lot like the first two seasons of “Twin Peaks” in this respect, being an ordinary detective story that gradually turns into something much creepier and more bizarre.

And, like in “Twin Peaks”, there are bizarre dream sequences too.

In terms of horror, this game generally tends to prefer psychological horror, mysterious horror and/or story-based horror. Not only are there “Silent Hill 3″/”The Last Door”-style hints of H.P.Lovecraft here, but there are also a few wonderfully understated “shock” moments. These aren’t jump scares, but they are the sort of thing that makes you raise your eyebrows and quietly gasp. Again, I’d love to talk about some of these but, well, I don’t want to spoil them.

These are contrasted with about four chilling moments where Kathy is directly threatened by other characters and has to defend herself. All of these scenes are disturbing for different reasons, and this game is one of those rare games where violence itself is presented as a source of horror (rather than just as a type of gameplay).

Likewise, Kathy’s reaction to defending herself varies from scene to scene. In this one, she responds to this lecherous biker with righteous fury but in other scenes, she’s clearly mortified by having to harm other characters.

Despite some fantastical elements, the game also keeps much of it’s horror grounded in reality – even though it may sometimes be expressed metaphorically or through fantastical elements (like in “Silent Hill 3”). So, expect a lot of fairly dark subject matter throughout the game.

Thematically, this game is also fairly complex too. In addition to the theme of being haunted by the past, this game also includes a rather complex presentation of religion too (showing how it can be both a force for good and evil). It’s also a game about introspection too (with Kathy often being given the option to “think about” things as well as just looking at them).

The game’s characters are brilliant – with Kathy being one of the best game protagonists that I’ve seen for a while. In addition to being an ultra-sarcastic chain-smoking horror movie-watching biker (with so, so many brilliant lines of dialogue), she’s also a bit more of a complex character too.

Seriously, she has so many hilarious lines of dialogue.

A lot of the game revolves around Kathy trying to understand and reconcile herself with her past. In this regard, the game reminds me a lot of “American McGee’s Alice”, “Silent Hill 3” and “The Longest Journey”.

But, although Kathy’s journey through the game involves some hair-raising moments and some rather depressing subject matter, she never really comes across as a depressing character. However, she isn’t a typical “emotionless robot” game protagonist either (and will actually have realistic emotional reactions to the game’s events).

The game’s supporting characters are pretty interesting too, with many of them also being complex characters too. Eileen is a good example of this – at first she seems like she was just designed to be the opposite of Kathy (eg: religious, optimistic and cheerful) in order to add comedy to the game. But, although there are some absolutely hilarious dialogue exchanges between Kathy and Eileen, they are not only shown to be friends but Eileen is also a much more complex and open-minded character than she initially seems to be.

Seriously, she isn’t the “annoying character” that she initially appears to be.

The writing and voice-acting is on par with other intelligent Adventure Game Studio games like “Technobabylon“, “The Blackwell Epiphany” and “The Shivah“. Like in all of those games, the dialogue segments also feature wonderfully detailed character illustrations which help to add even more depth to the game’s lushly detailed pixel art world.

Seriously, I love this style of character illustrations 🙂

In terms of the game’s historical setting, it’s really interesting. Although I talked yesterday about how the game uses fake anachronisms (eg: things you wouldn’t think would exist in 1995, but actually could have), the game’s setting comes across and wonderfully and convincingly retro 🙂 There are dictaphones, floppy disks, CRT monitors, pop culture references and lots of other 1990s stuff 🙂

Such as the fact that CRT monitors are still seen as “high tech” LOL!

However, one jarring anachronism is the bizarre – and out of character- fact that Kathy seems to religiously follow 2000s-style restrictions about smoking. She can be standing in the middle of a bar with ashtrays on the tables and people lighting up a few feet away and yet she primly comments that she only smokes outdoors if you click on her cigs. This could just be the result of a lack of programming time (eg: one simple line of code instead of lots of realistic location-specific responses) but it comes across as a bit anachronistic and/or out of character.

Visually speaking, this game is really good. I absolutely love 1990s-style pixel art and this game doesn’t disappoint here. Whilst many of the game’s locations look fairly “ordinary” (which adds to the “Twin Peaks”-like atmosphere), there are some brilliantly creative areas found throughout the game. Plus, like in many great 1990s movies and TV shows, the lighting is often a little bit on the gloomier side of things.

Seriously, I really wish more of the game’s locations looked like this one. This is like a gothic version of “Silent Hill” 🙂

Plus, the game sometimes does the classic 1990s-style thing of placing items in the close foreground to “frame” the picture.

This game is detailed. In addition to the fact that you can look at pretty much everything, there are loads of other clever little details too. One of the best ones (which I only noticed whilst looking through the screenshots for this review) is that, in each segment that takes place in Kathy and Eileen’s halls of residence room, various things move slightly compared to when you were last there.

This isn’t very noticeable when you’re actually playing the game, but it gives the impression that people are actually living there. They could have easily just re-used the same background for all of these segments, but they didn’t. Now, that’s attention to detail!

In terms of the actual gameplay, it’s fairly ordinary “point and click” gameplay. Before I talk about the puzzles, I should probably point out that I’m terrible at these types of puzzles. In other words, I enjoy “point and click” games for the story, characters, humour, dialogue, atmosphere, locations etc… rather than the puzzles.

Even though the game gives you hints, this was probably the first of many times that I reached for a walkthrough….

But, even though I had to consult a walkthrough a fair number of times, many of the puzzles here seemed fairly logical. The game gives you clues and there didn’t seem to be any “moon logic” or pixel hunting here. So, if you’re an experienced adventure gamer who actually enjoys the puzzles, you’ll probably find this game to be “easy”.

