Wot I Think: The Blackwell Convergence

By John Walker on August 10th, 2009 at 12:43 pm.

All games should feature at least one lighthouse.

Dave Gilbert first grabbed people’s attentions with his adventure game, The Shivah. His deft touch with the AGS engine, and ability to tell simply, emotional tales, saw him and his developer, Wadjet Eye Games, win a bunch of awards. The series he’s known for now, the Blackwell stories, has recently released its third instalment: The Blackwell Convergence. Here’s wot I think.

The “convergence” in the title refers to how this game brings together the two previous parts of the series. The first, The Blackwell Legacy, introduced medium Rosangela Blackwell and her spirit guide, Joey Mallone. Cast aside images of a silly lady pretending to speak to the dead relatives of gullible clients. Rosa takes her calling a little more seriously. Working with Mallone, the two find ghosts who are trapped in the world of the living, and help them on their way to the other side. Inevitably encountering some chilling evils and murderous mysteries.

The second game, Blackwell Unbound about Rosa’s late aunt Lauren, had originally been intended to be a shorter game (this is relative, the games last two or three hours), but eventually became a full episode, and indeed a crucial part of the larger tale. Joey wasn’t only ever Rosa’s spirit guide, but also her aunt’s, Unbound exploring the peculiar relationship between a New Yorker writer and a series of murders. It’s this story, interestingly, that is picked up in Convergence.

Gilbert’s games have slowly improved with each addition, the traditionally retro AGS graphics presenting some gorgeous backgrounds and well animated sprites, and the structure of the puzzles increasingly refined. And at last most of the problems with the sound are fixed in this third instalment. The result is a really splendid adventure short.

While there’s an optional tutorial at the start, alongside an introductory scene that re-establishes Rosa’s skill and how it’s used, I’d say there’s little point in playing the third game if you’ve not played the previous two. While nothing would be impenetrable, the core story is established in Unbound, and everything would certainly be less enjoyable for not having experienced it. As such, it’s tricky to say too much about the goings on of Convergence without ruining both games. So a bit vaguely, once more Rosa is seeking out stories of ghost activity in the hope to help them cross over, all the while seeking material for her unpublished ghost stories. This leads her into a story involving a number of mysterious deaths, each seemingly connected not only to each other, but to Rosa’s aunt Lauren. Connections appear to be the key theme. The notion of all humans being connected on some level, perhaps spiritual, pervades throughout.

The characterisation is especially impressive. This is exemplified by one character in particular – Joe Gould. He died many years before, doesn’t appear as an Earthbound ghost, and yet through conversations with others feels like a fully fledged part of the story. A homeless man, clearly quite mad, he claimed to be writing the greatest literary work of all time (about the connections between people, of course), and had made an impact on the lives of those who met him. It’s testament to the quality of Gilbert’s deceptively simple storytelling that he’s a central part of the story without actually being there.

You could argue the game is too easy. I would not. I think instead the solutions to the puzzles are pleasingly intuitive, and remain satisfying to have worked out, despite not having had to spend time fretting over them. The use of Rosa’s computer, and its primitive search engine, provides solutions for many, and the prompts put in place may not be subtle, but never feel patronising. And the application of Joey’s ghostly ways – being able to walk through walls and doors, but not being able to move anything heavier than a paperclip – is used sparingly and rewardingly.

The only disappointment I found was the lack of the encroaching doom that surrounded Unbound. Hints are made that Joey may not be all he seems, and there’s occasional references to aunt Lauren’s unpleasant fate, but the sense of foreboding for Rosa’s future never comes through. It certainly makes for a more upbeat game, but I’d have liked a touch more darkness at the edges.

Thankfully there’s a dramatic improvement in the voice quality. The acting is great (with actors used in previous games seeming a lot more confident this time), and for the most part the horrible hissing and popping on the mics is gone. Bizarrely there are a couple of moments where it returns, and one conversation has no dialogue at all, but these are likely minor bugs. Accompanied by a few spelling mistakes in the subtitles. But these are tiny complaints.

A slightly larger complaint is the price. $15 isn’t a huge amount, but it is only a couple of hours long. However, the larger concern is the price of the previous two games, still charged at $15 and $10 respectively. To enjoy this game properly you’re going to want to have played all three, which is going to cost you $40, and that’s pushing it a tad far. A bundle of all three at around $30 would be a sensible offer, and one I’d fully recommend. (It’s also rather impossible not to point out here that the sublime Time Gentlemen, Please! lasts for six or seven hours and costs £3.)

While pricey, this is a shining example of what can be done with the AGS engine, and provides an interesting dramatic counterpoint to Zombie Cow’s comedy TGP. It’s a touching, smart game, with gentle, rewarding puzzles and yet another interesting angle on ghost stories.

