Platform: PC (reviewed)
Developer: Wadjet Eye
Point & click adventure games have enjoyed a renaissance over the last few years thanks to the rise of digital distribution platforms... but mainly because the demand has never diminished. We want meticulously crafted puzzles. We crave witty dialogue and memorable characters. We thrive on the satisfaction of finally nailing that last solution that was staring us in the face all along. And Wadjet Eye Games have delivered. Gemini Rue blew us away with its sprawling narrative and Blade Runner-esque art design when it released back in February, and Blackwell Deception has upped the ante by providing a mechanically perfect, brilliantly paced and thoroughly unique adventuring experience.
Pay attention, adventure fans: this is probably the most fun you'll have all year.
Deception is the latest iteration of the Blackwell series that casts players as a spiritual medium-for-hire. Rosangela "Rosa" Blackwell's success as a consulting supernatural detective stems partly from her analytical mind... and has a lot to do with the fact that she can actually talk to ghosts. Most importantly, she's got a partner in crime: Joey Mallone, a deceased private detective from the noir era who supports her with street smarts and plenty of wisecracks. Throughout the entertaining storyline (which stands alone for newcomers but provides some more plot development for series fans), this unlikely duo will pound the gritty streets of New York, solve a sinister mystery and meet several new members of the spirit world in an attempt to guide them to their final rest. And maybe find love along the way? Who knows.
Rosa handles much like any classic adventure protagonist. She can collect items, interact with the scenery and solve puzzles based on physical objects. The point & click mechanics are absolutely spot on: streamlining the affair into simple left click interactions, right clicks for commentary and a drop-down menu. In an interesting twist, though, hardly any of the solutions rely on tediously combining random objects together; instead, you'll just have to use common sense to get the job done. Her handy MyPhone allows you to collect clues from the game world and combine them together into new dialogue options or search the web for more information. It's a slick and rewarding mechanic that sets Blackwell Deception apart from practically any of its recent peers. Telltale has nothing on Wadjet Eye.
However, you'll frequently need to switch over to Joey with a quick Tab jab - who can use his incorporeal form to pass through solid objects and float to otherwise inaccessible locations. As a ghost, he can only blow on items (moving them slightly), meaning that you'll need to work out exactly how to use his limited physical presence to advantage. Many puzzles rely on tight cooperation between the two characters, which adds an exciting new dimension to the gameplay. A little lateral thinking works wonders - as does making sure that you don't overthink some of the more obvious solutions.
As raw gameplay terms, therefore, Blackwell Deception is an absolute masterpiece. Its puzzles are clever, well-paced and reward brainpower without ever becoming frustrating. But Wadjet's latest title also has something else, an X-factor that elevates it above the competition. It's got soul. No ghostly puns intended.
The characters are brought to life by witty dialogue that's packed with subtle, dark humour. It caresses your funny bone rather than screams for attention; a classy and rich narrative experience. Rosa and Joey are both eminently likeable and thoroughly relatable, and each boasts their own unique idiosyncrasies that carry over into the gameplay as well as the script. For example, as an exile in a time he doesn't fully understand, Joey's item descriptions replace modern terminology with phrases he can deal with - such as substituting "GPS Computer" with "map thingy." It's a tiny detail for sure, but one of a host of tiny details that serves to make Blackwell Deception's New York such a rewarding place to be.
Speaking of New York, we need to finish by mentioning the art style and presentation. Blackwell Deception is a lavish homage to the SCUMM Engine golden age; a detailed, hand-pixelled and attractive package that we would have lauded amongst the LucasArts classics of yesteryear. It's not quite as long as I'd hoped (clocking in shorter than Gemini Rue), but with gameplay and dialogue to match, I can't give Wadjet Eye's latest project anything less than a wholehearted recommendation.
- Puzzles are perfectly balanced and paced
- Witty dialogue, likeable characters
- Impeccable retro presentation
- It's not a first person shooter
- It's not 3D
- Who cares?
The Short Version: Blackwell Deception is an astounding example of point & click excellence... and probably the best traditional adventure game of 2011 so far. It's got perfect puzzles, likeable characters, a lavish presentation and a personality all of its own. Be sure to try it out if you have even a passing interest in the genre.