The game also occasionally does inventive things with traditional “point and click” game mechanics too. For example, if you look at Eileen’s stuff when she is nearby, she’ll hear Kathy’s voice-over narration and comment about it. Likewise, the game occasionally does some inventive things with the classic “take everything that isn’t nailed down” approach that most adventure games take to in-game items….

Yes, this sort of thing is actually considered to be burglary. Who would have thought it?

In terms of length, this game is what you would expect from an indie “point and click” game. With moderate to heavy walkthrough use, it took me approximately six or seven hours to complete this game. However, if you don’t use a walkthrough, then the game may take longer than this.

Likewise, although the game contains a relatively limited number of different locations (about 10-15 places, albeit with multiple rooms/areas in many of them) – this helps to keep the narrative reasonably focused.

Not to mention, the fast travel map is absolutely badass too 🙂

In terms of music and sound design, this game is fairly good. Although there aren’t that many memorable musical moments, the music inside the biker bar and the eerie “Silent Hill”-like music that plays near the lakeside cabin are two stand-out moments.

All in all, “Kathy Rain” is a brilliant horror game. Not only is it wonderfully 1990s, but it also features interesting characters, brilliant dialogue and a compelling story. Yes, it isn’t a game for the easily shocked, nor is it a typical “jump scare”-based horror game. But, if you like “Twin Peaks” and/or “Silent Hill 3”, then you’ll love this game 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it might just about get a five.

Partial Review: “Legend Of Kyrandia – Hand Of Fate” (Retro Computer Game)

Firstly, I should probably point out that this isn’t a full review of “Hand Of Fate” (for reasons I’ll explain later, I haven’t completed the game).

But, since this game holds a lot of nostalgia value for me and because I’d planned to review it about three weeks ago, I felt like writing a review of what I have played. So, although this is slightly more than a “first impressions” article, it is far from a full review.

That said, I have a lot of nostalgic memories of playing the CD-ROM version of “Hand Of Fate” during my early-mid teenage years. Although it was already a retro game by the time that I found a budget re-release of it in a game shop, it was a game that would actually run on the ancient Windows 98 machine I had at the time. However, being terrible at point-and-click games, I quickly got totally and utterly stuck on a relatively early part of the game.

Fast-forward to last summer. It was a hot day and I was grappling with of the more difficult levels of “SiN“. I also wasn’t in a good mood and I needed something to cheer me up. Then I remembered “Hand Of Fate”. But, from my memories of digging out my CD-ROM copy of it a few years ago – I knew that it wouldn’t run on my current “ancient” PC. However, since GOG was having a summer sale at the time, I decided to re-buy a discounted digital copy (that actually works on PCs from the 21st century) of it for less than £2.

Of course, history has a funny way of repeating itself….

Anyway, that said, let’s take a look at “Legend Of Kyrandia – Hand Of Fate”:

It could be YOU!

“Hand Of Fate” is a comedic fantasy point-and-click game from 1993. The game takes place in the mythical land of Kyrandia, where random objects are mysteriously disappearing. The kingdom’s magicians are absolutely baffled by this turn of events:

Yay! Piles of books! I KNEW there was a reason why I loved this game 🙂

After a lot of discussion and research, they decide that the problem can be resolved by finding a mythical Macguffin of some kind or another (an “anchor stone”, I think). Of course, despite being magicians, they somehow haven’t developed powers of teleportation. So, it is up to a cynical magician called Zanthia to go on an epic quest to find the Macguffin and restore order to Kyrandia.

Well, after dealing with the obligatory “local idiots” first.

One of the very first things that I will say about this game is that it showcases both the very best and the very worst elements of early-mid 1990s point-and-click games. But, I’ll start with the good stuff…..

The first thing that I’ll say about this game is that it is hilarious. Like a lot of games from the time, this one has it’s own distinctive personality. Not only is the game’s fictional world filled with all sorts of random things and surreal characters, but all of this is filtered through Zanthia’s hilariously cynical perspective.

Seriously, I cannot praise the dialogue in this game highly enough. It’s hilarious!

There’s even a little bit of Monty Python-style humour too.

There’s also a vaguely “LucasArts”-style segment with poetry-reading pirates

Zanthia is, by far, one of the best comedic game protagonists that I’ve ever seen. This is mostly because she’s this brilliantly contradictory mixture of a tough adventurer, a typical down-on-their-luck adventure game protagonist and a spoiled aristocrat.

All three of these elements of her character are combined in a way that is both absolutely hilarious and brilliantly distinctive. Seriously, I’ve never seen a character quite like Zanthia.

WHY don’t they sell mineral water here? What is this, the middle ages?!

All of this character-based humour is supplemented brilliantly by several other types of humour such as slapstick comedy, surreal elements, funny storytelling, a mixture of modern-style stuff with historical fantasy settings etc.. Seriously, as a light-hearted comedy game, “Hand Of Fate” is absolutely brilliant!

And there are zombies too. Zombies! (Well, sort of..)

Likewise, this game’s artwork looks absolutely brilliant too. If, like me, you’re a fan of early-mid 1990s pixel art, then you’re in for a really nostalgic treat here! Seriously, just take a look at some of these locations:

Oooh, this place reminds me of the cave level from “Super Castlevania IV” 🙂

“Wonderful!” sums it up perfectly! I LOVE this place 🙂

In addition to the amazing artwork, cynical dialogue and hilarious characters, another reason why you’re going to enjoy hanging out in Kyrandia is probably the music and voice-acting in the CD-ROM and GOG versions of the game. Seriously, I cannot praise these elements of the game highly enough. This game is funny, atmospheric, unique and gloriously retro 🙂

However, you’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned the actual gameplay yet. Although it is mostly typical “point and click” gameplay (with an additional potion-mixing mechanic and lots of inventory slots etc..), it is typical of everything that is wrong with old-school “point and click” games.

