A train journey that turns into a very special story.
There are many reasons why a game may be memorable to a gamer. It may look particularly stunning, or have a mind blowing soundtrack. It may be memorable in the way that it plays, exciting gamers or empowering them. Or it may simply touch something inside, evoking an emotional response from the gamer that simply stays with them. This is where Blackwood Crossing, the narrative-driven adventure game from PaperSeven, really excels.
Unless they happen to have been investigating playthrough videos, gamers will begin Blackwood Crossing with no knowledge of what’s going on, which is just how it should be. The journey that the player goes on in the game is something special, something really touching, and the less that the player knows before going in, the better. That’s not to say that playing through the game again once complete is a pointless prospect, as a second playthrough has its own charms. But what it means is that writing about the game is difficult without giving away any of the story.
In this first-person adventure, players wake up on a train, traveling through the glorious British countryside. As seen from the reflection in the window, they are cast into the teenage shoes of Scarlett, a young girl who has been awakened by her younger brother Finn calling for help. There is a certain amount of exasperation that her annoying little brother has gotten himself into trouble again, but as the mature older sister, the responsibility falls to Scarlett.
From very innocent beginnings, things quite quickly become very strange in Blackwood Crossing. Strange figures on the train, wearing animal head masks, seem to be frozen in place, offering simple lines of dialogue. There is an almost creepy supernatural feeling to whatever is going on in the train, amplified by the different locations found on the train – such as the tree house or potting shed. Much like a Grimm fairy tale, there is a darkness lurking in the background of this tale as the player explores the relationship between Scarlett and her brother, and the story as a whole.
Despite the creepiness, Blackwood Crossing is not a horror game by any means. It is a game about guilt, grief and growing up. As more of the story reveals itself, the emotional pull of the characters gradually builds to a crescendo which ultimately reveals one of the most heart-wrenching endings I have ever seen in a game. While some gamers may well work out what is going on and guess what will happen at the end, the exemplary writing in Blackwood Crossing ensures that the ending is no less emotional. It is not a long game, coming in at around three hours, but manages to pack in a truly touching story that will stay with players for a long time after the game is complete.
The narrative really is the star in Blackwood Crossing, but that doesn’t mean that other aspects of the game are left wanting. While the game may be narrative-driven, players will still have to move Scarlett around to explore. She is a bit slow, and there is no option to run, but there is plenty to take in on the way. While the gameplay features are limited, there are things to find and puzzles to overcome. The puzzles themselves are quite easy, with a highlight being where the player has to combine lines of dialogue from two animal-headed figures into a conversation, but most of them are wrapped into the narrative in a meaningful way.
Visually, the game looks stunning. The characters, including the creepy animal-heads, are animated very well and look straight out of a cartoon, while the environments are mostly very “everyday” scenes with an almost dream-like overlay – a train, a tree house, a lakeside – that are very slick and fit with the overall theme of the game in a very British way. The soundtrack is of an equally high quality, with the voice work making the most of the excellent script.
Blackwood Crossing is a short game, but one that stands out from many other games simply through incredible, emotional story telling. While all other aspects of the game are good, it is the narrative that truly shines. Blackwood Crossing is highly recommended for any gamers looking for an emotional tale to get their teeth into. A great game.