Decades ago, adventure games stood at the forefront of the gaming industry. They offered compelling stories with twists and turns, and mysteries to solve. Technology was a limiting factor and a quality story with relatable characters could be just what a game needed to elevate it and make it worth a purchase. As technology progressed, these adventure games began to die out in tragic fashion thanks to increased budgets that simply could not support the smaller income promised by an adventure game. Recently, however, we’ve had wave after wave of new adventure games. The indie scene has breathed life into the once forgotten genre and nowadays an adventure game must go above and beyond to stand out in the crowd. That’s where Blackwood Crossing comes in.
Right from the beginning, Blackwood Crossing introduces us to Scarlett and her younger brother Finn, who’s bursting with energy and is hopeful he can pry a bit of Scarlett’s attention away from her phone and social life. The dynamic between Scarlett and Finn feels real. There’s love and there’s fighting, two things anyone with a sibling likely knows very well. While there are occasional dialogue choices that can establish Scarlett’s character, her actions are set in stone so she ultimately travels down the same path with Finn. The two play off each other in a very believable fashion and their relationship is the primary motivator for continuing the story.
The story itself doesn’t work quite as well as Scarlett and Finn’s relationship. The major issue is that it’s hard to see where it’s going to go. The game begins on the train with no context at all. Who is Scarlett? Why is she there? Why are she and Finn on the train alone? None of these questions are answered at the beginning. Instead, you’re tasked with following Finn around the train and interacting with the characters aboard it. The result is a story where you’ll be confused by just about anything that occurs, especially when it starts introducing magic and cutting storylines off abruptly, only to restart from the beginning. It seems the developer was trying to foster a bit of mystery, but they’ve taken it too far and the end result is more frustrating than interesting. The only bright side is that all the mysteries are ultimately explicitly or implicitly answered.
The other characters likewise stand in stark contrast to Scarlett and Finn. There are a few people in masks that Scarlett believes look like people she knows, but thanks to the masks and severely limited dialogue lines, numbering less than ten each for most, these characters are completely unrelatable and only serve as faceless pieces to move around the story. They do have a part to play, but it’s minor. An adventure game lives or dies by its characters. Scarlett and Finn were an excellent start but the story is waylaid by the shells with which it needs to work for its other characters.
For an indie game, the production values are quite good where the developers have put effort into them. The entire game is fully voice-acted and it helps a lot to breathe emotion into Scarlett and Finn especially. Even the other characters benefit from voice acting; while they’re not much, they would have been worse off without a voice. Likewise the artistic direction is fantastic, conveying jovial play, rage, or sadness whenever appropriate. Unfortunately, these high production values in those areas came at the expensive of variety. The story can be completed in less than two hours with each of the game’s four areas repeating at least twice and some as many as six times. Variety is important, but the voice acting is a huge boon to the story and the artistic direction can sometimes remedy the repetition, so the developer put their resources toward the right elements and the game is certainly better for it.
Adventure games typically come in one of two forms. There’s the classic style where you’re constantly solving puzzles by scanning your surroundings and using the right objects in the right places. Then there’s the modern style where the game plays more like an interactive movie than an actual game. Blackwood Crossing falls somewhere in between these two identities. Its puzzles are few in number, extraordinarily easy, and have very little variety.
Aside from some activities using fire and shadow later in the game that can barely meet the definition of puzzle, the only puzzle gameplay involves matching bits of dialogue. Characters will be scattered about a room and you’ll need to pair them up based on single sentence conversations they’re having with each other. The first time you encounter this it’s a bit confusing, but once you work out what it is you’re meant to do then it’s far too easy, especially when characters use the name of the person to whom they’re talking. These puzzles aren't fun either and while the characters talk during them, most of the time they add little to the story. The game might have been better excising them completely.
The rest of the gameplay involves walking around and highlighting objects for inspection. Confusingly, these elements are abysmal. The walking speed is incredibly slow. Never is there a story-related or gameplay-related reason to force the player to walk slowly, which makes Scarlett’s pitiful crawl nerve wracking. Highlighting objects is even worse, often requiring the cursor be placed perfectly to trigger an interaction. You’d think that simply aiming at a poster would be enough, but instead you’ll need to spend 10-15 seconds hoping to finally move the cursor over the pinpoint that you need. Likewise, conversation should be initiated with someone from either side of them, but the game will not allow it. Instead, you must aim at a specific part of their face or body, which changes by character and the situation. These design failures are simply baffling and the overshadow every element of the gameplay completely.
Luckily, the achievements are extremely easy. There are a few story-related achievements, 16 collectibles, and a number of missable achievements related to inspecting objects in the world. A first playthrough will earn most achievements in under three hours without any guide at all since the game is linear and short. Repeat playthroughs are even quicker, coming in at about 45 minutes, so cleanup is a breeze. Of course, you could get them done in under an hour if you follow the official site walkthrough.
SummaryThe question for Blackwood Crossing is always going to be one of value. For most games, a confusing story, lifeless supporting cast, mediocre puzzles and shoddy controls would condemn them to obscurity, but it’s surprisingly easy to forgive Blackwood Crossing — do not let the length of the pro’s and con’s list mislead you. With a short completion, excellent main characters, and good production values, the highs reach far higher than the lows. It’s an altogether lovely experience, especially if you have siblings to relate to, and it stands clearly among the better adventure games available on Xbox One. The only issue is its cost. This is a game that would firmly benefit from a sale, so I suggest you keep your eyes out because you won’t want to miss this memorable experience.
- Scarlett and Finn's sibling dynamic is fantastic and believable
- Voice acting is well-done
- Artistic direction is excellent, conveying the right emotions at the right time
- Controls and movement speed are atrocious
- Supporting characters aren't fleshed out much
- Puzzles are too easy
- Repetitious environment
EthicsThe reviewer spent 5 hours playing through the game three times. He unlocked every achievement for 1000 Gamerscore. An Xbox One download code was provided through the ID@Xbox program for the purposes of this review.
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