Not only did some of the puzzles I encountered border on “moon logic” but, even with frequent walkthrough use, it is still possible to get stuck in an unwinnable state if you aren’t careful. For example, if you forgot to note down a sequence of flashing lights that you saw earlier in the game or make a foolish decision, you’ll get stuck here:

Fun fact: During my original attempt at playing this when I was a teenager, this is where I abandoned the game in frustration. I remember that gloating octopus all too well!

Yes, a lot of this is mitigated by the fact that the game contains a real saving system (where you can save anywhere an unlimited number of times). However, it is easy to make a mistake that requires lots of tedious and repetitive backtracking. This is the exact opposite of “fun”. Which, if you’ll remember, is why people play computer games!

In fact, the reason why I didn’t finish the game on my current playthrough (even though I was using a walkthrough very regularly) was because I accidentally threw away a seemingly useless tree branch at one point in the game.

It was only after repeating a highly-convoluted puzzle (which I don’t know how anyone could work out on their own) and traipsing back-and-forth across the map three times that I realised that I actually needed the branch. Needless to say, “ragequit” is probably an apt description of my subsequent actions.

Yes, solving this ultra-convoluted and hyper-repetitive puzzle won’t do you any good if you accidentally discarded a random branch that you found here earlier in the game. *Facepalm*

All in all, this is a game that is worth playing for everything except the gameplay.

If you want to hang out in an interesting fictional world, then this game is worth getting. If you want a hilarious game that really doesn’t take itself seriously, then this game is worth getting. If you want a quintessentially 1990s game that showcases the sheer amount of personality, imagination and uniqueness that defined games from this golden decade, then this game is worth getting. But, if you’re interested in gameplay, this game isn’t worth getting.

If I had to give what I’ve played a rating out of five, it would get five and a half for the characters/art/dialogue/voice-acting/atmosphere etc.. but maybe two for the actual gameplay, if I’m being charitable.

Review: “Technobabylon” (Computer Game)

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The cyberpunk genre is one of those genres that really should appear more often in computer games. After all, it’s an entire genre of sci-fi that revolves around computers.

But, it is a genre has been relatively neglected by modern mainstream developers. Thankfully, indie developers have proved themselves to be more than up to the task of filling this void in gaming culture.

“Technobabylon” is one of those games that I’d been meaning to play for ages, ever since I first read about it (although the price seemed a bit too high for the limited gaming budget I had then), but only got round to buying during a sale on GOG a few days before I originally wrote this review.

I should probably warn you that this review may contain some mild SPOILERS. Likewise, I messed up the chapter numbers in the file names for the screenshots in this review. The chapter numbers seem to be in binary and I mistook “10” for ten and counted the chapter numbers accordingly.

So, let’s take a look at “Technobablyon”:

technobabylon-title-screen

“Technobabylon” is a 1990s-style “point and click” game by Wadjet Eye Games and James Dearden that was released in 2015.

As regular readers of this blog will probably know, I’m a fan of Wadjet Eye’s “Blackwell” series (you can read my reviews of those games here, here, here, here and here). Likewise, Wadjet Eye Games also has a bit of history with the cyberpunk genre when they released Joshua Nuernburger’s excellent “Gemini Rue” a few years earlier. So, naturally, my expectations about “Technobabylon” were fairly high. And this game surpassed them!

The premise and storyline of “Technobabylon” would take quite a while to describe here but, in summary, this is a game where you play as three people living in an AI-controlled mega-city who find themselves in the midst of a strange conspiracy.

Yes, my summary of the game’s plot sounds hopelessly generic and it really doesn’t do the game’s story justice – but if you like deep, intelligent cyberpunk storytelling in the tradition of “Neuromancer“, “Blade Runner“, “Ghost In The Shell” and “Deus Ex“, then you’ll find it in abundance here.

 Well, and ...specialist... robots too. Ok, there's only one of these.

And …specialist… robots too. Ok, there’s only one of these.

One of the most striking things about this game is how unique it is. Although the game makes no secret of it’s influences, it also contains a very unique, fully-formed and distinctive cyberpunk “world”. Every tiny background detail in this game (and there are lots of them) feels like an organic and “realistic” part of the game’s world.

For example, the futuristic equivalent of the word “f**k” is the word “nuke”. This sounds hilariously silly when you first hear it. But, later in the game, you learn that the world has experienced something like seven nuclear conflicts before the events of the game. However, in a stroke of genius, this information isn’t relayed through a sombre monologue or anything like that. You only really learn about it from watching another character play a virtual reality computer game:

... And you'll probably be laughing throughout this entire scene too! Now THAT is good writing!

… And you’ll probably be laughing throughout this entire scene too! Now THAT is good writing!

“Technobabylon” is also different in tone to anything else in the cyberpunk genre and, yet, is pretty much the definition of “cyberpunk” at the same time. It’s a game about “high technology and low lives”, to use the famous quote.

Needless to say, this place looks a lot less grim in virtual reality...

Needless to say, this place looks a lot less grim in virtual reality…

And, like in Warren Ellis' "Transmetropolitan" comics, there are amusing background characters too.

And, like in Warren Ellis’ “Transmetropolitan” comics, there are amusing background characters too.

Seriously, I cannot praise the emotional tone of the game highly enough. Even though “Technobabylon” includes some fairly heavy subject matter ( grisly murders, scientific ethics, terrorism, bereavement, poverty, blackmail, cannibalism etc…), it is never depressing or bleak in tone. The game contains just the right amount of sarcasm and dark humour to balance out these grim parts of the story without robbing them of their dramatic significance.

