Tag Archives: Vision Games

Blackwood Crossing Review

After checking out the trailer for Vision Games Publishing LTD’s Blackwood Crossing, I was expecting another typical mystery puzzle game, but it’s much more than that.

You start your journey staring out of the window of what appears to be a traditional English train… Your younger brother is being typically annoying, so you go to investigate the trouble he’s causing… Gradually, you realise that this is no ordinary train journey, as things start to become more and more surreal.

As time went on, I grew more and more frustrated with little elements of Blackwood Crossing. The design of the train carriages didn’t quite seem right; a classic Victorian carriage, with sockets? Finn, the younger brother, was becoming increasingly irritating (as I can imagine younger siblings can be). I also found the movement speed too slow, especially during a particular sections which involved puzzles which require you to go back and forth between elements. Without any option to increase the movement speed, only the look sensitivity, I had to just persevere.

Blackwood Crossing

Another frustration with Blackwood Crossing is that sometimes it feels like the story loses its way. Scarlett, the young lady you play as, gains these special powers, but you’re not entirely sure how or why. You soon realise that they’re to solve particular puzzles, but even now I have no idea what the relevance of these abilities are.

Then, it suddenly clicked. Without spoiling anything, the purpose of the story suddenly became clear. It was at this point, about half an hour before the end, that the emotional aspect of Blackwood Crossing hit. And it hit, hard.
Blackwood Crossing calls itself a “story-driven adventure game”, which I’m not disagreeing with. However, the “adventure” plays much like a puzzle-adventure game of the point-and-click variety. A particular scenario, which I felt worked really well, had you matching up different sides of a piece of dialog between two NPCs. It made you concentrate on what they were discussing, and really take in the story. This is a mechanic used throughout the entire game, and really drives the story forward.

Blackwood Crossing

Graphically, Blackwood Crossing is a good looking game, employing the “stylised-reality” theme seen in games such as We Happy Few and Bioshock Infinite. This style plays well with the surreal-fantasy elements of the game, and allows the story to take precedence. The styling of additional characters instantly grab your interest, and portrays each personality perfectly. For example, because each additional character wears a mask (I won’t tell you why, you have to wait to find out), each are instantly recognisable, and allow you to easily identify who are members of your family.

One slight let down was the voice recording. There appears to be times when the actor playing Finn loses his accent, pulling you out of the immersion. Other lines, for other characters, sometimes came across as slightly disjointed from the conversation, and didn’t portray the emotion fully that you were expecting. However, the soundtrack which accompanies the adventure stays true to the overall feel of the game. Giving an excellent base to the emotion of specific scenes, and allowing you to roll through the adventure beautifully.

Blackwood Crossing

In summary, I felt Blackwood Crossing lost its way at points, but never fully lost me. The constant pull of finding out what the hell was going on, was too strong. The story, itself, is an emotional rollercoaster, one minute leaving you cursing the antics of Finn, the next finding yourself chuckling at his endearing stupidity. This is a game that you must play to truly understand just why it is such an emotional rollercoaster. I can honestly say, that Blackwood Crossing is the first game to ever make me shed a tear, it was that powerful.

Blackwood Crossing isn’t a long game, taking around two and a half hours to complete, but it’s one you can certainly go back to. Sure, the story won’t have its original twists and turns, but there are items strewn throughout for you to collect, and dialogues to revisit to really understand your first experience. If you enjoyed the story-driven wonder that is Firewatch, you won’t go far wrong with this.

Blackwood Crossing is now available on Xbox One for £12.29.

Thanks to Vision Games Publishing LTD & Xbox for supporting TiX

review

There are certain games out there that revel in the darker side of humanity; titles like Evil Genius, Plague Inc., Dungeon Keeper, Overlord, and now 101 Ways to Die. These are titles that explore those evil ‘what if’ scenarios you occasionally play-out in your head.

“What if I created a plague that wiped out 99% of the human race?”

“What if I built a grand dungeon full of traps and torture chambers to quell any hero who dares oppose me?”

“What if I wanted to create a comprehensive book on 101 different ways to kill someone?”

Indeed that last question is answered here, and of course it’s approached in a comical and somewhat light-hearted way. In 101 Ways to Die you are tasked with aiding Professor Ernst Splattunfuder in placing a set of devices, in a multitude of different chambers, with the intension of brutally maiming and killing the mindless lab creatures known as Splatts, so you can record 101 different ways to kill them in a book.

This delightfully deranged concept very much feels like playing the opposite of Lemmings, and it’s terrifically and gruesomely satisfying. Each level gives you a limited set of devices to place which must then achieve specific types of kills on the handful of Splatts that are released into it, preventing as many of them as possible from escaping unharmed. Often you’re tasked with achieving a single specific kill that will earn you one star, with bonus objectives earning you the remaining two in a familiar three star rating system. Completing the bonus objectives can prove particularly difficult, challenging you to kill all Splatts on a level and frequently asking you to perform a kill with a specific device or even combination of devices and environmental hazards. It can get tricky early on.

101 ways to die 1

101 Ways to Die falls into that same pit that point ’n click titles so often do, with developer logic not translating to the player. Some levels are baffling, asking you to perform kills that seem impossible or too dependent on luck. However, as you go about placing your maiming, burning, slicing, flinging and exploding devices, and watch the Splatts spawn from their fixed points and path-find their way to the exit, things do begin to reveal themselves.

There’s clearly thoughtful and clever design at work on each of the levels. The set of devices you’re given are more than enough to achieve all the objectives and earn you those three stars. What seems insurmountable at first can often be broken down with a little trial and error and study of how devices work together, as well as the paths the Splatts take and the timing of their spawns. And as you learn more about how the physics and devices work with each passing level, you’re soon equipped enough to go back and annihilate those Splatts that avoided your traps the first time around.

101 ways to die 2

However, the challenge soon ramps up further, with the introduction of modified Splatts that can, for example, run faster or take more damage. This complicates things and forces you to rethink your tactics. Timing becomes more important, as does choosing the right devices for the right Splatt. It turns from reverse Lemmings to a more sinister form of Mouse Trap, and the satisfaction grows alongside the challenge. However, by this point the cracks in the experience have also grown.

101 Ways to Die’s audio is woefully underdeveloped. Sound effects are few and far between, with only the odd splat and boom heard as Splatts meet their doom. No music accompanies the slaughter either. There was an opportunity here to add some extra character to the title. Grunts as the Splatts marched across the screen, some more screams and yelps, along with better sound effects from the devices and an upbeat tune, would have all done wonders for the overall presentation. We also encountered a handful of bugs, with devices disappearing randomly and even Splatts dying from no cause or even whilst they were spawning. Additionally, levels are unlocked based on the amount of stars you have and the cost proves a little steep, often presenting us with a locked level because we had missed a couple of stars. It was a disappointing pause on otherwise well-paced progress.

101 ways to die 3

There’s no denying the dark, comical aesthetic and gruesome concept works; the satisfaction of setting up a perfect obstacle course of death is delightful. However, the poor audio presentation really hurt the atmosphere, and the occasional bug and star grinding also hurt the overall enjoyment. Still, if you’re looking for a physics puzzler with a dark twist, 101 Ways to Die will scratch that itch gloriously. It could certainly have been better but what’s here is still fun.

Thanks to Xbox and Vision Games for supporting TiX