Looking Back Ahead
If you haven’t played a point-and-click, action adventure game in a while, Black Mirror II should be cause enough to bring you back to the old neighborhood. That’s not to say that Black Mirror II is the definitive version of the genre, but it contains some great improvements and innovations. It doesn’t stray too far from its roots, as this isn’t necessarily a hybrid of any sorts; it’s a true adventure game in virtually every sense of the word. And with that, you can expect some clichés. Black Mirror II isn’t revolutionary, it’s evolutionary.
As the title would suggest, this game is a sequel. References are made to the past game but only as a wink and a tip-of-the-hat to those that have played the original. An animatronics display in a museum recreates the murders from the original game. Black Mirror II stands completely on its own. However, that’s not to say that the following, third installment will be a standalone game, and this a spoiler I’ve debated whether or not to share. You can skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want me to ruin the surprise. There is no finality in Black Mirror II. Just as you’re thinking that you’ve still got a lot of unfinished business ahead of you, the game ends with a, “To be Continued,” tag. I hate when that happens in sitcoms, I hate when that happens in movies, and I hate when that happens in video games. I personally would have liked to have been warned about this, as it’s not a pleasant surprise. I probably would have waited until the third game was a month or two away from release before I purchased this one just so that the story would be fresh and cohesive. The developers could easily have closed the main plot and opened another vein. I feel like I was cheated.
Ending notwithstanding, Black Mirror II contains some excellent environments and virtually photo-realistic graphics dripping with ambience. These luscious, 2D backgrounds blend perfectly with the 3D characters, whose animations and facial expressions are among some of the best in the genre. Add to that some lush, eerie, symphonic music and professional voice-overs and you’ve got a game with some serious production values. There is some overacting and a couple of phony accents, but these shortcomings are relegated to minor characters. A diverse array of puzzles are offered and woven almost seamlessly into the storyline. You’ll encounter everything from inventory-based puzzles to mazes and mini-games. Although entirely linear, the game is well designed to feel like a totally random adventure. Despite some annoying backtracking, there’s always something new and interesting around the proverbial corner.
Darren Michaels is a young physics student working at a photo shop in a small-town America. On one fateful day he meets the mysterious Angelina, a British girl that appears to have someone tailing her. A strange series of events unfolds when Darren’s mom lapses into a coma and his boss is murdered. Just as questions begin to surface, she’s whisked away to Willow Creek, an English town renowned for its checkered past. Smitten with Angelina and aware of some serious subterfuge, he’s convinced he can be her savior. So it’s off to England where the adventure continues.
Before you actually cross the pond, there’s a series of tasks to perform in America. Most of them deal with taking care of Darren’s sick mother and his workaday chores. Story-wise, seams start to rip in the fabric of society coinciding with Angelina’s visit as we learn some dark secrets. Despite the fact that Darren is actually a suspect in his boss’s murder, it’s little more than foreshadowing, as little of this plays a significant role abroad.
Interesting and compelling is the way the story develops from an almost light-hearted summer romance to a survival horror drama. Things really begin to get creepy when Darren visits Willow Creek, a town that capitalizes on its terrible past with the selling of incredibly tacky souvenirs of the gruesome murders which took place over a decade ago. The gothic, foreboding Black Mirror Castle and the converted insane asylum where terrifying atrocities were committed figure prominently into the story.
Along with these locations, you’ll also visit the police station, crime lab, the murder museum, and many dark and dreary places around the town. Creating a chilling ambience, clouds of meandering mist are accompanied by an ethereal soundtrack. Ambient sound effects such as footsteps, water ripples, and creaking doors virtually leap from the speakers, creating a very tangible tension. As with any good game, book, or movie, the suspense is generated not by what you see but what your imagination things you might see.
Despite the realism the developers are aiming for, there are many instances where you’ll have to suspend disbelief. There are some holes in the story, some silly puzzles, and an unlimited inventory you get to drag around with you. Death comes easy to your character, but fortunately there’s an auto-save.
Commands are straightforward, as the varied gameplay is not all point-and-click. Navigation is rather linear, and you can use the postcards as maps. There is some backtracking involved in addition to trial and error but not enough to dampen your enthusiasm.
Black Mirror II is worthy of some serious reflection.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.6 Graphics
Rich, virtually photo-realistic 2D backgrounds combined with 3D characters. 4.4 Control
Simple but effective. Not all point-and-click. 4.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Chilling ambient music and sound effects combined with professional voiceovers. 4.1 Play Value
Good gameplay variety, but nothing unique. 4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.