Oh government computer, you loveable rogue!

Oh government computer, you loveable rogue!

Likewise, the game’s futuristic world isn’t completely dystopian too. Cyberspace is shown to be a meritocratic place where both rich and poor are pretty much equal to each other (albeit with the side effect that poorer people are more likely to become addicted to it as a result). Not only that, since it’s set something like 70 years into the future, being LGBT is pretty much a total and utter non-issue too.

Seriously, this game is a liberal game in the best way possible – it doesn’t preach or anything like that, it just subtly shows how good some parts of the future could be.

This game is also a “mature” game in the truest sense of the word. In other words, it’s a complex, intelligent game. Like in “Deus Ex”, there are moments where you will have to make moral decisions that have no clear ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer. There are times when things are left unsaid. The game’s story also contains actual philosophical depth and will actually make you think. The game’s characters come across as being genuine (and realistic) people, the game shows the existence of multiple political systems etc…

Both amusingly and depressingly, the EU is shown to be ludicrously restrictive and over-protective. Pre-Brexit this was probably kind of funny but, post-Brexit, it already seemed a bit out of date.

Both amusingly and depressingly, the EU is shown to be ludicrously restrictive and over-protective. Pre-Brexit this was probably kind of funny but, post-Brexit, it already seemed a bit out of date.

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t mentioned the gameplay yet. This is because it is, for the most part, pretty standard “point and click” gameplay. You talk to people, pick up items, walk around, combine items occasionally and solve puzzles.

Although most of these puzzles involve futuristic technology, there's relatively little "moon logic" here.

Although most of these puzzles involve futuristic technology, there’s relatively little “moon logic” here.

But, even if – like me – you’re absolutely terrible at adventure game puzzles (and have to read walkthroughs constantly), then this game is still a lot of fun because of it’s story, it’s characters, the level of interactivity on offer and the brilliantly designed “world” of the game. Seriously, even with heavy walkthrough use, this game still has at least 5-7 hours of gameplay.

Even if you cheat in virtually all of the puzzles, you probably won’t feel like you’ve been cheated by this game. The only possible exception to this is the final ‘chapter’ of the game, where there’s a lot of pointless wandering back and forth before you finally reach the game’s dramatic conclusion. Likewise, one of the puzzles involving finding plant specimens seems to involve a certain degree of randomisation too.

Yes, the puzzle a while before this part of the game seems to be slightly randomised. Still, it isn't that difficult to solve - since you just have to find a plant that matches a particular description.

Yes, the puzzle a while before this part of the game seems to be slightly randomised. Still, it isn’t that difficult to solve – since you just have to find a plant that matches a particular description.

My favourite puzzle in the game is probably the very first “chapter” of the game, which is a self-contained “escape the room”/ game tutorial puzzle.

Although it can take a while to learn how the game’s technology works (eg: you have to use a gelatinous substance called “wetware” to connect to devices, you have to connect to cyberspace to do certain things etc..), all of the elements of the puzzle are easily found and there’s some truly hilarious comedy too.

This isn't even the funniest line in chapter one. Just try to get the food machine to make a metal fork and you'll be treated to one of the funniest (and most "Futurama"-like) lines from the game.

This isn’t even the funniest line in chapter one. Just try to get the food machine to make a metal fork and you’ll be treated to one of the funniest (and most “Futurama”-like) lines from the game.

Visually, the game is spectacular. Like in the later “Blackwell” games, Ben Chandler’s pixel art is truly superb.

As you would expect from a cyberpunk game, the entire game takes place at night – which allows for some truly beautiful lighting. Likewise, the location design takes heavy influence from both “Ghost In The Shell” (especially the ‘Stand Alone Complex” TV series) and “Blade Runner”. Naturally, it looks extremely cool as a result:

Yay! MORE games need to include "Blade Runner"-like streets like THIS :)

Yay! MORE games need to include “Blade Runner”-like streets like THIS 🙂

And more "Ghost In The Shell"-style stuff like THIS :)

And more “Ghost In The Shell”-style stuff like THIS 🙂

Plus, there's also a little bit of Lovecraftian gothic horror too. Seriously, I LOVE how this game looks :)

Plus, there’s also a little bit of Lovecraftian gothic horror too. Seriously, I LOVE how this game looks 🙂

Even though the download for this game is something like 900mb-1gb in size (seriously, it’s a 1990s-style 2D game! Still, the file size isn’t as bloated as some other modern games in this genre like “Deponia“!), the game runs reasonably well even on old computers – although the walking speed during the cyberspace segments can be a little slow.

Likewise, if you’ve got an older PC, then switch the graphics from 32-bit to 16-bit before you start playing. It doesn’t seem to make an obvious visual difference, and it helps the game to run faster. However, if you save your game with one graphics setting, you can’t access those saves if you’re using another graphics setting. So, change the settings before you start playing!

In terms of the voice acting, it’s really good. All of the voice actors fit the characters really well, and their lines are delivered with a movie-like level of quality. Not only that, the voice acting can sometimes be an essential part of the game’s comedy too – especially with robotic characters like Cheffie and Stepford, who have been designed to sound annoying in a hilarious way.

Yes, the food machine's voice sounds JUST as annoying as you would expect. But, she's hilariously funny at the same time.

Yes, the food machine’s voice sounds JUST as annoying as you would expect. But, she’s hilariously funny at the same time.

In terms of music, most of it just seems to be the kind of ambient futuristic music that you would expect. One stand-out tune is a slightly understated rendition of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”, which really helps to add some atmosphere to a couple of parts of the game.

However, since this is a relatively new game, the soundtrack isn’t included in the “standard” game download you can buy from GOG. In fact, you have to shell out another few quid in order to “upgrade” to a version of the game that includes MP3 copies of the soundtrack, and other bonus stuff. Still, at least it isn’t modern-style “DLC”, I guess.

