Disclaimer: A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
When you think of the horror genre, action games like Resident Evil 4 and more recently, The Evil Within comes to mind. Growing up, I played games like The Clock Tower franchise to get my horror fill. With the release of Black Mirror, KING ART Games (known for The Dwarves and The Book of Unwritten Tales) brings back the PC point and click franchise to the spotlight.
Players control David Gordon, a man who returns to his family’s estate, The Black Mirror house after his father suddenly dies. He goes to the massive mansion to inherit the estate, as the next Gordon in his family lineage. Almost immediately, he is plagued by nightmarish visions that shock David to his core. This sets him off on a quest to determine the source of the visions and find out what has happened to his family over the years.
Black Mirror is such a hit or miss game. Let’s start with the positives. First off, KING ART Games wonderfully captures the gothic atmosphere. As David, players walk through the mansion searching for clues and solving puzzles. Most of the game takes place at night, so David’s source of light is usually by a candle. Since music is scarce throughout Black Mirror, each step I took felt unsettling. I never know if the game would suddenly throw a jump scare my way. The feeling of isolation always kept me on edge.
Second, some of the puzzles are cool. Black Mirror doesn’t hold the player’s hand. Taking cues from classics like Myst, there isn’t a real sense of where you have to go. There is a questlog, with a general idea of what you need to do, but there are no indicators on how to get to these places. At one point in the game, I tried to continuously open a lock with a key in my inventory. I tried for around an hour without luck, only to find out that I was missing the appropriate piece required for that particular puzzle. In another instance, I spent a long time coming up with equations to try to figure out the values for a certain early riddle. After trying for 30 minutes with no luck, I noticed that the solution was actually in front of my face. While figuring out the solution was, in fact, satisfying, discovering the process on how to solve these puzzles often frustrated me. I also liked the chemistry between David and another main character named Leah. As a whole, I found the cast to be kind of dull, but the bright spot came in the form of the chemistry between these two protagonists.
Unfortunately, Black Mirror often feels like a chore. From the opening moments, there were performance issues. I was even playing on an Xbox One X for the duration of my time with the game. From random stutters, framerate drops, terrible lip-syncing (sometimes words would be said long after the subtitles appeared on screen), and multiple instances when the game froze and I needed to reload a save. The problem with reverting to previous saves is that the checkpoints occasionally would place me too far back and force me to re-watch cutscenes.
The story is also pretty dull. After an intriguing set-up, Black Mirror followed traditional genre tropes and failed to captivate me. In felt like a by-the-numbers horror story, and one that I was able to figure out about halfway through. Except for David and another protagonist later in the game, none of the characters felt likable, and it was difficult to really care about the cast.
Gameplay, the most important part of any title, is also generic. While I understand that point and click games are simple in concept, Black Mirror tries to change things up with the occasional quick time event. These moments feel out of place and bland. There are also instances where players can die through “cheap deaths.” These instances came out of nowhere and infuriated me because they were so unexpected and unnecessary. Dying in one of these moments resulted in the issue I mentioned earlier about checkpoints setting you back a few cutscenes away. This means that continually saving is essential.
The user interface is also slightly confusing to navigate. Each direction of the d-pad brings up a different menu. From here, you can use the left and right bumpers to switch tabs. When you enter the inventory tab, it’s only natural to want to use the d-pad to look through your items. Unfortunately, you’re required to use the analog stick to scroll down the inventory. Even after 6 hours, I often forgot to do this. It’s a difficult habit to break after years of navigating through menus a certain way. Visually, Black Mirror is unappealing. The character models don’t look great, and while the inside of the Black Mirror house is intriguing, the dark visuals don’t allow for players to really see how cool the interior looks.
Black Mirror is a game that works on paper. It has all the makings of a fantastic horror experience. There’s a creepy setting with a terrifying atmosphere, a mystery needs to be solved, and walking alone brings a sense of dread. There are shady characters, deception, darkness, and wonderful gothic imagery. Unfortunately, the overall package doesn’t make for a fun experience. The constant bugs, bland gameplay, unlikeable characters, and anticlimactic narrative left a sour taste in my mouth. While not terrible, fans of the Black Mirror franchise and point and click video games deserve more. The return of the Black Mirror series is less than stellar. Hopefully, a future outing can improve on this game’s shortcomings.