I’m not sure that I’d like to have a ghost permanently shackled to my person. It would be like having a permanent nagging shadow judging your every action. You’d have to be on your very best behaviour at all time. You’d never feel like you could take more than your fair share of biscuits, or pocket that tenner you found lying around in the street. Going to the toilet wouldn’t be fun for either of you. Sorry, thanks but no thanks. Unfortunately, in Blackwell Convergence, Rosa Blackwell doesn’t seem to have much choice in the matter. I can only imagine how she silently strains on the loo to try and limit the splash damage. She’ll probably have an aneurysm doing that, die, and tragically end up haunting some other poor fool, watching their ablutions with a sad look of irony on her face. Haunting, right?
Anyway, I didn’t start writing this to talk about video game characters taking a dump (I’m saving that for a post of it’s own). No, we’re talking about Blackwell Convergence today. The Blackwell games are a series of graphic adventures created in Chris Jones’ Adventure Game Studio by Dave Gilbert of Wadjet Eye games. They focus on the adventures of Rosa Blackwell and her ghostly buddy Joey Mallone, as they track down various ghosts who need to be directed to the spirit realm.
Joey Mallone is a bit sarcastic but generally harmless, as long as you don’t mind him constantly nagging you about fulfilling your destiny by helping other ghosts out like a braying spectral FitBit. As video game ghosts go, he seems less prone to killing people and throwing massive telekinetic tantrums, a la Aiden from Beyond: Two Souls; and seems uninterested in scaring the shit out of you while you climb up ladders like Alma from the Fear series. If you had to have a ghost sidekick (and you shouldn’t, for the reasons outlined at the start), it’s probably better to have one that seems a bit more grounded and less prone to mass murder. Joey is actually a pretty interesting character, worn by the time spent with the Blackwell family. He is protective of Rosa, while constantly chiding her, and their snarky relationship is fun to watch during the game.
There aren’t too many surprises from a mechanical perspective; this game functions much like any classic point-and-click, but adds some neat touches which work with the detective style trappings. Rosa can search the internet on her PC for clues and information, which can open up new locations to explore, and during conversations notes are taken and added to her notebook, which provide key conversation points that can then be used when interviewing other characters. Performing tasks in this way adds a functional layer of activity which adds to the atmosphere and makes you feel like you’re really investigating, rather than solving arbitrary puzzles to progress (don’t worry, there are still those too). The conversational detective-work echoes the style of older games like Cruise for a Corpse, and the Gabriel Knight series, but by separating out the standard conversations from the clues gathered in your note book, this game makes the concept feel like a more tangible action, rather than making it seem like all the info is just being kept in the protagonists head.
I’ve always enjoyed how the vignettes of the ghosts in Blackwell play out. Each of them have their own reasons for still kicking around the living world, and talking with them usually reveals snippets about their past lives which add to the background narrative and feel separate enough from the main game story that it fleshes out the game world, adding to its sense of place. Switching between Joey and Rosa provides different conversations and these are used as part of the puzzle structure too. I enjoyed moving between the two characters, but it was a little bit annoying when you try to leave an area as Joey, but can’t because it’s Rosa that needs to leave. Technically appropriate, yes, but annoying.
The Blackwell Convergence is also big on atmosphere. The New York that the game takes place in consists of a handful of locations, using hand-draw pixel art in a relatively low resolution, but clearly well made. The game isn’t at all unattractive to look at – in fact it’s very pleasant, but it’s fair to say it doesn’t compete with many games in the graphics department, even when compared other modern point-and-click adventure games. Yet, despite the limitations, the screens shown still manage to evoke the style and atmosphere of a classic 1990’s adventure game. Often they’re based on real-life places and the attention to detail makes them feel lived in and therefore interesting. A similar point of comparison would be the first Gabriel Knight game – which also took place in actual locations around New Orleans, and was one of the first game locales I fell in love with when I was younger. Playing Gabriel Knight made me want to go see New Orleans, and in a similar way, the static screens in the Blackwell Convergences yanks the same chain for New York. It makes me wonder if someone could create the same level of atmosphere by carefully crafting the details of pubs and historical sites in Watford. Please someone, set your next point-and-click game in Watford.
There are also some neat background effect tricks pulled too, with rain effects appearing at one stage in the game and then being shown in other areas too, which is a nice touch, adding to the mood and setting.
The game contains an audio commentary mode, which triggers as you move through the game, which provides some interesting insights into the development process and explains some of the thought behind the locations and ideas, and is well worth a listen on a subsequent play through.
Play length is relatively short, and the puzzles are fairly simple across the board. They are usually presented with logically so you’re not left scratching your head for too long. I got stuck once during my first play-through, and not for long. More often than not I’d worked out what I needed to do before I was presented with the option to do it, which is better than the other way round.
There’s a bit of backtracking and running between all the characters to unlock the next part of the process, which can be a little bit jarring; it would be weird in real life to keep rushing back to the same random film executive character just to ask her one more question so you can ask the next person another question, and so on. At some point, surely these people must get tired of talking to you and just stop letting you into their offices. This is a quirk of the genre, so it feels a bit unfair to knock the game to much for it. It would have been neat to see something like a phone system, so you could call up previous interviewees as a way of following up on things that you missed or unavailable the first time you spoke to them.
Blackwell Convergence tells a brief but interesting supernatural tale, in an atmospheric slice of New York that keeps it grounded. It has bags of charm to spare, and is absolutely worth a play for adventure game enthusiasts. I’m looking forward to continuing the series, though I’m still not interested in a ghostly toilet pal, thanks very much.