The Black Mirror
Release date Czech Republic: 12/2002
Release date North America/France: 10/2003
Developer: Unknown Identity
Publisher Czech version: Future Games
Publisher NA-version: The Adventure Company
Publisher French version: Micro Application
Game and manual in English
ESRB content rating: Mature 17+ (Blood and Gore, Violence)
A review by slydos 28th December 2003
From our neighboring country, the Czech Republic, comes the mystery/horror adventure "The Black Mirror" in 3rd-person point&click style, which has been already published there one year ago titled "Posel Smrti" (= The Dark Messenger).
The game comes on 2 CDROMs together with the English, black-and-white illustrated manual in a mini flip box. Also in the box the copy protection code, which must be entered once during installation. With each start the inserted CD2 is examined for this code, before you can go on. "The Black Mirror" needs 2 GB free space on your fixed disk, is otherwise content with a P II and 64 MB RAM.
After the smooth installation you get to the main menu (the logos can be clicked away), where the crimson-coloured castle Black Mirror serves as background. will-o-wisps are moving in the darkness and a haunting, exciting music theme arises. The - of course crimson - menu options consist of the standard functions new game, load, save, options, credits and quit. Likewise nothing unusual in the options menu, where one can adjust volume, screen and sub-titles. All menus and in-game zoom-views are consistently left by a click on an arrow in the lower right screen corner.
After we started a new game, an exciting intro informs about the last minutes of William Gordon, to the owner of Black Mirror. Although a bit blurred, this video sequence is the by far best of the game, because the old man's movements are absolutely realistic. He writes a letter to his grandson Samuel Gordon, asking him for help in his investigations... Sometime during this stormy night the castle owner falls from the tower window and ends on a fence pike at the ground (a reminiscence on Hitchcock's "Spellbound", German "I Fight for You"). The first of 6 chapters begins with a brief meeting of the home coming funeral party. We become acquainted with Samuel Gordon and slip into his role from now on.
The story takes place in the year 1981 (ante cell-phone-era) somewhere in England and Wales. Samuel was not in his homeland Black Mirror for 12 years and returned to the funeral of his grandfather. He doubts that William committed suicide and tries to find out more independently from the police. During his investigation he uncovers some family secrets and it seems that also supernatural powers are involved. A second dead one is found at Black Mirror and again the cause of death is not clear. Is there a curse, actually resting on certain family members and what is the cause of the mysterious deaths? Which secret was William going to disclose?
First the plot develops like a whodunit story, becomes however more and more dark, creepier and more macabre. Sam hangs about cemeteries, deals with corpses and must walk about more than half of the game through thundershowers. The solution for Samuel and the players is foreseeable starting from a certain point, but the actual end of the game nevertheless comes somewhat surprising.
The very extensive story of "The Black Mirror" is extremely absorbing. Even if the players are busy with the search for objects or information most of the time, the demand for an explanation of the occurrences does not diminish. From time to time there are interspersed moments of shock, which produce more than slight goose bumps and caused that the game is classified from 17 years and up.
I don't want to spoil the story, so I can unfortunately only suggest, what displeased me: while the game is structured convincingly up to the end, one finally notices some illogical events and connections, which open more questions than there are answers retrospectively. The game experience is not really troubled by that, but afterwards one is disappointed a little that everything was not so coherent, as one could assume.
Nothing to criticise concerning the controls. "The Black Mirror" is exclusively mouse-controlled. Our protagonist follows our mouse-clicks on the screen. If you click on a hotspot (the cursor changes its color into red and a text description is shown), Sam follows and we get a comment in each case. If useful, a clicked item disappears in the inventory while faded in as small icon for a moment in the left upper screen corner. Most of the once clicked hotspots become inactive after that, are only beautiful scenery or serve as one-time information. Other hotspots can be clicked several times and provide always new information.
It is remarkable indeed, how much efforts were made with comments and explanations on hotspots. The developers really were concerned about it and tried to imagine how the the players might proceed, because many questions, which flash through your mind when looking at a scene, are answered by Samuel's thoughts always logical and comprehensive: "Why can't I enter this room or can't take that item away etc..".
