John Saul's Blackstone Chronicles

1998 Legend Entertainment
Designed by Bob Bates
Reviewed 1999 October 17

Rating +1 Linearity straight
Reasonability deductive Connectivity moderate
Difficulty easy Relevance strong
Interface 1st paned simple Real-time occasional

Your dead, ghostly father, Malcolm, wants you to continue his life's work researching insanity. To force you to do so, Malcolm has kidnapped your son, Joshua, and is keeping him prisoner inside the defunct insane asylum that Malcolm used to direct. You must find where Joshua is hidden and defeat Malcolm. You can get help from other ghosts at the asylum, if you first help them find their peace.

There's more to the story than first appears, as you learn more about the asylum, Malcolm, and yourself. The plot is spare, until the finale, just a sequence of quests for various ghosts. The backstory, however, is filled in nicely throughout the game. The horror of the asylum is slowly built up, with lots of detail about the individual inmates. The characters are very interesting, with more depth than you first expect; they are not caricature loonies.

The challenges are all very relevant. They are believable parts of the asylum, and they are natural parts of your quests. The biggest drawback is that they are too easy, providing little challenge. This is unfortunate, since many have the makings of good challenges, ruined by too obvious clues. Some slight changes in dialogue could make this a difficult game with interesting challenges.

There are several timed sequences, but these are textbook examples of how to properly use timed sequences in an adventure. They involve only a few clicks over a minute or two of play, testing the speed of your wit, not your fingers. Furthermore, if you fail (and die), you are automatically restored to just before the start of the timed sequence, and you can optionally get hints for the sequence, or even the solution.

Unlike most adventures of its era, Blackstone does not use 360 degree views. It instead uses the old fashioned slide show, with video transitions. There are a few tricks used to make it seem like 360: you can always face four directions from each location, and turning causes a horizontal sliding of the image. The scene images are very clear, detailed, and varied, more so than usually seen in 360 degree engines. The scenes have a photographic quality; you feel like you are in a real building, not some sterile (however "gritty") 3D model.

The play interface is very well done. The inventory is quickly available and easy to use, without disrupting the main view. Dialogue trees are also nicely done. Transitions can be skipped via right-clicking, so running about the asylum can be done quickly.

Blackstone is an ideal game for novice adventurers. The emphasis is on story and exploration, with a beautiful presentation. The drawback is that it is a short, very easy game that provides almost no challenge for grizzled spelunkers.

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.