“Blackwell Unbound” Review

Introduction. Dave Gilbert, the first full-time AGS game developer, has recently released the long-awaited prequel to “The Blackwell Legacy”, “Blackwell Unbound”. But as the standards are set high by his previous games, does his latest creation meet them?
Plot. You play Lauren Blackwell, a bitter medium in New York in her quest to relieve lost souls in the city, and her sidekick, Joey. The ghosts the duo has to set free in this game are two and seemingly disconnected – a lonely saxophone player and a middle-aged social outcast. During the game you get to meet a wide variety of characters – from a journalist to a Jamaican music producer, all of which have their own agenda, as well as secrets. Characterisation has always been a trait of Dave’s games, and he follows his principles again this time. The story is wonderfully told, and at the end you really feel like you’ve experienced something special. Thumbs up, Dave.
Graphics. This time, Erin “The Ivy” Robinson (creator of “Spooks”) is fully responsible for the graphics, and her work is truly remarkable. All the backgrounds are immensely detailed, as are the characters. The animations seem smooth and fluent. On the whole, the visuals of the game not only help to convey the story to the player, but add a great deal of atmosphere themselves.
Music and sound. The aspect of the game which absolutely made my day though was the music, created by Thomas Regin. The slow saxophone which prevails over the title theme just IS the game itself, and each and every track on the game’s soundtrack just screams atmosphere. The style of the music is mostly late night jazz, although it occasionally varies. I don’t know if the composer responsible for the soundtrack has any releases, but I’m sure I’ll look for his name in the future. The sound effects in the game are also on par. The cast voicing the game is also good, with the two leads being particularly on form. There were some slight volume problems with some characters, although these are few and far between.
Gameplay. Dave sticks to his tendency not to emphasise on inventory-based puzzles, and it is once again all for the better. Instead of thinking how to use the chewing gum with the dog leash, you make logical connections between clues and facts, and spend time interrogating characters. As you control two characters in this game, a considerable amount of the puzzles involve co-operation between them. Also, each of them has their own methods and traits, and this is well-integrated into the gameplay. You can also solve the two cases separately, which Dave claims is non-linearity, although your actions don’t actually affect the story. The playing time varies, although a good guess would be about four hours. “Blackwell unbound” is a game which is both challenging and fun to play.
Although the version I played was the first released to the public, there were no major bugs and just a few very minor technical flaws of no importance. Once you finish the game, there is a ton of bonus features. DVD-style commentary, additional music, interview with Erin Robinson and bloopers, to name a few. For the inexperienced players, there is also an in-game tutorial. The game is available either as a download for ten dollars, or on CD for twice as much. The CD version also includes a separate cd with the soundtrack. I personally consider the price to be more than fair, for what Dave’s offering.
Conclusion. Dave Gilbert loves what he’s doing, and this is quite obvious in his latest game. A masterfully woven story, pretty graphics and a soundtrack which could have been composed by Angelo Badalamenti make it a must have for all fans of the adventure genre. One can only eagerly anticipate what Dave is going to do next.

Overall score:
95%

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“Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator Case 6 – Scourge of the Sea People” Review

Introduction. The Ben Jordan games are arguably the most famous AGS game series. There is hype around each one, sometimes even before the actual development of the game began. Recently, Grundislav has released the sixth game of the series. Does it live up to the expectations, though?
Plot. After their last case, the paranormal investigation trio, led by Ben Jordan himself, decide to take a break and go on vacation. The chosen spot is Athens, Greece. Not before long, however, their way is diverted and they find themselves into another paranormal mystery. This time the dreaded monster are the sea people – humanoid creatures who live under the sea and drag people to the ocean at night. The story is also loosely connected to some legends from the Greek mythology, which is a nice touch. It never goes too deep in that direction though, and most of the time, it is pretty straightforward. Anyone who enjoyed the plots of the previous Ben Jordan games is very likely to enjoy this one too.
Graphics. While the game may not rival “A tale of two kingdoms” in graphical terms, the backgrounds are detailed and nicely animated, and so are the characters. There is not much else to say, really – visually, the sixth Ben Jordan game is much like the other ones.
Music and sound. A significant change has been made to the development team – Ghormak, who was well known for his work on the previous Ben Jordan games, has been replaced with Dark Stalkey. While the music of the latter is as professional and catches the mood of the game just as well, the change in style is significant. Ghormak wrote catchy music, which could be listened to and fully enjoyed even without the game itself. Dark Stalkey relies more on the blend between in-game atmosphere and soundtrack. Needless to say, the necessary sound effects are also present.
Gameplay. The puzzles you have to solve in order to progress in the game are mostly inventory-based, and none are too tricky or mind-bending. However, some of them feel like they’ve been thrown in just to prevent the player from going further too quickly. Such niceties as optional puzzles and alternate paths are also omitted, this time. Don’t get the impression that the game isn’t fun to play though – quite the contrary. It’s just that previous games have set the standard higher.
Conclusion. Grundislav plays it safe with the sixth Ben Jordan game. Fans of the series will surely not be disappointed, but it feels more like an intermezzo between the previous games and the final and most decisive two parts which are to come.