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Blackwell Series (English version)

Blackwell pentalogy consists of five point and click adventure games developed with Adventure Game Studio by Wadjet Eye Games. I find it to be extremely interesting to see how Wadjet Eye Games and this series evolved hand in hand. Moreover, to influence the satisfaction I felt while playing these games, there’s probably the fact that I more or less know Dave Gilbert’s history as a developer. Dave is the founder of Wadjet Eye Games and, currently, one of the developers I follow most.

Dave Gilbert was at the very beginning of his developer career and his former idea was to release a new game every 6 months. But then, the amount of work increased and that’s basically why Wadjet Eye Games became also a publisher, instead of being just a developer.

New professionals, such as his wife Janet, joined Dave’s team, helping him working hard in delivering those projects in which Wadjet Eye Games was labelled as a publisher.

The results are easy to spot: Gemini Rue, Resonance, Primordia. I think that all of them are great examples of an excellent job done.

That said, The Blackwell Series indeed helps to write the story of the professional growth of a team full of passionate people in stone.

The former idea for The Blackwell Legacy, the first title of the series, originally takes place in another game by Dave Gilbert, Bestowers of Eternity – Part One (2003), also developed with Adventure Game Studio and widely appreciated among the tool’s community members. Today it’s official description says: “Consider this a distant cousin [of The Blackwell Legacy], of sorts.”

The Blackwell Legacy (2006)

Blackwell Legacy, screenshot

In a New York that doesn’t need any introduction, there are two characters linked by an unusual bond. We’re talking about Rosangela Blackwell and her spirit guide, Joey Mallone, a noir-like character, equipped with that good sarcasm that only someone who has been dead for a while can actually have. So, Rosangela is a medium: someone who can act as an intermediary between the physical world and the beyond.

However, when we happen to meet her, we don’t know any of this and neither does she.

When we first see her, Rosa simply appears as a young and lonely girl who lives in the New York of the 2000s who is having a bad day. In fact, the first scene of The Blackwell Legacy shows us Rosa scattering the ashes of her late aunt Lauren into the sea, from the Brooklyn Bridge.

Freelance writer for a small newspaper (The Village Eye) and being an orphan, her only connection with her family was her aunt Lauren who, for most of her life, was locked into an hospital and constantly kept under sedation, because of an unique form of dementia.

Her small apartment, somehow reflects her personality, which is introvert enough for not being recognized by the doorman.

During this day that appears to become longer and longer by the minute, we will get in touch with Rosa’s past, present and future. To set the stage to what is going to become clear soon enough, there are a growing headache and the phone calls from Rosa’s aunt personal medic, which calls her in order to ask her some questions. “If I don’t go, he won’t stop bothering me” says Rosa. So better do that and get this over with.

At the hospital, other than getting more information about aunt Lauren’s illness, a theory will rise up: its heredity. Yes, because before aunt Lauren, also Rosa’s grandmother had the same form of dementia. That’s why Dr. Quentin is afraid that it will sooner or later happen to Rosa as well.

How nice it feels to inherit an illness from a family you didn’t actually meet?

Anyway, Rosa can’t stop to worry about this matter, since her boss is calling her to investigate and write a piece about the suicide of a girl from a local university campus.

So, a quarter of the game passes before this headache finds its real place within the plot. Someone may find this boring, implying that it takes maybe too much time to get to the point, but I say that since this is only the beginning of a long and great adventure it’s really ok that the plot “takes its own time” to be completely on the table.

It looks like that the legacy that the ladies of the Blackwell family share is actually the ghost of Joey Mallone, along with the task of putting unaware spirits to rest, convincing them to “move on” and finally leave the physical world.

A confused Rosa finds herself forced to bear this task, if only to avoid ending up like her aunt: in the grip of constant delirium and locked up into an hospital.

Plausibly, the five games invest largely into investigation. This unusual duo will have to solve many “cases” through dialog and observation. Rosa will write down many clues on her notebook or (in the following games) on her smarthone and literally she will find herself connecting her findings to find other trails to follow in order to solve each and every puzzle that the games will present us.

Likewise, each game will gradually increase the emotional and literary depth of the whole story, filling the game universe of characters, stories and anecdotes really well written by Dave Gilbert.

Blackwell Unbound (2007)

Blackwell Unbound, screenshot

The second game of the series, Blackwell Unbound is actually a prequel to the whole series and will put us in Lauren Blackwell’s (and Joey’s) shoes during the ’70s, when Lauren was “the family medium”. The emotional characterization experiences a great boost in this game and there are some moments which “force us” to immerse ourselves and take cognizance of this boost. For instance, Lauren, heavy smoker and day by day more unenthusiastic as a human being, between “one spirit and the other” really has to stop and smoke a cigarette outside her apartment’s balcony. While set during the ’70s, Blackwell Unbound for some time it felt more like the ’30s, thanks to some characters coming from the “jazz scene”.

Originally, Blackwell Unbound should have been only a flashback section in what became the third title of the series, The Blackwell Convergence, but since its development extended, it ended up being a title of its own.

From this episode on, it will be possible to switch between Rosa\Lauren and Joey, which will often lead to really funny situations, other than just helping solving puzzles.

Peculiar (and, in my humble opinion, spent in a really clever way) is the choice to include really existed characters within the game. I’m talking about Joseph Mitchell, a reporter for The New Yorker that apparently, after devoting much of his career to write about eccentrics and people on the fringes of society, suddenly stopped working, allegedly after writing about Joe Gould (which will eventually be featured in The Blackwell Convergence).