All in all, “Technobabylon” is a perfect sci-fi game. Seriously, it’s up there with games like the original “Deus Ex”. Yes, there are a few annoying puzzles – but these are more than made up for by the complex storytelling, the immersive world of the game and the fact that this is a serious, intelligent sci-fi game that still has a sense of humour. The art looks stunning and the characters are really interesting too. As I said, it’s pretty much perfect! Just be sure to keep a walkthrough handy!

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

Review: “The Last Door Season 2: Collector’s Edition” (Computer Game)

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Although I played the first season of “The Last Door” a while ago, the second season was too expensive at the time. Fortunately, sometime around last Halloween, I noticed that it was on sale on GOG, so I picked it up – eager to see how the second season would end.

Before I go any further, I should point out that although this game contains a short recap at the beginning, you should really play season one of “The Last Door” before playing this game. Likewise, ideally, you should probably play both games directly after each other. Since I waited a few months between the two seasons, I probably forgot a few smaller plot details.

This review will also contain some SPOILERS.

Anyway, let’s take a look at: “The Last Door Season 2: Collector’s Edition”:

the-last-door-season-2-title-screen-this-looks-so-cool

“The Last Door: Season 2” is a retro-style point-and-click horror game that has been clearly inspired by the works of H.P.Lovecraft. In the second game, you (mostly) play as a psychiatrist called Dr. Wakefield, who is searching for Jeremiah DeVitt from the first season.

Like with the first season, this game is divided into four 1-3 hour “episodes”, although you can’t select them individually in the way that you used to be able to in season one. But, like in the previous game, each episode starts with a short playable segment that often doesn’t make sense until later in the episode.

Yes, episode one starts with an old woman boarding up some windows. Why does she do this? Well, you'll have to play the rest of the episode.

Yes, episode one starts with an old woman boarding up some windows. Why does she do this? Well, you’ll have to play the rest of the episode.

Episode one is titled “The Playwright” and it takes place in Victorian London. You get to explore a creepy old insane asylum and search the seedier parts of London for DeVitt’s friend DuPre.

This episode is fairly similar in tone to the first game, although there are slightly fewer dramatic scares. Likewise, from what I can remember, the puzzles in this episode are (mostly) fairly logical and self-explanatory.

Yes, even THIS puzzle in episode one isn't too difficult to work out if, like me, you're terrible at adventure game puzzles.

Yes, even THIS puzzle in episode one isn’t too difficult to work out if, like me, you’re terrible at adventure game puzzles.

Episode two is titled “My Dearest Visitor” and it takes place in a seaside town called Wickport. Joined by his colleage, Kaufmann, Wakefield travels to the home of his old professor in the hope of finding some answers.

But, the years have not been kind to the professor and he is suffering from dementia. It is up to you to find things to jog his memory and to unveil clues to the many puzzles in his strange mansion.

Yes, puzzles! Lots of them! And that’s just the mansion (you also get to explore the town, a graveyard, some ruins and some caves too). As regular readers of this site know, I am terrible at adventure game puzzles. So, I had to look repeatedly at more than two walkthroughs to get through this chapter.

The globe puzzle especially *glares evilly at globe*!

The globe puzzle especially *glares evilly at globe*!

Ironically though, none of the walkthroughs told me the solution to one of the puzzles. I was literally about to give up in frustration when I suddenly thought “Four spheres! Four statues! Duh!“. Trust me, it makes sense in context. Still, the puzzles in this episode are occasionally of the classic nonsensical “point and click” variety.

For example, in order to reveal a hidden message in a bathroom mirror, you have to cover it in steam. The game gives you a clue about this. So, you explore the mansion and notice a gilded pipe leading from the bathroom to a wood-burning stove in the kitchen. Simple, you think, just light the stove and then turn the hot tap on (after all, the bathroom contains a radiator, so it should have hot water too). But, no, this does nothing.

Yes, if there's a (possibly historically inaccurate) radiator, then there should probably be a working hot tap which is capable of generating steam.

Yes, if there’s a (possibly historically inaccurate) radiator, then there should probably be a working hot tap which is capable of generating steam.

After a few minutes of frustration, you’ll probably check a walkthrough and learn that you have to go pixel hunting for a kettle (which is a collection of pink, red or blue pixels on one of several shelves that just give generic descriptions when you look at them). Once you’ve found the kettle, it then has to be heated on the stove and taken upstairs (quickly) to the bathroom. Oh joy!

Although episode two isn’t quite as creepy as what I can remember of the first season, it certainly has it’s moments. I don’t want to spoil too much, but the ending to this episode is probably one of the scariest moments in the game.

 Hmmm... part of the wall has just collapsed and the music has just got creepier, but I'm sure I'll be able to leave this accursed cavern without incident..

Hmmm… part of the wall has just collapsed and the music has just got creepier, but I’m sure I’ll be able to leave this accursed cavern without incident..

Episode three is titled “The Reunion” and it takes place on a small Irish island. This is probably the most atmospheric episode of the game and it has clearly been inspired by “The Wicker Man”.

Well, *ahem* heavily inspired.

Well, *ahem* heavily inspired.

This episode is probably the creepiest of the four, with mysterious statues, fog-shrouded villages, masked people, creepy children, lurking horrors and spooky ancient legends. Likewise, the puzzles in this episode aren’t that bad. Yes, I had to use a walkthrough a few times, but I actually managed to work out a couple of them without a walkthrough.

Episode four is titled “Beyond The Curtain” and it is probably the most visually spectacular of the four episodes. Just look at this cool Salvador Dali-inspired location:

Now, where did I leave my watch?