Some hotspots, objects or characters, but also inventory objects, can be likewise clicked with the right mouse button, in order to execute a special action or to zoom them and get special information. This possibility of interaction is not characterized in particular - a delightful aspect of the game.
The cursor changes its shape to a door, where there is an active scene exit. With the TAB-key all scene exits are shown at once. With a left-click Samuel leaves the area, with a double-click he does it faster.
At a certain point of the game Sam finds a map of the area, which he takes with him in the inventory. It is used by right-click to get to the different main locations.
If the cursor changes into a bubble, we can speak with other characters. The topics are represented by icons at the bottom of the screen. We should click them all one after the other, to miss no important information. We should carefully listen to the conversations, since it's not possible to repeat dialogues or parts of them. In order to speed up dialogues (e.g. to skip the flowery phrases), one can use the left mouse button, the space bar or ESC. During some conversations Sam can select between a negative or positive answer (laughing or grim mask-icon), which serves however only for entertainment and has no influence on the course of the game. If we've switched on the sub-titles, Samuel's text appears in another color nuance. His comments, which are not addressed to dialogue partners, are always framed by hyphens.
The game screen is on top and bottom framed by two narrow black bars. If we touch the lower black bar, the inventory appears, where always ten object icons can be seen simultaneously. If there are more, we must scroll. On mouse-over we get a text description. The objects can be used with left-click at the game screen (the cursor takes the object's shape and is highlighted over hotspots). With a right-click we put back an object, because it otherwise remains there, if we cannot apply it to a hotspot. Right-click on an object in the inventory lets us manipulate or zoom it. Inventory objects can be combined too. The new created object again appears for a second in the left upper screen corner. Not necessary, but a nice addition are the noises, which are assigned to the different inventory objects, if we try to use them. Suitable quiet sounds in each case, like a rattling, rustling, metallic sounds, etc..
If we go to the upper right screen corner, the main menu symbol appears. Here we can store an additional text description in 24 save-slots. When overwriting a previously saved game there is no safety inquiry. We automatically return to the game after saving.
If we leave the main menu with Quit, the screen is blackened from both sides and we hear the eerie sound of a heavy door slammed and return to Windows on the spot.
There is little to improve at this control. Unlimited savegames and the last saved game on top of the list, to avoid scrolling. To understand the handling only minimum time is necessary, only the use of the right mouse button is somewhat unusual. All other functions are immediately clear also without studying the detailed, illustrated manual. After a few minutes the gamers can immerse into the game and don't need to think about the handling but only about the story. Who needs some help at the beginning, gets a walthrough of the first 10 minutes at the end of the manual.
The numerous puzzles in "The Black Mirror" are object-/inventory based predominantly. But it's not only to find and use the correct object but also to combine them within and outside the inventory. Sometimes those items disappear from inventory, what tells us that we won't need them again. Other objects and substances remain there after first application and can be useful again in other places. At the end of the chapter the inventory is automatically bowdlerised. If we travel e.g., we carry only the most necessary items.
The object-based puzzles range from very simple to medium difficult, are made more difficult by the intentional nearness of hotspots and by the fact that NOT simply everything is collected what is not nailed down, but only what we actually need at the moment or what we are informed about. A lot of doors must be opened and also some keys must be found, but for each particular of these homogeneous tasks a different solution has been invented. Paper under door functions only once what Sam notices with regret.
But not only the access is often refused, but also sometimes the exit. Suddenly a door slams or Sam falls into a mine shaft. So the developers created closed subplots, where a set of puzzles must be solved necessarily without local changes, before we can get ahead.
And there are actually objects and situations, which are so dangerous for our hero that he can die - partly in a very macabre and bloody manner. A small film, which can be skipped like all other film scenes by mouse-click, then shows us his gravestone and leads automatically back into the main menu. Such Game Overs occur however rarely, but in some degree surprisingly.
Some puzzles are timed (but can be mastered with 2-3 attempts) and cannot be finished without Sam's suitable, fast reaction. Other puzzles are also time-dependent, but you only have to wait for a certain date or time, in order to meet someone or execute a certain action.
