The Black Mirror

2003 Unknown Identity
Designed by Michal Pekárek, Pavel Pekárek, Zdenek Houb
Reviewed 2003 December 10

Rating +0 Linearity narrow, segmented
Reasonability sporadic Connectivity high
Difficulty pedestrian Relevance strong
Interface 3rd paned simple Real-time minor

After many years away, you return to the family castle in northern England for your grandfather's funeral. His death was mysterious, and you quickly learn that he was researching a family curse. As you try to follow you grandfather's research, more mysterious deaths pile up.

There's a large cast of characters. They're not deeply defined, but they're more than simple plot and challenge devices. The protagonist, Samuel, seems to want to be nice, but frequently reveals a surly disposition.

There is an attempt to build suspense with the growing body count, but the story never properly develops this whodunnit aspect. It dwells instead upon the history of Samuel's family, and becomes a scavenger hunt for five ancient keys. By the end, the murders are forgotten, and it's not clear who killed some of the victims, and how. There are many unanswered questions. Even your motivation is unclear: Whay are you pursuing this research so obsessively? Samuel runs roughshod over others, to the point of criminality, but no motivation is given until the very end. This means you spend a part of the game detached from the protagonist, as he acts apparently out of character.

Although the story is uneven, it is well paced by a large number of challenges and triggers. Most of the challenges are fairly easy, but with just enough difficulty to focus your attention on the game world. There are a couple of real-time challenges, but the timing is generous. Most of the challenges are relevant, but there are a handful of outright puzzles.

In the first half or so of the game, you often have to wander all over looking for a new hotspot or conversation topic. Towards the end, the game reverses and starts leading you, telling you things, even telling you what to do next.

There's a regretful discontinuity between the player and Samuel. You often know what to do, but can't yet do it because you haven't hit the right triggers yet. Conversely, especially towards the end, Samuel comes up with a plan and talks you through it, before you can be reasonably expected to formulate such a plan on your own. Between one and the other, there is a feeling of being dragged through the game rather than becoming a part of it.

Death is possible, and there's no auto-restore. Usually, the danger was obvious, even explicitly telling you so for one situation, but there are a few instances that require resurrection.

One nice, somewhat unusual aspect is the frequent reuse of inventory. Some objects are used many times for various reasonable purposes, breaking the lock-and-key feeling that adventures are prone to have.

The interface is well conceived, but there are several minor issues:

Visually, the game is a treat, with beautiful locales, good animation effects, even good character puppets. Sound effects were good, but the voice acting was weak. Characters frequently spoke very slowly and with an unnatural cadence. The protagonist was the worst, making it very noticeable. It wasn't outright bad, but it was distracting.

Although the game design falls short in many ways, there is little that is annoyingly bad. There's a lot to do in an interesting and beautiful setting. It's intriguing and fun while it lasts (and it lasts a good while), even if the ending is unsatisfying.

Beware! Here are some spoiler-ridden notes on the game. They're only recommended for people who have played the game and want to see some of my rationale for my evaluations.
David Tanguay's Game Reviews
Here's a description of all the gobbledygook in these reviews. It's also a bit of an essay on the nature of adventure games.