You can get the demo here.

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23 Comments »

  1. Tweakd says:

    Looks nice. Link to the game doesn’t work though.

    I’m sure that was intentional. That’s the first puzzle right? =p

  2. unwize says:

    I’d definitely consider picking these up at a cheaper price point, and indeed, I’m prepared to wait until until they are cheaper, providing they don’t slip my mind forever!

  3. Rockeye says:

    Yeah the price does seem a bit steep for a game a couple of hours long considering Time Gentleman, Please! being so reasonable and Ben There, Dan That! being free (though I did donate the same for BTDT as I enjoyed it so much).

    Maybe LewieP has skewed my expectations of how much I should pay for games too far towards the cheap end of the spectrum.

  4. خليل says:

    انني لا افهم الغة غير لغتي الام انني الست متعلم في الغات

  5. GriddleOctopus says:

    خليل – “انني لا افهم الغة غير لغتي الام انني الست متعلم في الغات”

    Haha! Oh, you crack me up, little buddy.

  6. AndrewC says:

    I don’t know what language that is, but it is SO much better looking than ours.

  7. Vasagi says:

    انني لا افهم الغة غير لغتي الام انني الست متعلم في الغات

    interesting but flawed

  8. Vasagi says:

    ماذا تعني هذا ، وأنت whay مشيرا إلى؟

    is a better question

  9. skizelo says:

    It’s arabic AndrewC, and yes, it is very pretty.
    I’ve played Blackwell Legacy, and it’s good to see that they’ve taken the step of buying a pop-filter. May get this one, after I get Time Gentlemen Please, of course.

  10. rei says:

    I played the demo of the first one and was very impressed, but somehow that never led to a purchase. Maybe they’ll end up on Steam some day, and maybe there’ll be a weekend deal.

    I’m patient.

  11. Igor Hardy says:

    I didn’t play any previous parts of the series (well, only the demo of Legacy) and I thought Convergence works really well as a standalone story.

  12. Dean says:

    Ouch, so much more expensive than The Shivah too. If they were all £3 each I’d pick them up right away.

  13. Xercies says:

    I am also delaying because of the price…hmm it seems some companies need a few lessons on pricing.

    That actually sounds a bit more harsher then I want it to. I’m sorry.

  14. Wisq says:

    Re: a few lessions on pricing …

    No, it’s totally true. I was looking at a certain publisher’s 2006 catalog, for example, and despite each title being an indie TBS or RTS I’ve never heard of, and that each title received only lukewarm reviews on the ‘net, the prices ranged from $25 boxed / $15 download to as high as $90 boxed / $80 download!

    Granted, these were somewhat niche military-strategy titles, each probably with a loyal following hidden away on some forum somewhere who would indeed pay high prices to continue their hobby. And yeah, this was three years ago, before cheap indie titles on major digital download services really took off. But jeez, talk about making your niche status a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  15. fishyjoes says:

    I love you RPS!

  16. Igor Hardy says:

    I think the prices would be lower if that was indeed the way to make more money. Some indie games seem to fare better if a single buyer pays more.

  17. RogB says:

    nice 2d BG artwork, Nice to see the art isnt entirely lost!

  18. Ozzie says:

    Actually, I read somewhere that Dave Gilbert hiked up the prices to adjust them with the ones on casual portals. But now that I look around I’m not sure if that’s true.

    Nevertheless, I don’t think the problem that I have with this game is that it’s too easy. Instead I feel that the gameplay is too superficial, too slight. I understand why Dave simplified the investigation mechanics, but it also takes away a lot of interaction possibilities and satisfaction from combining clues.

    Blackwell Convergence is great entertainment, but somehow I expected more. Well, it was a long wait since the prequel, so that may have something to do with it…

  19. mejobloggs says:

    انني لا افهم الغة غير لغتي الام انني الست متعلم في الغات

    I have no idea what this means, but it looks like pure awesomeness

  20. thezombiecow says:

    To be fair on the pricing issue, Blackwell has full voice acting throughout, no? BTDT/ TGP don’t, and if I’d had to have paid voice actors (God forbid Ben and I use our own mawkish, screaching voices), I’d probably have to have raised the price to guarantee breaking even, too… :)

  21. Jolie says:

    I know that Wadjet Eye worked with a full art studio to do the background art (limunous arts, or something?), and hired an animator and composer, as well as others, and needs to pay them all, so charging a bit more for the game isn’t so unreasonable.

  22. Lestaticon says:

    FYI, you CAN pick up at least the first two via bigfishgames.com for $6.99 each. I’m considering grabbing them.

  23. Robertson says:

    Big Fish Games now has this new Convergence for $6.99, as well – so that would be all 3 for $21, which would seem to meet the review author’s suggestion.

    Robertson