Black Circle: A Carol Reed Mystery
First posted on 15 December 2014. Last updated on 15 December 2014.
Black Circle: A Carol Reed Mystery is the sixth game in the long running Carol Reed Mystery series from MDNA Games, an indie game development company cofounded by husband and wife Mikael and Eleen Nyqvist. As with previous games in the series, high quality photographs featuring the picturesque cityscape of Norrköping, where the Swedish developer is located, provides the breathtaking backdrop for the game's story.
Black Circle is a classic first-person point-and-click adventure. You take on the protagonist role of Carol Reed (voiced by Sara Louise Eriksson, who also portrays the role of Stina but does not voice that character), a British native now living in Norrköping, Sweden. She runs a detective business, previously owned by her friend who is now deceased. Apparently, the city of Norrköping is having its wettest summer in decades, forcing Carol to neglect her prized allotment. Instead, Carol is passing her time indoors, making a new dollhouse and renovating an old sofa.
The game begins with Carol getting a phone call from Oscar from the apartment below, asking her to come to see him urgently. Oscar informs Carol that, while taking a stroll last evening, he discovers a dead body propped up against a ramshackle cabin in the woods. Upon returning with the police some time later, however, he finds that the body has mysteriously disappeared. Oscar, a retired doctor, knows that he has witnessed a crime, though the police do not believe his story. After hearing Oscar's plea, Carol agrees to take on the case to investigate a missing body and a possible murder.
The game installs without any glitches. A familiar main menu appears upon starting the game: Continue, New Game, Load, Save, Options, and Quit. Subtitles can be enabled or disables in Options. The game plays at a resolution of 1024x768 pixels. There is an optional interactive tutorial that you can take which teaches you about the game's interface and navigation controls. A game manual (in .rtf) can also be found in the installation folder that includes additional information.
Much of the game's story takes place in the outskirts and rural areas of Norrköping, giving fans of the series a new look at what this city has to offer. As the story progresses, you will get to explore a derelict factory, climb a silo, discover a shrine, and even search through a water tunnel into a ravine to find an abandoned mine. As you piece together all of the clues that you glean in your sleuthing, you will uncover a sinister cult and its ties to a series of macabre and previously unsolved murders.
Generally, leads will reveal themselves to you as new names or locations to follow up. Locations are shown on a map which you can click on to travel there. There are some 22 different locations that you will need to visit over the course of your investigation.
Although you cannot die in the game, frequent saving of your progress is advised. Pressing the Esc key or right-clicking the mouse will trigger the system menu from where you can save your current game or load a previously saved game. The game also autosaves your progress if you exit the game abruptedly. The game supports up to 100 save slots.
The game is built using the Wintermute Engine. Like previous games in the series, high quality and high resolution still photographs are used as background scenes for the game. When interacting with other characters, different sequences of still photographs of those characters in various poses and with various facial expressions are displayed for animations. Conversations are done via a notebook with a list of questions to ask each character. The game offers a generous built-in hint system in the form of a double sided notebook. The current objectives are listed on the left-hand page of the notebook. Clicking on an objective will then reveal a series of relevant clues on the right-hand page of the notebook.
Like previous stories for the series, the plot crafted for this game is solid, evolving, and immersive. As your investigation progresses, the plot becomes more complex and twisted that involves a series of macabre murders, mutilated body parts, and a strange cult.
The puzzles are not too difficult. Still, you need to be observant and take notes on clues you find in your investigation. Most of the puzzles are inventory based. Other puzzles include deciphering a message in Braille, opening a box without a key, and cracking a safe. There are no sliders. There are no timed puzzles. No provision exists in the game to skip any puzzle.
Carol's voice is by far the best among all of the voices of the speaking characters, with her instantly recognizable English accent. Other voices are passable with their distinct European accents but lack emotion or conviction. Observant fans of the series will catch another cameo appearance in the game made by Nyqvist himself (see if you can recognize him with his choice of clothing). The background musical score is aptly done. Sounds effects are appropriate and instantly recognizable.
The game takes up to 8-10 hours to finish. There are some 50 items to locate, none of which are too hard to find. The game is relatively linear, guided by the trail of clues that are gradually revealed to you.
In sum, Black Circle: A Carol Reed Mystery is a worthy addition to the series. Despite its subject matters, there is no explicit violence or foul language depicted in the game. In all, the game is an easy recommendation for dedicated fans who love previous games in the series as well as gamers who love a good detective mystery.