Black Mirror III: Final Fear
Developer: Cranberry Production GmbH
Publisher: Viva Media
Release Date: 04/12/2011
So back in late 2004, I tried The Black Mirror for the first time. I had heard polarizing things about it. Some people like the story, while some hated the ending with a venomous passion. Some liked the characters and locations, while others bitched about the horrid voice acting and the very tiny areas for clicking on hot spots that the game had. Unfortunately, The Black Mirror was one of the few adventure games I never bothered to finish because two-thirds into the game, as the game’s copy protection (Star Force) destroyed my laptop’s monitor. Sheesh, you kids today think SecuROM is bad, you have no idea what it was like in the days of XP or before. I ended up watching the end of the game via Youtube and I have to say, the ending did indeed suck, but I enjoyed the parts of the game I had played. I just wasn’t willing to go through a second laptop screen for it.
Black Mirror II came out in Europe back in 2009, and although I didn’t import it, but I did get to fiddle with it and write up a preview of it. Black Mirror II was finally released stateside in February of 2011, but I waited on picking it up as I a) had too many reviews to write at the time and b) I could have purchased both Black Mirror II for $14.95 each, or wait until April when II and III would be bundled together by the publisher Viva Media for $19.99. Obviously I chose the latter.
Now I’m reviewing Black Mirror III and I’ll have a Black Mirror II review a few weeks later. I went with III first since it was the newer release and because I also have The Next Big Thing, Mortal Kombat and Red Johnson’s Chronicles to review. I figured as BM2 was the oldest, it could wait a bit longer. Of course, then I discovered that BM3 is intrinsically tied to BM2 and is not only a direct sequel, but a game that can only be properly appreciated if you have played and beaten the first two games in the series. So how does Black Mirror III hold up when taken on its own? It’s time to find out.
People new to the Black Mirror series will feel like they’ve just been thrown into the middle of a story and will spend the entirety of the game trying to figure out what all is going on. The game starts with the “To Be Continued” ending of Black Mirror II, which is always a guaranteed way to piss off your fanbase by the way, and from the very start of the game, the previous two games will be constantly referenced in such a manner that you are expected to know exactly what they are talking about and why. There is never any explanation of description of the events in the previous two games in a way that is welcoming to newcomers, although there are spoilers ahoy for the previous two games. This lack of openness to newcomers to the series is rather distressing, especially as the first game has been out of print for at least half a decade and it doesn’t run properly on modern computers anyway, thus making it all but inaccessible to nearly everyone who wasn’t playing point and click games on their PC back in the first half of the 00s.
The story revolves around Darren Michaels, AKA Adrian Gordon, who was the protagonist of the second game. He runs through the woods with a torch in his hand only to end up at his ancestral home which is now on fire. The cops take one look at the flaming bit in his hand and his apparent nonsensical ramblings about curses, cults, and satanic sacrifice and they arrest him on suspicion of arson as well as the lead figure in the serial slayings that have plagues the town of Willow Creek for the past few weeks. A fortnight and a half later Adrian is set loose on bail and he has to clear his name. Also, he’s possessed by the evil brother of his ancestor from the 13th century who is slowly taking control of both Adrian’s body and mind. Whoops. Now it’s up to Adrian to finally put the curse of the Gordon family to rest.
Although the game will no doubt be perplexing to people who haven’t played the previous two games, I was able to piece everything together due to my time with the original game in the trilogy and playing close attention to names of characters and/or events that took place in the second game. Granted it will all probably make more sense once I play the second game (which is also no doubt spoiled for me by this one), but it’s generally a very bad sign when a development team assumes that everyone who picks up their game is intimately familiar with not one, but two previously released titles. It’s amazingly unfriendly to newcomers; more so than I’ve ever encountered in a video game before. Thankfully the characters and overall story manage to stand out as both interesting and captivating and I image it must be doubly so for those who played through Darren/Adrian’s first adventure.