Now, where did I leave my watch?

Taking place in a strange realm, you get to revisit a couple of locations that look like something from the first season. Creepy shadows lurk in every corner, giving you flashbacks to some of the first season’s backstory. This episode is probably closest in tone to the first game and there are some brilliantly creepy moments here:

 Long live the new flesh!

Long live the new flesh!

Woooooooo!

Woooooooo!

WHY isn't MORE of the game like this?!

WHY isn’t MORE of the game like this?!

But, although this is more of a ‘storytelling’ episode, the designers have insisted on adding a few ridiculously challenging puzzles. Luckily, I had a walkthrough on hand, but if you hated loved the fog puzzle from the first game, then you’ll get to see something similar here. Likewise, knowing how to play the piano and read sheet music is possibly a requirement for one of the puzzles if you don’t have a walkthrough.

This episode also has two possible endings, which revolve around a decision that you have to make at the end of the episode. From what I can gather, both endings are intentionally ambiguous – with no clear “good” or “bad” ending. Plus, as you might expect, the ending leaves more questions than answers.

The collector’s edition also includes a very short “minisode”. This contains little more than two or three minutes of gameplay, and only a tiny amount of interactivity. It’s a cool addition, although it pales in comparison to the larger number of minisodes in the first season.

Like with the first season, the sound design in season two is absolutely spectacular. Not only is there lots of brilliantly ominous classical music, but a lot of the horror in this game comes from the astonishingly realistic creepy sound effects (eg: mysterious whispering, foreboding footsteps, screeching birds etc..).

All in all, the second season of “The Last Door” isn’t quite as good as the first one. Yes, you get a lot of answers to questions that the first game poses, but it isn’t quite as scary or atmospheric as the first game was. Yes, there are more areas to explore and each episode actually feels like a small adventure game in it’s own right (complete with fast-travel maps in a couple of episodes). But, it lacks some of the drama, scariness and thrills of season one.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would maybe just about get a four.

Review: “The Last Door: Collector’s Edition” (Computer Game)

2017 Artwork The Last Door Review Sketch

Well, it’s been a while since I played a horror game – so, I thought that I’d check out an indie game from 2014 called “The Last Door: Collector’s Edition”.

Before I go any further, I should probably point out that this game is the first half of a continuous two-part series (I haven’t got the second game yet [Edit: I write these articles/reviews quite far in advance, so the second game will be reviewed in July]), so don’t expect it to contain a complete story.

I bought a DRM-free download of this game last summer during a sale on GoG for £1.39. However, at the time of writing, the game costs £7.99 at full price. The GoG version also comes with downloadable extras (eg: a MP3 copy of the soundtrack etc..) too. For comparison, the game costs £6.99 on Steam at the time of writing, but it obviously also comes with all of Steam’s “internet connection required” DRM.

I should probably also warn you that this review might contains some SPOILERS and some (unrealistic) DISTURBING AND/OR GRUESOME IMAGES.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “The Last Door: Collector’s Edition”:

The last door - Title screen

“The Last Door: Collector’s Edition” is a four-part point-and-click horror game set in Victorian England.

You play as a man called J.Devitt who is investigating the mysterious suicide of his old friend Anthony Beechwood. This investigation takes him on (the first half of) a disturbing journey, where madness is only inches away and malevolent forces lurk just out of sight….

Yes, when the opening scene of a game looks like THIS, then it probably isn't going to be one of those "cheerful" horror games.

Yes, when the opening scene of a game looks like THIS, then it probably isn’t going to be one of those “cheerful” horror games.

The first thing that I will say about this game is that it is actually a horror game! Don’t be fooled by it’s cartoonish pixellated graphics, this game is a proper, old-school horror game!

It's Forest! He's been pecked to death by ... Ooops! Wrong game!

It’s Forest! He’s been pecked to death by … Ooops! Wrong game!

Unlike some modern “designed for ‘Let’s Play’ videos” horror games, “The Last Door” actually contains a variety of different types of horror. Yes, there are a few well-placed jump scares, but they are merely the icing on a very bloody and very disturbing cake.

As well as a gradually building atmosphere of tension and mystery, the game also includes a variety of genuinely disturbing events, creepy background details, gruesome tableaux, ominous locations and chilling in-game documents. This is how you make a horror game!

So, yes, scenes like this AREN'T the only type of horror in the game...

So, yes, scenes like this AREN’T the only type of horror in the game…

The main inspirations for this game are H.P.Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe, and the developers do a good job at emulating these writers (thematically, the game is closer to Lovecraft – but many of the game’s events are closer to Poe) whilst also giving the horror in the game a slightly bloodier and more modern twist too.

Although the bloody writing looks like it's been drawn in MS Paint (using a mouse), this scene is significantly creepier in-game! Especially now that I've looked at the screenshot again, remembered the backstory, connected the dots and suddenly realised that it wasn't JUST a random "shock value" scene.

Although the bloody writing looks like it’s been drawn in MS Paint (using a mouse), this scene is significantly creepier in-game! Especially now that I’ve looked at the screenshot again, remembered the backstory, connected the dots and suddenly realised that it wasn’t JUST a random “shock value” scene.

One interesting feature in the game is that each one of the game’s four episodes begins with a short interactive scene where you control another character, who performs some kind of incomprehensible and/or disturbing sequence of actions (eg: you actually play as Beechwood in the first scene of the game).

Not only does this create an ominous sense of mystery, but it also helps to show that there are events that happen outside of the main character’s knowledge or control.