A second important puzzle category are the dialogue-based puzzles. Samuel must talk repeatedly and in detail with everyone and receives bit by bit many mosaic stones, which finally serve for the clearing-up of the mysterious events. Interlocutors supply not only objects but also information, after which Samuel can start further investigations or find objects. Other characters must not only sounded out but also distracted or outwitted. None of these actions happens out of the blue without any impact on Samuel or any for the gamer audible consideration or comment.
Beyond that "The Black Mirror" still contains quite a number of other puzzle types: Logic puzzles, sliders, machine puzzles, a puzzle with paper scraps, a mini labyrinth, coding puzzles, knight-moves, even knowledge puzzles in which we have to take the solution not from the game but either from our memory or an encyclopedia (but honestly, which experienced adventure fan doesn't know the arrangement of our planets, the zodiac, Roman numbers etc. standing on the head meanwhile?).
Except the knowledge puzzles there is no task, which could not be solved by clues within the game (and those are always thick and fat). In addition one notices the labour, to answer all arising questions before, during or after a certain task logically by Samuel's comments. But by these efforts to play it safe also the spirit of the game gets a little lost. So there are no real brainteasers, the game remains on its whole length of 30+ hours in the easy to medium difficulty range also caused by the large linearity of the plot and the sequence of the puzzles.
I believe that the quantity of the puzzles, their logic, variety and their good fitting into the story will extremely satisfy the majority of players, even if new ideas are rather rare.
To tell the story of Black Mirror, the game also needs a lot of text. We get to know the most facts by dialogues with other characters and Samuel Gordon's thoughts. Beyond that we get information by documents, diaries, letters and other written material, always read out by Samuel's voice, which then changes into the voice of the author. Who might be bored by this, can read the sub-titles and skip the spoken texts by mouse-click, however always risks to miss something important.
Which can be really nerving during the many dialogues, is the warm-up time, which all characters need until they turn to Sam in slow motion speed and open their mouth. Afterwards follow some very slowly and clearly spoken words in the style of some TV-learning-shows. In addition nearly all characters talk with a mysterious undertone, even if it's about normal everyday things. And Sam too doesn't raise his voice when making a joke (about the gamer), e.g. after many, many (intended) futile attempts to get an object: "It wasn't really hard to pull it out."
The German dialect of the pathologist Dr. Heinz Hermann, the Asiatic of the head nurse and the stammering patient Ralph in the sanatorium are nice features. The voices get different reverberation, whether Sam is outside, in a hall or a room laid out with thick carpets. Exactly the same with the sound of steps, even if you only run for two steps on a different floor covering.
The orchestral music always sets in, when we enter new scenes, with film sequences or if suspense should be raised. It excellently supports the dark and creepy atmosphere. Likewise excellent the various, well matching noises. Ticking clocks, dripping water, fountain ripple, wind, crackling fires, cloudbursts and frightening thunder in irregular intervals, sibilance, door slamming, birds twitter, neighing and stamping of horses, humming insects and many, many more. And as previously mentioned, each object, which is moved by Samuel or other characters, has its own chracteristic noise. Even if the dubbing is rather mediocre, music and sound effects are the more captivating.
The numerous prerendered scenes in 800 x 600 are a real eye candy. Although the game plays in the year 1981 somewhere at the English coast, the time in Black Mirror and the near village Willowcreek stands nearly still. One doesn't have to look for a car, no paved roads, no radio or television, even flowing water must be sought in the castle. Not many people live in this solitude and strangers seldom come here. Everything looks like one hundred years ago, whereby one cannot really specify the style of castle Black Mirror, but too much happened over the last 800 years, while the Gordon family lived here and determined the fate of the area.
