John Saul's Blackstone Chronicles: An Adventure
Review by Jen
John Saul is a renowned author of psychological horror stories.
After reading Steven King's The Green Mile series, Saul
employed the same serial short novel format to release The
Blackstone Chronicles (now available in a single volume).
The first in the series, An Eye for an Eye: The Doll, was
published in 1997, and the series was finished by the sixth, The
Asylum, within a short span of months. The series was centered
on the families of the fictional town of Blackstone.
I have not read any of the Blackstone Chronicles books.
I usually equate horror with the more Lovecraftian themes of foul
beings unleashed to wreak havoc on the world by innocent incantations
of the unwitting protagonist, and monster stories just aren't
my bag, daddy-o.
As it turns out, the only monsters in Blackstone are human.
The Blackstone Chronicles, the game, takes place some
years after the Asylum has closed. The Blackstone Historical Society
has turned it into a museum, and renovations are almost complete;
in fact, opening day is tomorrow. You play as Oliver Metcalf,
son of the doctor in charge of the Asylum, Malcolm Metcalf. Malcolm
is not happy about the fate of the building, nor what's become
of you, his son. As the game opens, Malcolm spirits away your
own child and locks him in a secret room of the Asylum in an attempt
to force you to follow in your father's footsteps. Only problem
is, Malcolm is dead. You must find Josh before dawn if you are
to save him ... and yourself. In your quest, you will meet several
inhabitants of the Asylum. These will help you but only if you
help them first, at your own peril.
The game is played in the first person. This is one of those
point-and-click Quicktime games that were so prevalent in the
mid- to late 90s, but unlike others of its ilk, this one gives
you little transition movies in between turns or steps. The in-game
graphics are crisp and clear, but these transitions are dark and
grainy. After I played the whole two-CD game without ever disk-swapping,
I wondered what the other CD was for. Well, duh, the second one
had all the high-resolution movies. Of course I'm much too lazy
to go back in and see if there's any difference. But at the time
the game released, I bet the high-resolution movies were beyond
all but the nerdiest computers' capacity and the regular ones
were so everyone could play. At any rate, if you play through
the game with the right mouse button instead of the left, you
can skip the transitions entirely. They are all worth seeing exactly
once each anyway, so no love lost there.
There are three or four places where you can die in the game,
always as a result of not solving a timed puzzle quickly enough.
But fear not, these timed puzzles are quite easy and even if you
die you are given three choices: hint, solution, or restart at
your last move and try again.
Gameplay is mostly inventory-based. You find several items that
you can take immediately, and the ghosts will give you most of
your cluesclues to new rooms, where to find other items,
or how to use items you already have. You get further info by
reading the various displays scattered throughout the museum by
the Historical Society, and other hints are gleaned from diaries
Conversations with the ghosts are via conversation trees. Oliver's
spoken dialogue, in a nice twist on an old device, does not match
the clicked-upon option; rather, the option displayed serves merely
as an indication of what path the conversation might take. The
conversations are an important element of the game; unfortunately
there is no option for subtitles, but fortunately you may replay
dialog as many times as you like just by clicking on the dialog
The voice actors all do a nice job. You, Oliver, speak mostly
in a calming deadpan, and your father, Malcolm, takes on the affect
of a patient teacher with a recalcitrant pupil. Other actors are
a pretty mixed bag, ranging from acceptable to very good.
The Asylum's locations are relatively few, and new areas open
up in small doses. Early in the game, you find a gigantic ring
of about 200 keys. Of course it's pointless to try each key on
a locked door, so as you progress you will need to find someone
willing to tell you what key fits in which door. At a certain
point in the game, all of the no-longer-needed locations will
be closed off to you, which serves nicely to save a tired player
from endless tromping around.
Graphics and music are pretty middle-of-the-road; I suspect that
was the case even when the game was released in 1998. The strength
of the product lies not in its outward appearance but in the tales
that are told. As in Amber,
Morpheus, and the more recent Dark
Fall, you must piece together snippets of the life
stories of the characters that once populated this place and help
cut the ties that keep them earthbound. In The Blackstone Chronicles,
however, you are faced with the added dimension of the horrors
that were visited upon the hapless Asylum residents in the name
of science. You will certainly find yourself wondering who among
the characters was really insane, the inmates or their keeper.
The game's pacing is nice; revelations occur in a gentle, steady
stream instead of a couple hours of tedium followed by a big burst
of confusing activity. The Blackstone Chronicles is not
particularly difficult; there were only two or three times I resorted
to a walkthrough. Each time, I could've arrived at the solution
myself with a bit more patience and persistence, so I feel a little
guilty about that. But what can I say? The suspense was killing
The Blackstone Chronicles is an excellent game for beginners;
none of the puzzles are nonsensical in that inimitable Monkey
Island fashion that we all know and love, and they all serve
to propel the plot ever forward. But it is also a tasty treat
for the more jaded adventurer because of the strength of the narrative
and the skillful intertwining of all of the subplots. I give it
my highest recommendation, the Four Fat Chicks Gold Star.
Developer: Legend Entertainment
Publisher: Red Orb
Release Date: 1998
Four Fat Chicks Links
Windows 95/98 (played fine in XP with included Quicktime
180 MB free hard disk space
8X CD-ROM drive
32 MB RAM
24-bit PCI video card with 2 MB RAM
DirectX 6 compatible sound card
Mouse and keyboard
Where to Find It
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