The interactive movie has been worming its way into the gaming scene, for a good while now, yet there is one company that has championed the genre; the leaders in the FMV market – Wales Interactive. They have created numerous games over the years from Five Dates to The Complex and more. The newest entry is that of I Saw Black Clouds; a game that introduces us to ghost stories and a host of suspense. So settle down and get your popcorn ready, we’re about to turn down the lights.
It’s the usual process with I Saw Black Clouds and any interactive movie like this; you play through the narrative, and enjoy four possible different outcomes according to some of the choices you make throughout. It’s a simple process but one that works, although I do think that it works better when you are put into the first-person perspective, playing as a role in one of the films, where it’s a bit more involved than here where you are left observing like a viewer in a movie. It loses some direct emotional impacts.
However, the story in I Saw Black Clouds is a very good one, and it does try to be ambitious in its scope and filmmaking. Yes there are occasions when it is all a bit rough around the edges, but the charm of the performances and the camera work that takes place ensures that it is an intriguing piece of work throughout.
The story follows the main character of Kristina who we start by seeing at a funeral. She has come back to her hometown after the unexpected death of her best friend from suicide, or something much more suspicious. It’s here where she starts investigating the death, learning of something dark and dangerous that leads her on an unexpected journey.
The storytelling of I Saw Black Clouds does several very surprising things: it doubts the narrator’s telling of the tale halfway through, and puts you on a completely different path to the one you think you are on. The film takes you into a realistic setting, plays around with the supernatural, and even goes back in time at one point for some historical scenes that tell part of the story. What I really enjoyed about the narrative is that it doesn’t try and explain everything about the plot, instead giving you enough information to try and draw some conclusions to the events yourself, as it plays with the notion of storytelling and the fears running through a person’s mind intense situations. It’s a game that is best to enjoy and then be discussed with friends afterwards.
Gameplay-wise – as it is with most interactive FMVs – there isn’t a lot to it. You basically sit back and watch things play out, making choices from dialogue trees as you attempt to respond to characters. These affect the outcome of the story and the personality traits of Kristina. At the end of one of the playthroughs, you are shown a breakdown of the personality of the lead, basically showing how you have played the game, with it covering five different traits: honesty, strength, morality, tact, and introspection. Each end will show how Kristina has dealt with the events in the story, and whether it’s through guilt or acceptance for example. You have points in the gameplay where you choose which direction to go in as well; simple things as you head left or right. It all works well and as I said before there are multiple routes through the game for you to discover. If you are a fan of the genre, and these types of games, then you’re going to have a lot of fun here.
The visuals mainly consist of film, apart from that of the menus and breakdowns. It’s very creatively filmed and attractively lit throughout. In fact, I tremendously appreciated how the camera free-flowed, following the main lead and bringing atmospheric anxiety to the work. Sometimes the pacing isn’t quite right though, and things could be a bit tighter in terms of transition between decision making and the film sequences.
In terms of audio and the soundtrack is excellent throughout. There is a moody synth track that underplays the horror and tension throughout; it is wonderfully tight and impeccably designed. There is some great original music here, mostly found in the party and club scenes, and some delightful vocals from Victoria Tew. Again when choices are being made there is a gap in the soundtrack that breaks the mood somewhat, killing the immersion. It’s a shame that in the edit this hasn’t been solved or fixed. The performances throughout are great though with a big shout out to Nicole O’Neill as the lead, Emily Persdotter for her physical work, and Larry Rew as the voice of reason.
I love the vast majority of what Wales Interactive do and that is the case with I Saw Black Clouds on Xbox. It’s a game that works as a solo adventure, but equally good with someone to throw ideas off, dictating the decisions you make. This is made more apparent by a decent addition for streamers, one that pauses the action when a decision is needed so you and your audience can decide which path to go down. On the whole though, if you’re after your next FMV fix – either alone or with friends – prepare yourself for I Saw Black Clouds.