Sometimes a game can emotionally move you in such a way that it makes you feel that the game was made especially for you. Sometimes a game makes choices to tug at your heartstrings, rather than make your heart go faster. Sometimes a game flies in the face of what is conventional and in doing so makes something truly original. Sometimes there is game called Blackwood Crossing.
Blackwood Crossing is a story driven, first-person adventure game which explores the relationship between a young boy, Finn, and his older sister, Scarlett. You play the role of Scarlett who starts the game waking up on a train carriage that is rushing through the English countryside. You hear the voice of your brother calling for you to help, and so you get up to search for him. Very quickly Scarlett realises that something is wrong, something is strange and off colour, and when you cross paths with a mysterious figure with a rabbit head on, the journey into a world of magic, life, childhood and loss begins.
Comparable to games like Dear Esther and Among the Sleep, Blackwood Crossing mixes the strong emotional overtones of the game’s narrative with storytelling gameplay and puzzle solving. You move around the space with the controller and can interact with characters and objects using the action button. There are dialogue options in how you say your lines, e.g. bossy, gentle etc., but it doesn’t really affect the outcome, as the journey to be had is still a linear one. The things you pick up on trigger memories and thoughts connected to the past and the story. There are brilliant little mini-games, like having to pair the right conversation with the right person, in the right order. Or a game of Simon Says, or drawing butterflies, or…sorry I don’t want to spoil any more surprises. You also get special powers later in the game, like the ability to bring things to life and the ability to control fire.
But how does it play?
People used to the type of games I mentioned in the last paragraph will be used to the pace and tone of Blackwood Crossing. There isn’t a shoot button or a run button even; you just move evenly through the environments, discovering the secrets it holds. I personally love this rhythm as it makes you watch and look at the smallest of details the game has to offer. The action button works fine and the special abilities are a nice touch to deliver magic and fun to the game. The puzzles themselves are unique, interesting and not too annoying or difficult, and there are achievements to find that might make you want to replay the whole experience over again after completion. I never normally want to do this, but I think I might just delve back in this time around. The whole experience will take you between two or three hours to complete depending on how much time you take on the puzzles. This is a bit short for your buck, but sometimes when a game hits out an experience so darn well, it’s worth it. Blackwood Crossing certainly is that.
The story is key in any game of this genre. It’s the heart and soul of the product, while determining how successful the game can be. Blackwood Crossing delivers a beautiful, heart wrenching narrative mixed with dread, magic and comedy. The way the settings can suddenly switch from the mundane to the ethereal is breathtaking. Early on, the train itself turns into a garden and the driver’s carriage into a garden shed, which is something so powerful and majestic, that the whole thing won me over completely from that point. It’s hard to not spoil anything in this review, but the writing is superb, very British, and very unique. I feel it can appeal to all ages.
In the looks department the game is a visual treat. With its vibrant, stunning, colourful world, you will spend an enjoyable time taking in all the details that the developers have laid out for you. The characters look like they have been lifted straight out of an animated movie and the expressive facial work is brilliant, especially on Finn. There are many visual tricks that the game employs well, my favourites being the family stuck frozen in time with animal masks stuck on their faces, and the famous film posters with Finn pasted into them.
The soundtrack is awash with great moments and is a stunning piece of work, building and swelling at the right dramatic moments and then quietly adding an extra depth in the more magical nostalgic moments. The voice over work is expertly cast and the actors do a brilliant job in delivering a tight well-crafted script. The role of Scarlett deserves a special mention for the actress who becomes the heart and soul of the game.
I highly recommend playing Blackwood Crossing. Look, you will know whether this is the kind of game you might like by looking at the trailer or screenshots, but it’s a game about character, story and atmosphere, rather then high action. Even through it’s a tad short and the price is north of the £10 mark, it’s a beautiful, life affirming gaming experience that I won’t forget for a long time.