Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Blackwell Unbound Review

Blackwell Unbound took a different approach to all of the other games in the series, in that it featured Rosa's aunt Lauren in the lead role.  It was originally meant to be a flashback scene in The Blackwell Convergence, but Dave Gilbert decided to flesh it out into its own full game.  This ended up being a wise choice, as it's a meatier game than its predecessor, as Lauren is a very different character than Rosa, so the differing dynamic between her and Joey makes for a refreshing change of pace.

As the main character is Lauren Blackwell, who had already died at the beginning of Blackwell Legacy, the game takes place 35 years in the past from the main timeline, in 1973.  Lauren has a very different personality than Rosa, so the dynamic between Joey and herself is like day and night, leading to a refreshing change of pace from the rest of the series. The story depicts a pivotal moment in Lauren and Joey's relationship, at a time when helping souls get to the afterlife has gotten mundane.  Things are shaken up quickly once they get a lead on two seemingly unconnected spiritual sightings, that turn out to be connected in a way neither of them thought possible.  The story in this game is even better than the first, allowing the player to play either case first, or even simultaneously, and weaving the story line throughout them seamlessly.

The game play is much the same as the last game, as it is mainly an inventory puzzle based adventure with some moments when Lauren must use her notebook to combine pertinent information to find connections.  There is now an ability to search for clues, much like the internet interface in The Shivah, however, since this is set in an earlier time period, Lauren must use the phone book to find leads.  The most notable change in this game is that Joey has now become a playable character.  Icons for Joey and Lauren have been added to the menu bar, and either character can be selected at any time.  This new mechanic adds a great deal to the game, as Joey's ghostly form means that he can find evidence that is out of Lauren's reach.

The art style is similar to the first game, with pixelated backgrounds and characters.  However, the detail in the backgrounds has been improved.  There are no character closeups this time, so the characters aren't given expressive facial features when they talk.  Mouth movements are now relegated to the low resolution sprites, and text appears over their heads, as in LucasArts adventure games.  This is a bit disappointing, as the character portraits allowed for more expression than is possible with the low resolution sprites, but, as it always had with LucasArts games, this type of presentation ultimately does work well.

As the game has multiple cases, it is much longer than before, and, as such, there is more music this time around as well.  All of it is done very well, and some of it is quite memorable, particularly the piano pieces from the jazz club.  The voice quality has also improved this time around.  The noise variations and loud sibilance in some of the recordings that were present in the earlier games by Wadjet Eye Games are no longer present. The exception of the older woman characters, who, like Edna in Back to the Future: The Game, come off sounding unnatural as they're younger women trying too hard to sound older.  The rest of the cast, including Joey and Lauren themselves, are quite good.  Abe Goldfarb in particular seems to have settled into the role nicely, giving a great range of emotion in his role of Joey.

The bonus material also makes a return here.  There is a commentary track available in the menu, as before.  However, this game brings optional tracks that can be found by using the camera on certain characters in the game.  The additional tracks include commentary by other members of the crew, as well as bloopers by the voice cast.  It's nice that Wadjet Eye Games continues to provide these with their games, as they are completely optional, and provide a nice insight into what goes on behind the scenes for those who do choose to listen to them.

Blackwell Unbound is a fantastic followup to an already great debut.  Other than the lack of character portraits, the rest of the game has been improved upon the original in every way.  The story is bigger, as is Joey's role in it, as he has become a playable character in his own right.  The music is more memorable this time around, and the voice quality has been improved.  With the exception of a few unnatural sounding voices, most of the voice work is well done.

Final Verdict:

4 out of 5

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