The Blackwell Convergence (2009)

Blackwell Convergence, screenshot

The third chapter of this story is set six months after Legacy and what probably separate it most from the previous titles is the lack of the “clues linking” mechanic. Anyway, it will be possible to use the PC in Rosa’s apartment where we can search for something on Oogle (Yes, Oogle :V) and use an email account on Bmail (Yes, Bmail :V).

Unfortunately for me, as I go on with this “retrospective” it’s more and more difficult to avoid spoilers, that’s why I’m forced to downsize what I’m writing (well, maybe it’s not a completely bad thing).

If from Unbound we will be able to switch between Rosa and Joey, for the first time we will be able to use Joey to “eavesdrop” conversations otherwise impossible to hear. It’s all part of the game, but it proves to be a really nice twist.

If Unbound began opening empty spots in the backstories of the different characters introduced, Convergence (don’t forget that Unbound originally should have been a part of it) filled them – even if not completely – aware that this task had to be accomplished by the fourth and penultimate title of the series: The Blackwell Deception.

The Blackwell Deception (2011)

Blackwell Deception, screenshot

To me, The Blackwell Deception represents another “turning point” in the series. Maybe (and I’d say head-to-head with the last episode The Blackwell Epiphany) it is the most “dark” title of the whole series. In Deception new suggestions take form and older knots in the plot will finally begin to be untied.

Marking the flow of time, Rosa will have a brand new smartphone which will completely replace her PC and notebook. Mail, web searches and notes will all be in it.

New shades of Rosa’s backstory will be discovered and the phone call of her former colleague at the Village Eye will serve as a Pandora’s Box for lots of plot elements that won’t stop coming until the very end. It gets clearer and clearer that Rosa has a role far more important than it seems.

Personally, I believe that playing Deception is like beginning an “introspective journey” that will end only halfway of The Blackwell Epiphany. Many of this episode’s characters (both alive and dead) are people who fail, who get confused and are insecure, in one word: human. There’s no lack of this kind of characters in previous titles, of course, but I think that here are better conceived and more deep.

This episode will also give us something more about Joey’s backstory, letting us build a stronger bond with him as a character.

The Blackwell Epiphany (2014)

The series finale. For this chapter Ben Chandler was hired as a full-time Art Director and you can really see the results. Chiaroscuro, reflections and attention to detail (which none of the previous chapters really lacked) are key characteristics of Ben Chandler’s style.

The renewed look, walks along with the player in the last chapter of this long trip between the two planes of existence. Playing, I’ve more than once felt the cold that overwhelms the city of New York with snow. The empty and frozen streets, the abandoned buildings and a takeaway coffee always in your inventory are only few of the details that build up this feeling.

During this 5-episodes long adventure, the city of New York grew darker and darker, as if it reflected Rosa’s heart, more and more accustomed and weary of the routing brought by her task of “ferrywoman of souls”, and at the same time expressed an invisible evil that was slowly taking over the city, growing by the day for who knows how much time.

In Epiphany, many will be the “epiphanies” and almost every character that we will meet will experience one. Dave Gilbert, in order to obtain this, has been very clear. One of the “cornerstones” of his writing for Blackwell, was to not force anything that he thought was obvious to the player. He lets the facts speak for themselves.

This, maybe, could represent a “double-edged weapon”, especially if you consider how the events follow one another in this last chapter, bordering on the deus ex machina. In an important work such as the one that ends a series, often may happen to leave some doubts, once that everything is over. But I want to think that in this case, both the quality and amount of work done by Wadjet Eye Games, turns doubts into “food for creativity”. This, by the way, may not be everybody’s cup of tea.


Blackwell Nighthawks, Ivan Ulyanov

"Blackwell Nighthawks", fanart by Ivan Ulyanov

If I didn’t write much about gameplay mechanics is because these are basically pretty standard point and click adventure games. Left click to interact and right click to examine. Very clever ideas, such as the “clues linking” in the first two episodes or the chance to switch between Joey and Rosa, often represent a proper “escape” from usual adventure games routine.

As said before, the series is filled with smart narrative expedients that increase its value.

Graphics, while keeping mostly lowres, still evolves and changes from episode to episode. What never changes is the attention to detail, which happens to be always pleasant and never “cheap”.

The soundtrack makes a really good job in providing the right mood to each and every adventure accomplished by Rosa and Joey and in Blackwell Unbound it even has a somewhat important role within the plot, which to me is always a plus.

Each game can be replayed with the developer commentary, which is extremely interesting especially if you want to know more about the series’ behind the scenes.

For all the adventure games aficionados or for all those who want to play something that evolves just like this series does, my personal advice is to play right away. I might be biased, both because point and click adventure games are one of my favourite genres in videogames and because I’ve read a lot about Dave Gilbert, Wadjet Eye Games and Adventure Game Studio community (which I can even say I’m part of!). In general I would really like that everybody could understand the real value of a product by considering also how much effort and genuine passion were spent to create it.

The first four episodes are contained in The Blackwell Bundle (Steam, GOG, Humble Store) for about €15. At the same price The Blackwell Epiphany (Steam, GOG, Humble Store). Also, from July, 10 the first three episodes are also available on iOS (follow the related links to find the other titles).

My vote for the overall series:




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