The myth of Baba Yaga is one that has appeared in games a few times, most notably as DLC for Rise of the Tomb Raider. Based on Slavic folklore, Baba Yaga is a woman, a witch or occasionally a trio of sisters, sometimes seen as the villain or a benevolent samaritan depending on the tale being told. She famously lives in a hut that has magical properties, capable of moving around on its own, protecting Baba Yaga herself inside.
Blacktail, the latest game from Focus Entertainment dives into the mythology to deliver a unique take on the myth. Let’s get fantastical.
Blacktail has an incredible sense of world-building and myth-making in its creative juices. The world is alive with fauna, magical creatures, and a whole array of visual narratives. The story puts you in the shoes of Yaga, a young woman you find at the start of the game by a fire in the wilderness. She is looking for her sister Zara who has gone missing. She has also been spurned from her village for being magical and childless. Soon, the game starts following her sister as she comes across the magical hut of Baba Yaya’s myth. A voice talks to her about choices between light and dark and then she is off on a magical journey across the world…
The story is told well, delivered in increments rather than giving you everything from the start. I won’t spoil it, but along the way you meet strange creatures like a termite queen who you can send to a village to either destroy or not. And then there are giant mushrooms that talk to you and give you quests. The whole tone of the game feels as close to Alice in Wonderland as you are going to get, especially in terms of a strange journey through a weird and wonderful magical land.
In terms of gameplay, Blacktail takes the format of an FPS. You can move around the world as you would expect, crouching for stealth and running if needed. There is some jumping and climbing to be had but nothing out of the ordinary from the usual gaming set plays. There is combat to be had too, yet whether you love or hate the mechanic will pretty much come down to how you feel about a bit of archery. Personally, for me, it’s something that feels fun to begin with, but can get a bit frustrating as you go on throughout the game.
Blacktail also presents you with an array of different magical creatures to battle on your journey. It’s a hard game even on the story setting, mostly as you get a small amount of health to start within the game and it’s very easy to get overwhelmed before finding that it is all but game over. Save points are strange affairs too, involving gaining and spending flowers, whilst there are teleport areas to get you around the map. Further to that comes a survival-lite element to the gameplay which involves a very unique mini-game to do with cooking meat. The is a skill tree system where you can get extra magical abilities to help you along the way like a magical dash and extra abilities to your archery skills.
It’ll probably take you around fifteen hours or so to complete Blacktail, with plenty of side missions and completion things to do if you are that way inclined. But this is very much a game that, like a fine wine, gets better with age. The more you progress, the more you’ll find it a struggle to put down. That’s amplified by the systems of light and dark, the choices that affect the game in more ways than can imagine, keeping you interested all the way through.
The world looks beautiful too, running lush colours and amazing design choices throughout. The creature design and the magical use of characters are a graphical highlight. In fact, Blacktail has that great visual quality which urges you to explore every nook and cranny, all because the place looks so inviting and intriguing. The sound design in terms of score and effects is sublime as well, with some brilliantly delivered voicework fitting perfectly with the character design choices.
I’m not a massive fan of archery in games but it’s pretty much only that which can be seen as a downside to Blacktail. In fact, the world, the story, and the whole journey truly make up for the focus on arrows. Blacktail is not an easy game, with some tricky combat situations and big boss battles, but it’s a game that allows Focus Entertainment to end their great year on a high.
Blacktail is on the Xbox Store