Black Mirror II
First posted on 23 September 2010. Last updated on 08 August 2011.
|It may be the beginning of a beautiful friendship...|
|Darren visits his sick mother in the hospital.|
|The local hotel looks over a scenic view.|
|The seemingly idyllic town is steeped in mystery.|
|The castle is on fire, again!|
The original Black Mirror, released in 2003, was created by Future Games, a small independent Czech game developer. A sequel for the game was rumored from that developer but never eventuated. Cranberry Production, a German game developer acquired by dtp entertainment, took over the development of the sequel, with the intent of producing a trilogy of games, or perhaps even more, for the series. Even so, Black Mirror II, first released in German in 2009 and later localized to English in 2010, was more of a follow-on than a sequel.
Black Mirror II is a classic third-person, point-and-click adventure game. You take on the role of Darren Michaels, the main protagonist of the game. The game plays out over 6 long chapters, with a sudden and incomplete ending that promises another sequel in the waiting.
The retail version of the game comes with a printed player manual (a rarity). Installation of the game is straightforward. Annoyingly, the game can only be played with the DVD left inserted in the DVD-ROM drive. According to the player manual, the game's recommended screen resolution is 1280x1024 (normal mode) or 1280x800 (widescreen mode) pixels, though higher resolutions are also supported.
When you begin the game, you are given an option to choose between "Easy" and "Normal" game mode. The "Easy" mode offers additional game hints, the option to skip puzzles, and further tips from the diary. The "Normal" mode does not offer additional game help, leaving you to fathom out the puzzles entirely by yourself. Fortunately, you can switch modes at any time during the game if you find it to be too challenging. I strongly recommend that you try out the game first in "Normal" mode.
I also strongly advise you to enable the "Display dialog sub-titles" option, as I have found that much information can be easily missed by just listening to the dialog. This is because, in many scenes, the dialog cannot be heard clearly due to the drowning sound effects or background music.
As well, I recommend that you enable the "Hotspots" option. Once enabled, you can see all the hotspots in any given scene by simply pressing H or spacebar on the keyboard. The hotspots will also identify themselves automatically as you hover the cursor over them.
The game begins with a cinematic cut scene of a flashback to 1969. Samuel Gordon, the main protagonist of the original Black Mirror, is running through the forest towards the Black Mirror Castle in Willow Creek, England. Upon entering the castle, Samuel gets in a fight with his wife Cathrin. A burning lamp is knocked over during the argument, and the castle tower is set alight.
It is now 1993. Darren Michaels is a student from Boston, Massachusetts. During a semester break, he visits and stays with his mother in the coastal town of Biddeford, Maine. As a keen photographer, Darren gets a job at the Fuller Photo Store, running mindless errands for the sleazy and obnoxious owner, Mr. Fuller—that is, until an attractive English woman named Angelina appears, wanting some pictures to be taken of her. From Angelina, Darren learns of his employer's history of sexual groping. He also learns of a recent suspicious suicide of a local resident from a woman on the pier. Soon, the idyllic town transforms itself into a nightmarish pit when a series of blackmails and murders takes place that even involves Darren's own mother. When Darren and Angelina discover that they are also being followed by a mysterious stranger, Angelina fears for her own safety and flees back to England.
Alone, Darren begins his own investigation and tries to piece together any connection between the town's recent events. After finding a note left behind by Angelina, he decides that he must take a trip to Willow Creek to continue his investigation. What can be the connection between Biddeford and Willow Creek? As Darren dives further into the murders, he learns about the existence of a secret Order, the Gordon dynasty from the Gordon Chronicles, and eventually his own hidden past.
Navigation in this game is simple but effective. Left-clicking moves Darren. Clicking on a person, an object, or an exit directs Darren to go there. Double-clicking on an interactive hotspot makes Darren go straight to the said hotspot, without having to walk or even run. Right-clicking on that hotspot then reveals further details. There are 5 cursors used in this game: a cursor to look at an object, a cursor to take an object for the inventory, a cursor to use an object from the inventory, a cursor to speak to another character, and a cursor to exit a scene. Once you have been to a certain locale, you can return directly to there by using the postcard from the inventory.
Managing game saves is easy. Moving the cursor to the upper right corner of the screen pops up a selection menu, from where you can save the current game or load a previous save. There is no limit to the number of saves you can make. Whenever you die (often unexpectedly) in the game, an automatic save is triggered to save your progress just before your demise. This saves time of having the need to reload the last manual save which may be quite far away.
I am most impressed by the game's dialog system that manages Darren's interaction with other characters. Clicking on a character brings up a dialog menu where the inventory is located. A series of cards then appears, showing people or locations. Left-clicking on the desired topic immediately initiates a conversation, whereas left-clicking on the cross symbol ends the conversation. It is important that you exhaust all the cards to get the full load of information and clues given to you.
With few exceptions, the game's overall production is excellent. The graphics are undoubtedly among the best of any adventure games I have ever seen. The meticulous detail of every scene is incredible. The use of 2.5D graphics enables seamless integration between the 2D backgrounds and the 3D characters. Yet, the special environmental effects really help to bring each scene to life: wafting smoke from a fire, dark clouds passing overhead, a sea mist coming in from ashore, rain drops splattering on the puddles on the ground, tiny white caps on the water in the bay, reflections and shadows (if enabled), and many more.
The game's murder mystery and horror story is well told and pays more than just passing homage to Agatha Christie and Stephen King. Interestingly enough, Darren gives his name as Inspector Falk when investigating the Black Mirror Castle, perhaps as a tribute to the fictional detective Lt. Colombo (played by Peter Falk). The plot has more twists and turns than the old London underground sewer system. In fact, you can never pre-empt what is going to happen next, nor can you deduce who is good and who is bad. The riveting plot and the gripping suspense will satisfy even the most demanding fans of both genres.
Black Mirror II is an exceptionally long game. The game can easily take you 40 or more hours to complete. There are some 49 identifiable characters and some 209 objects that can be collected and used for some specific purposes. There are a total of 42 or so puzzles to solve. In the "Normal" mode, you have to complete every puzzle. In the "Easy" mode, by contrast, many of the same puzzles will be solved automatically for you after a couple of failed attempts. The puzzles are not overly complex. Further, help is always available if needed.
The game is extremely linear, which I find a bit annoying. You can get stuck in a scene indefinitely, simply because you have previously failed to talk to an important character or notice a key hotspot. You also have no flexibility of picking up an object early and using it later. You may know that you have to pick up an object in a scene (such as a set of scales under a hospital bed), but you cannot do so unless you make an observation beforehand in another scene. Instead, Darren will remark with a passing comment about the object's possible significance. If you can leave a scene and Darren passes a comment about what to do next, then you know you have completed whatever is needed so far.
The music and sound effects are superb. I am particularly impressed by the score of background orchestral music, which permeates an aura that is both mysterious and haunting and complements perfectly the theme of the game. On the other hand, I am disappointed by the quality of the voice-overs for the American, English, and Welsh characters. The voices for Bates and Lady Eleanor are acceptable, but the rest of the cast are way off key. Employing voice actors who can speak the local dialects of the characters that they are supposed to portray will help a lot to make these characters more believable. Lip synchronization is good. However, on the odd occasion where there is a close-up of a character, the character is void of any facial expression and detail.
In sum, Cranberry Production has created a great game and a great sequel that rivals the original Black Mirror. I unequivocally recommend this game for its superb graphics, brilliant story, and engaging characters. The game is lengthy but enthralling throughout. Personally, I eagerly await for the next sequel—so that I may finally find out the fate of Darren and truth behind the Gordon curse.