Blackwell Unbound

Review by Old Rooster
October 2007

"Friggin' Spooks" —Joey Mallone

One of my gaming delights of the past few months has been to discover the inventive and enjoyable adventures of Dave Gilbert. As an independent creator, Dave has chosen to use a simple graphic engine, emphasizing story, writing, and character development. He has given us three mysteries—The Shivah, a story of a cynical rabbi who finds sinister complexities in an unexpected gift of money; The Blackwell Legacy, the saga of a medium named Rosa and her spirit guide, Joey, charged with investigating the dilemmas of ghosts of recently deceased who do not want to move on for some reason; and this latest treat—Blackwell Unbound.

Joey has been around for awhile. We discovered in The Blackwell Legacy that he is particularly attached to Rosa's family. As to whether that's a blessing or curse, the jury's still out. His ghostly presence seems to date back to the 1930s or 1940s, looking like something out of a Sam Spade novel, coming across in a flip and sexist fashion, wheedling and pushing his living companions (Rosa's family—present and past) until they give in and join him in his apparent assignments. I've grown rather fond of Joey, talking like him around the house.

The Blackwell Legacy makes reference to Joey's travels in an earlier time period, specifically with Rosa's aunt, Lauren. With Blackwell Unbound, we join Lauren and Joey in 1973. They seem almost like a couple, "living" in the same apartment, reading the newspaper to discover strange incidents worth investigating, arguing back and forth. Lauren is quite different from her niece, Rosa—not nearly as neurotic but still rather bitter about life. She seems reluctantly willing to work with Joey and does generally accept the plight of the "lost souls" they find. Indeed, these grounded spirits typically represent by their presence that a crime of some kind has occurred.

"You Can Relax Later, Sweetheart. Let's Finish up These Cases First." —Joey

You'll notice my review emphasis is on backstory, situation, characters. And that's as it should be. This detective-adventure presents in a way that might be initially shocking. The resolution appears to be 640×480, with noticeable blockiness and pixelation. Movement is third-person, entirely mouse-controlled, scene by scene. Background details and coloration are nicely done, within the context of the engine's limitations. Close-ups of speaking characters look good, with some lip-synching.

Game mechanics are "adventure-standard," with a case list, notebook, subtitles, ability to save anywhere. An author's commentary and photo album are options. Left-clicking provides movement, while right-clicking examines objects and items. Being a detective-adventure, the game emphasis is on talking with NPCs, fully exploring conversational trees, finding and combining some items, putting clues together.

Blackwell Unbound presents Joey and Lauren with two, possibly connected, cases—a lone spirit saxophonist who refuses to communicate and an apparently crazed ghost at a midtown construction site. Our detective duo works to resolve the dilemmas of the apparitions and investigate the potential larger issues of crime and malfeasance.

A new feature in Blackwell Unbound is the ability to switch at will (using the tab key) between Joey and Lauren. This allows each of them to use his or her particular strengths to accumulate information—e.g., Joey can walk through fences, Lauren can speak with the living.

"Okay, I'm Finished. Let's Get on with This." —Lauren

Blackwell Unbound is a pair of flashback episodes, originally intended to be a part of Gilbert's upcoming Blackwell Convergence. However, he felt they could stand alone nicely and wanted to get a game out to his growing fan base before Convergence could be released. We're very pleased he made that decision.

Blackwell Unbound is a gem. It's relatively short and can be finished in one long sitting—about five hours in my case. And you will want to finish once you start. Gilbert's writing sucks you in. You'll laugh at the dialogue, feel the frustration of trying to pry secrets out of ghosts, and finally join in the satisfaction of Joey and Lauren as you and they piece together your hard-earned clues to resolve the dilemmas and solve the crime.

Oh, and did I mention Blackwell Unbound is only $9.99, available directly from Wadjet Eye Games? Needless to say, this second in the series earns my high recommendation. I can't wait for the upcoming Blackwell Convergence. The End


The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Wadjet Eye Games
Publisher: Wadjet Eye Games
Release Date: September 2007

Available for: Windows

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