By Marty Mulrooney
The Blackwell Deception is the fourth instalment in the Blackwell series of point-and-click adventure games from Dave Gilbert and Wadjet Eye Games. Rosangela Blackwell and her spirit guide Joey Mallone return in a brand new adventure, this time delving into the underground world of street psychics.
The Blackwell Deception begins with Rosa and Joey tackling a bank robbing ghost onboard a luxury yacht upon the Hudson River. It is a suitably strong opening, reminding fans exactly why the unlikely adventuring duo are so much fun to spend time with and control, whilst also allowing new players to get the basic gist of what the series is all about.
After this highly memorable and exciting prologue, the real game begins. Rosa gets a call from an old writing colleague named Jeremy Sams, who explains that he is feeling ill and could use some help finishing a news story he has been working on. They agree to meet and go over the details. However, when Rosa and Joey arrive at Jeremy’s apartment, they find that he is now a ghost, in complete denial about his own death. What’s worse, it appears he has been murdered.
Rosa’s investigation soon leads her to a woman called Lisa Tenzin. Disturbingly, it appears this fraudulent psychic has been recommending her clients to a man known only as Gavin. Soon after meeting Gavin, these clients turn up dead of seemingly natural causes. Rosa and Joey must find the two most recent victims, both confused young women who are now ghosts, and help them move on – whilst also figuring out what actually happened to them. Furthermore, who is Gavin?
The storyline of The Blackwell Deception is involving and expertly put together. Rosa and Joey speak to a wide and varied cast of characters – both living and dead – throughout the course of their investigation. New York City is once again used as a detailed and stylish backdrop, with locations ranging from penthouse apartments to seedy downtown nightclubs.
In a move that will no doubt please long-time fans of the series, The Blackwell Deception delves deeper into Joey Malone’s past than ever before, as well as further exploring his complicated relationship with Rosangela Blackwell. There are some surprisingly moving conversations that take place in the game and Joey’s interactions with one ghost in particular – a dead girl dancing in a nightclub – are an absolute joy to behold.
The gameplay remains largely unchanged from the previous instalments. The player takes control of both Rosa and Joey, although Joey can only interact with items by blowing on them and can only speak to his fellow ghosts. Rosa does the majority of the actual investigating in the game, speaking to people and collecting clues/combining them to create new conversation topics.
The player no longer has to visit Rosa’s apartment to do a web search either as she can now simply use the internet capability of her Smartphone. The point-and-click interface is clean and simple – standard adventure game fare – with the small inventory used sparingly.
The puzzles are mostly solved through collecting clues and questioning other characters rather than by using items with the environment. Some players may not like this style of adventure game, but it is in line with the previous instalments of the series and does a fantastic job of making the player feel like they are actually solving a real, bona fide mystery.
The graphics in this fourth game are arguably the most accomplished of the series so far, with the backgrounds in particular standing out due to their increased detail and clever design. Although the character sprites are still fairly blocky, the brand new character portraits are highly detailed and – although not animated – change on a regular basis, accurately reflecting the moods of the characters. The graphics may hark back to adventure games from the early 90s, but there is no mistaking that this is a modern, highly polished adventure game.
The music compliments the visuals with style, mostly offering gentle jazz numbers as well as a powerful and emotional main theme. The music played in the nightclub location stands out in particular, perfectly suiting the mood of the scene. The voice acting rivals – and often outright surpasses – anything heard in any big budget game released this year. Rebecca Whittaker and Abe Goldfarb as Rosa and Joey have impeccable comic timing and genuine chemistry together. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: they are an iconic adventure gaming duo. A scene near the very end of the game, with Joey verbally slating Rosa – you’ll have to play to find out why – offers one of the most emotionally impactful moments I have experienced within the genre in a very long time.
The Blackwell Deception is a welcome addition to one of the most enjoyable adventure game series ever made. It can sometimes become unclear what you should be doing next and missing a clue can often result in aimless wandering – but for the most part the story unravels at a brisk clip that continually excites and delights. Yet the real reason you should play The Blackwell Deception is for Rosa and Joey – an adventure gaming duo made in heaven. A polished, engaging adventure that, although not short by any means, is over far too soon. Roll on Blackwell number five!
9 OUT OF 10