Even if the castle garden seems savaged, everything is dipped into a warm light when Samuel arrives, birds twitter and butterflies flitter lively over bushes, where recently horrible things have happened. Willows weighing in the wind, leaves fall gently to the ground, a true idyl. But the same scenes, which we may experience in the golden sunlight, change rapidly, dark clouds raise and the more we progress in the game, the more the dark story is reflected in the just as dark and threatening environment. Samuel is also on his feet at night, when the locations of the day are dipped into an unreal light. And yet the rain, lightning and thunder. Everywhere only puddles and sludge, and the atmosphere becomes not only uncomfortable but also eerie by and by.
We try to jokey the poor Samuel as fast as possible inside the protecting house again but he has always work to do outside. He must be soaked to the skin, even if he uses his hood. If we click on the open fire in his room, then we at least get to know the fact that he dries his clothes there over night while sleeping haunted by nightmares (short, bloody, eerie video scenes).
The marvelous background graphics offer a lot of beautiful details to examine or just let your eyes move over. (in two places they abused dear King Ludwig from Bavaria for portraits, and I only waited that you could click on him and he's also a relative of the Gordon family, but they wisely did without it.) If we change something in the environment, the change remains - also with another perspective. Animations of animals, water, plants and weather enliven the environment and are, together with the excellent soundscape, very convincing.
Some backgrounds are not limited to the screen size but scroll softly aside, if we continue to send our hero to the edge of the screen. He moves behind sliding past foregrounds, so that a plastic effect is produced. The developers cared especially for the little things. If Samuel pockets objects in side view, then you not only hear that, but also see, how he takes them into his hand and then puts them into his jacket. They don't simply disappear as from ghost hand e.g. in Broken Sword 3.
Worse, because they are blurred, the quality of the video scenes. Still worse the quality of the 3D-characters, not really looking professionel in design and gestures. Since they never appear in close-ups (except in the videos) but can only be watched from some distance as smaller shapes, one could do without all too clear facial expressions and other details. But also the silhouettes are rather clumsy, with rounded arms and legs like models from plasticine-sticks. They are animated and all attend to their businesses, but really don't look very naturalistic. The mouth movements seldom fit the spoken text.
The game ran smoothly and without errors.
"The Black Mirror" is a solid, very entertaining adventure for adult adventure fans, who don't mind to examine cut off heads or open the one or other grave. You can get over the discrepancy between the excellent background graphics and the less professional character graphics plus poor dubbing, because one is captured very much by story, puzzles and atmosphere in return.
Total rating: 82%
Adventure-Archiv rating system:
- 80% - 100% excellent game, very recommendable
- 70% - 79% good game, recommendable
- 60% - 69% satisfactory, restricted recommendable
- 50% - 59% sufficient (not very recommendable)
- 40% - 49% rather deficient (not to be recommended - for Hardcore-Adventure-Freaks and collectors only)
- 0% - 39% worst (don't put your fingers on it)
Minimal system requirements:
- Pentium II 400 MHz
- 64 MB RAM
- 12x CDROM-drive or DVD
- DirectX 7.1+
- Windows 98/2000/ME/XP
- 4 MB DirectX-compatible video card
- DirectX-compatible sound card
- 2 GB free space on hard disk
- Mouse, keyboard, speakers
- Windows XP
- P IV 1,6 GHz
- 512 MB RAM
- 16x DVD-ROM (Artec WRA-A40)
- nVidia GeForce 2MX400 64 MB graphic card
- Sound card DirectX-compatible
Black Mirror Castle
Cathrin's death is the reason, why Samuel had left his home
First Sam is going to investigate all rooms of Black Mirror Castle
The decayed wing of the castle arouses traurige sad memories
Everywhere one could find useful things
The map allows travelling fast from one location to another
Bates, the butler, is concerned about Sam
One of the bloody nightmares that are haunting Samuel
"The Three Kegs" is the meeting poin of the village
The inventory only gets visible when you touch it with the mouse
Subtitles are also shown in the lower black bar
Not only wine casks are stored in the cellar
In the pub you get to know the latest gossip
The church of Warmhill belongs to Black Mirror too
A slider puzzle
By chance Sam gets into the mines
A short visit to the Welsh relations
At night we visit the crypt
One of Sam's ancestors
The sanatorium of Sam's uncle
Who is watching whom?