The Blackwell Convergence
First posted on 21 August 2009. Last updated on 06 October 2011.
Blackwell Bundle is comprised of 3 episodes:
- Episode 1: The Blackwell Legacy
- Episode 2: Blackwell Unbound
- Episode 3: The Blackwell Convergence
The Blackwell Convergence is the third game in the Blackwell series (after The Blackwell Legacy and Blackwell Unbound) about ghostly mysteries in New York City. Developed and published by indie game developer Dave Gilbert of Wadjet Eye Games, The Blackwell Convergence features compelling characters, a bluesy atmosphere, and lots of strong voice acting. The latter feature especially distinguishes this game from other indie alternatives. The puzzles offer variety, with different playable characters and a few unconventional interface features. However, the game seems to be geared for low difficulty. Regrettably, both the plot and the puzzles fly past very fast, and the game lasts only a few hours of play.
The heroine of the story is a maladjusted young writer named Rosa Blackwell. Her constant companion is a long dead detective named Joey Mallone (think Dick Tracey but without a corporeal body). The game begins with a mini mystery and an optional tutorial. Rosa and Joey visit a haunted office building, go out on a ledge, and talk to a suicidal businessman's ghost. After he is put to rest, the investigative duo head back to Rosa's apartment. She belatedly remembers that she is supposed to go to a social occasion, which segues to the real mystery. An art gallery's opening, a portrait of a woman, the death of an actor, and a homeless man's legacy are somehow interrelated.
Though the story sweeps through surreal and spooky scenarios, some of its best moments deal with down-to-earth character details. Rosa puts up a confident facade, yet a search of her apartment reveals that her life is in a mess. Her email inbox contains publishers' rejection letters, a psychiatrist's offer to help anytime, a restraining order, and a request to leave a certain family alone. Joey, by contrast, is a source of banter, cynicism, chauvinism, and insight into the spirit world and the Blackwell family's past. He has once been a spirit guide for Rosa's deceased parents and aunt. Many of the secondary characters, too, have an interesting life's story and entertaining quirks. The characters' development tends to be well paced, unfolding across several scenes of dialog and investigation. Some characters are interesting fictionalized versions of historical New Yorkers. A bit disappointingly, the game's villains do not get fleshed out as well as the other characters; their motives and thoughts remain rather vague.
The script receives a memorable set of voiceovers from a large, professional cast. The comical aspects of the characters and of their bizarre encounters are played in a suitably deadpan fashion. Some of the voices carry a spooky edge, with an echo effect applied. Other times, the acting reflects characters who are obsessively wrapped up in their work, be it strange or mundane. The cast seems to be based in New York, so gamers with an ear for the local accent may find it authentic (or not).
A beautiful background soundtrack, which is a blend of blues music and rainfall sound bits, adds to the feeling that the characters live in a lonely city or a moody film noir. Incidentally, a standalone soundtrack, featuring the music from this game, has also been released by the developer.
Graphically, the game adopts a retro style that remains largely unchanged over the entire series. The game's low native resolution results in a pixelated look, though the artwork is sufficient to still create an impression of detail. During dialogs, there are large, animated character portraits, showing a variety of expressions. The game also makes use of simple yet pleasantly unexpected special effects, such as an animated sky that eerily follows mouse movement. Weaknesses in the graphics, however, include a somewhat jumpy appearance to scrolling screens and walking characters, especially when character art is scaled for distance. Visually, the game is not awe-inspiring, especially with compared to other contemporary indie graphical adventures, but it has its own charm.
By default, the game is configured to run at an interpolated display resolution of 640x480 pixels in full screen mode, even though the game's native resolution is only 320x240 pixels. From a technical perspective, it is a bit odd that the game's native resolution and intended display resolution are mismatched. The developer is perhaps missing an opportunity to optimize the game's performance and display quality. When running in full screen mode within Microsoft Windows, the game can crash after being minimized and restored, a glitch that is attributable to the freeware AGS (Adventure Game Studio) engine used to build this game.
On the level of gameplay, the game departs from tradition by placing a relatively low emphasis on inventory puzzles. Instead, most tasks are accomplished through dialogs or using Joey's ghostly abilities. He can float through walls, create a light breeze, and cause certain types of electronics to fail. Plus, Rosa can use Joey's necktie to open a portal to the afterlife. All of these strange abilities are first introduced in cut scenes or descriptions long before the player needs to use them. A number of puzzles also rely on more mundane tools of investigation, like a search engine and webmail ("Oogle" and "Bmail") on Rosa's computer. Aside from the computer based puzzles that make use of a simple text parser, the game uses a standard point-and-click interface. The right button means "look" and the left button means "interact". Hotspots are identified by rollover text. A menu at the top of the screen gives quick access to the inventory, notes, and the ability to switch between Rosa and Joey.
The variety of character abilities and unusual puzzle mechanics is fun and surprisingly intuitive. The game sticks to a consistently low difficulty level, which may or may not be to the player's personal taste. Clues can usually be obtained by having Rosa talk to Joey, and vice versa. Questioning other characters, and going back to question them again later, is a common and obvious means of advancing the investigation. Most hotspots are easy to find due to the game's low resolution graphics (fewer pixels to hunt), and some of the less visible objects are pointed out in dialogs. The parser keywords for the "Oogle" searches follow logically from other leads in the investigation. A few inventory puzzles are bizarre, yet still not difficult, since the number of available objects remains very small.
Low difficulty can be a pleasant change of pace, but it underscores the fact that this game is very short. Despite thoroughly exploring the dialogs and descriptions, I am able to finish the game in less than 4 hours. (For replay value, a bit of additional content is available in the form of a "Director's Commentary" mode, in which Gilbert himself remarks on the making of each scene while the player plays it.) As the game draws to this quick conclusion, it takes on an increasingly surreal aspect, but not much, beyond "whodunit", is truly clarified.
Among indie adventure games, The Blackwell Convergence stands out for its excellent characters, voice acting, and soundtrack. The style of puzzles is also original, albeit very easy. However, the game's short length prevents it from fleshing out a clearer back story. More importantly, while the game's production is considered excellent when judged against other AGS games, there are elements, such as graphics and length of play, in which the game is considerably surpassed by other contemporary indie adventures (for example, Rhiannon: Curse of the Four Branches).