Some of the horror in this game is also counterpointed with rare moments of dark humour. Although most of these are fairly subtle Poe/ Lovecraft references (as well as a cynically hilarious fable about a rabbit), one stand-out moment is an old-timey film that you’ll see during one of the cutscenes, which somehow manages to be both extremely gross and extremely hilarious at the same time (probably due to the combination of jaunty piano music with the events of the film):

Yes, this is probably the only screenshot from it that I can show without spoiling the gross hilariousness of it.

Yes, this is probably the only screenshot from it that I can show without spoiling the gross hilariousness of it.

However, as creepy as the game is – the first half of the game is probably slightly creepier than the second half. Although the latter half of the game certainly has it’s fair share of creepy, disturbing and/or shocking events, they lack of some of the ominous sense of mystery that the first two episodes have.

The fact that the game’s Lovecraftian elements also get slightly more convoluted and “mysterious for the sake of mysterious” in the later parts of the game doesn’t exactly help either.

 Yes, when words like "zha'ilathal " start appearing, some of the horror turns into silliness!

Yes, when words like “zha’ilathal ” start appearing, some of the horror turns into silliness!

As for the gameplay, it’s fairly standard “point and click” gameplay. You talk to people, read documents, find items and solve puzzles. Nothing out of the ordinary here.

In the first episode, the puzzles are reasonably straightforward and logical. As someone who is terrible at adventure game puzzles, I took this as a good sign. However, by about halfway through episode two, I found that I had to consult a walkthrough on a regular basis.

Yes, some of the later puzzles can be solved without a walkthrough (and some of them made me think “duh!” when I looked at the walkthrough) but there are at least a couple of puzzles that border on moon logic:

Fun fact: To get this tree to grow to this size, you have to use a musical instrument in an unusual way in another part of the level.

Fun fact: To get this tree to grow to this size, you have to use a musical instrument in an unusual way in another part of the level.

However, THIS puzzle is the kind of annoyingly cryptic thing that used to turn up in the original "Silent Hill". Seriously, you'll probably need a walkthrough here...

However, THIS puzzle is the kind of annoyingly cryptic thing that used to turn up in the original “Silent Hill”. Seriously, you’ll probably need a walkthrough here…

The visual style of this game is fairly interesting though. Although the ultra-large pixels make the game’s occasional moments of “pixel hunting” significantly easier, they were initially one of the things that made me mildly wary about this game. Although I really love cartoonish 1990s-style pixel art, I vastly prefer this art style when it contains lots of visual detail (eg: with slightly smaller pixels). So, ironically, I was mildly reluctant to play this game because of it’s ultra-primitive graphics.

However, thanks to the game’s compelling and chilling story, I soon ended up ignoring the super-blocky graphics because I was too immersed in the story. In addition to this, I have to admire how the game’s designers can create the impression of some fairly detailed landscapes using only a relatively small number of pixels:

Yes, this somehow manages to look both extremely blocky AND extremely detailed!

Yes, this somehow manages to look both extremely blocky AND extremely detailed!

Wow! Just wow! Art made with gigantic pixels should NOT look THIS detailed!

Wow! Just wow! Art made with gigantic pixels should NOT look THIS detailed!

In terms of length, this game is certainly on the shorter side of things. Each of the game’s four episodes can be completed in an hour or less (possibly slightly longer if you don’t use a walkthrough).

Although the “Collector’s Edition” of the game also includes four additional semi-playable, non-playable and/or fully-playable vignettes in the “extras” menu, which help to flesh out some of the backstory, they are all extremely short too (each one is three minutes long at most). So, for length reasons, I’d recommend waiting until this game goes on special offer if you’re buying games on a budget.

For example, this bonus scene is literally nothing more than one medium-sized dialogue tree.

For example, this bonus scene is literally nothing more than one medium-sized dialogue tree.

I should probably also mention the game’s soundtrack too, which is the kind of wonderfully ominous and opulent classical soundtrack that you would expect to see in a game like this (despite the game’s visual style, the music is high-quality recorded music, rather than MIDI/ Chiptune music). It really helps to add a lot to the creepy atmosphere of the game. Plus, if you get the game on GoG, then it comes with a MP3 copy of the soundtrack too.

All in all, this is a much better game than I expected! Yes, it is only the first half of a larger story, but it is probably one of the creepiest horror games that I’ve played in a long time. Even though some of the puzzles are a bit too convoluted and/or tricky for my liking, it’s still an extremely compelling and disturbing game. It’s proof that you don’t need a large budget, lots of jump scares and/or flashy graphics to make a genuinely chilling horror game.

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

Review: “The Shivah” (Computer Game)

2016 Artwork The Shivah Review Sketch

As regular readers of this blog probably know, I’m a massive fan of Dave Gilbert’s excellent “Blackwell” series. Although I finally bought the fifth game in that series during a sale on GoG earlier this year (you can see my review of it here), I also bought a DRM-free download of another game by Dave Gilbert called “The Shivah” at around the same time.

Before I go any further, I should point out that I’ll be reviewing the revamped 2013 version of “The Shivah” here (although the original version from 2006, as well as the soundtrack are included as extras in the GoG version of this game ). At the time of writing, this game costs £3.49 at full price, although you can get it for less than £1 when it is on sale.

One minor technical point that I should also mention is that this game doesn’t run in fullscreen mode by default. So, if you want to play it in fullscreen, then you’ll need to select this in the “settings” program that comes with the game before you play, since there’s no way to change the screen size in-game.

I should also warn you that this review may contain some SPOILERS, but I’ll try to avoid major ones.

So, let’s take a look at “The Shivah”:

The Shivah Title screen

“The Shivah” is a short 1990s-style film noir detective “point and click” adventure game.

You play as Rabbi Stone, the rabbi of a small synagogue in New York that has certainly seen better days. After finishing a sermon early because the sole remaining member of his congregation has fallen asleep, Rabbi Stone retires to his office. However, it isn’t long before there is a knock on the door.

Yay! It's Detective Durkin :)

Yay! It’s Detective Durkin 🙂

The Cantor tells Rabbi Stone that a detective wants to see him. It is none other than Detective Durkin (from the “Blackwell” games). According to Durkin, a former member of Rabbi Stone’s congregation has died and bequeathed him $10,000.

Although Rabbi Stone needs the money to keep the synagogue running, he feels morally conflicted about accepting it and, since Durkin has his suspicions about the bequest too, Rabbi Stone decides to investigate the matter himself….

Well, it'd be a very boring game if he didn't.

Well, it’d be a very boring game if he didn’t.

In terms of the story of this game, it’s a reasonably good film noir-style detective story. However, the story is rather slow to start and the game doesn’t really start to get dramatic or thrilling until somewhere between halfway and two-thirds of the way through the story.

Again, it wouldn't be a very dramatic game if the investigation didn't ruffle a few feathers.

Again, it wouldn’t be a very dramatic game if the investigation didn’t ruffle a few feathers.

When the story finally picks up the pace, it’s almost as dramatic and compelling as the final “Blackwell” game is, which is to say that it’s very compelling. However, you have to wait quite a while to get to this point in the story and, thanks to the game’s short length (I completed it in about an hour and a half), the dramatic parts of the game don’t last that long.

As for the characters, they’re reasonably good. Due to the short length of the game, there isn’t a huge amount of time to seriously develop the characters – although this actually works in the game’s favour, given that it takes heavy inspiration from the film noir genre (where characters are often intriguingly mysterious). Still, you’ll learn a reasonable amount about some of the characters over the course of the game.

Interestingly, the villainous characters in this game are actually made more menacing by the fact that you get a few hints about their backstories, but the worst parts are mostly left to your imagination.

One cool thing about this game is that, although it isn’t a “Blackwell” game, it takes place in the same universe as these games do and there are at least a few subtle references and familiar faces. I love it when different stories take place in the same universe, so it was really cool to see this here. However, you don’t need to have played the “Blackwell” games to enjoy this one.

Yay! It's Rosa Blackwell! And, technically, Joey Mallone too. Unfortunately, and accurately, Rabbi Stone can't see him though.

Yay! It’s Rosa Blackwell! And, technically, Joey Mallone too. Unfortunately, and accurately, Rabbi Stone can’t see him though.

As for the gameplay, it was slightly more challenging than I expected. Although there thankfully aren’t any inventory puzzles, I had to check a walkthrough at least a couple of times. Like in the earlier “Blackwell” games, most of the puzzles are dialogue/clue based puzzles that require careful observation, deduction and internet searches.

Most of these puzzles are fairly well-designed and reasonably logical. They also fit in with the detective-based storyline of the game really well. So, be sure to read everything carefully, take notes during the dialogue and remember that the characters in this game are terrible at choosing secure online passwords.

In addition to this, one cool feature is that if you hold down the right mouse button, all of the hotspots in each room will be highlighted.

Yes, there's no pixel hunting in this game :)

Yes, there’s no pixel hunting in this game 🙂

I’ve only even seen this feature in a couple of other adventure games and it can come in handy occasionally.

This game also includes an achievement system and, although this is a rather cool feature, the achievement notifications are fairly prominent and they can break up the flow and tone of the gameplay slightly (especially when a cheerful achievement message pops up after or during some sombre dialogue).

Yay! At least SOMETHING good has come out of this terse conversation with a mourning widow.

Yay! At least SOMETHING good has come out of this terse conversation with a mourning widow.

One interesting thing is that this game contains multiple endings and these are also slightly affected by some of your actions earlier in the game. When I played the game for the first time, I got one of the many bad endings. When I re-loaded a saved game and made some different decisions during the final scenes, I got another bad ending. It was only after I consulted a walkthrough and that I was eventually able to find the good ending. Even then, it took several attempts. Seriously, the ending is the most challenging puzzle in the game.

As for the religious theme of the game, I can’t really comment about how accurate the religious details are (and there are probably some religious/cultural references that went completely over my head too). But the game also includes some explanatory text too (eg: Rabbi Stone carries a Yiddish dictionary, which acts as a glossary for some of the dialogue.)

Even though he uses words from it in the dialogue, he still carries the dictionary. Not that I'm complaining though, since I only knew a couple of the words from the dictionary.

Even though he uses words from it in the dialogue, he still carries the dictionary. Not that I’m complaining though, since I only knew a couple of the words from the dictionary.

As for how Judaism is portrayed in the game – it’s portrayed in good, neutral and bad ways at various points in the game. Since this is a film noir-style game, many of the characters (regardless of their religious beliefs) are morally ambiguous in some way or another.

In terms of the graphics, the 1990s-style pixel art graphics here are fairly detailed and it’s always great to see this awesome graphical style in modern games 🙂

In terms of the voice acting, it’s reasonably good. The best voice actor is probably Abe Goldfarb, who does a fairly good job as Rabbi Stone. Plus, it’s always cool to hear him in a game (given that he voiced Joey in the “Blackwell” games). Rabbi Stone sounds like a fairly cynical guy, almost more of a classic detective than a religious leader.

The music in this game is reasonably good and it sounds totally appropriate for all of the settings and situations that you encounter. Peter Gresser’s soundtrack is also included with the GoG version of the game as a complimentary MP3 download too, which is a really cool bonus.

All in all, “The Shivah” is an ok adventure game. Although it takes quite a while to really get going, there are certainly some dramatic moments in this game and it also does the whole “film noir” thing fairly well too. It’s reasonably short and it isn’t perfect, so it’s probably best to wait until it’s on special offer if you’re unsure about whether you’d enjoy it or not.

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

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.