So what’s here is fun, but I have a feeling if I hadn’t played the demo of BMII two years ago or played through BM six+ years ago, I’d have been totally lost. Unfortunately this causes me to give the overall story a thumbs in the middle. What’s here is a very nice and spooky tale, but it’s implemented poorly due to developer arrogance and/or a lack of forethought for new gamers picking up the series for the first time.
Story Rating: Mediocre
If you had told me Black Mirror III was a 2011 release on both sides of the Pacific and I wasn’t a big fan of the adventure genre, I’d have laughed in your face and said no way. The game’s character models and the cut scene animation looks like something out of the PSX/Sega Saturn era of video games. Or you know, something that was common when the FIRST Black Mirror was released in 2003/4. I was very unimpressed with both and I’ve actually seen better graphics in the cheap-o adventure games that Big Fish Games puts up on a DAILY basis. This is not a pretty game…
…except for the backgrounds. Backgrounds have a nice amount of detail and texture to them. Black Mirror Castle looks ominous by any standards and you can definitely tell that Cranberry’s team is best at static or lightly animated visuals rather than human rendering or fully animated cut scenes. The game definitely looks like it came out a decade too late, but fans of the point and click genre tend to be forgiving in the area in the same way SRPG fans are. If BM3’s cast and crew had only looked as good as the backdrops, you’d have had a very pretty game indeed. Instead, it’s merely a decent looking one.
Graphics Rating: Decent
I remember the voice acting in the original Black Mirror was awful. We’re talking worse than Resident Evil 1 bad. Hell, BM1 is infamous for it. I’m sad to say that BM3 isn’t much better. Adrian/Darren has the worst Boston accent I’ve ever heard and even if you are a regular visitor of Massachusetts (or even a resident), Adrian’s voice will grate on you to where you wish he was dead. Inspector’s Spooner’s strange cross between a Scottish and Irish accent will make you feel the same way and Mordred, the evil spirit inhabiting Darren’s body is so bad at sounding evil that it will actually make you laugh out loud at it, completely destroying the otherwise spooky mood this game sets. It’s nice that every line in the game is fully voice acted, but honestly, Black Mirror III would have been better off without any voice acting at all, as it does more harm than good.
The music of the game however is very well done and it really sets an eerie, foreboding mood for the gamer. I know I was playing the game around midnight with the lights off and the music up. Then when two barghests (Look it up!) came out of nowhere snarling and snapping at me with every intent to feast on my succulent flesh…I jumped. Dead Space didn’t even make me blink. That’s how powerful the combination of the mood and music were at that moment. Awesome job guys.
So, some truly terrible voice acting, but a truly wonderful score. Once again we see that for everything Black Mirror III does right, it also does something oh so terribly wrong.
Sound Rating: Mediocre
4. Control and Gameplay
Much like the other sections there is something to love as well as something to hate about the controls of Black Mirror III. It’s great that the game has a hotspot button that highlights all the hot spots in an area for you to click on. What’s not so great is that it doesn’t actually highlight all of them. In fact it doesn’t highlight ANY navigational hotspots whatsoever. This means you’re going to be running your cursor all over your screen until it turns into a doorway emblem, letting you know that you can move to another location. Even worse, BM3 suffers from the same minuscule sized areas of effect that the original game was plagued by, so finding your way in or out of a place for the few first times can be extra annoying.
Another nice thing is that if you double click on an object or location, Adrian will instantly be on it…most of the time anyway. This save a lot of time where you would otherwise just watch the character slowly meander across the screen. I’ve noticed a lot of adventure games have been leaving out this feature and so it was nice to have it back in.
What’s the opposite of nice is inventory system in the game. Like all point and click games, your character has an inventory of items that they collect on their travels. Unlike most games, Adrian holds on to a lot of useless crap that clogs up his inventory. There are a few events in the game where you have a very limited amount of time to find and then use an item in your inventory and where the item is determines whether you live or you die. Unless of course, you have already died and then you set your inventory cursor right on that item in preparation for the event that is about to unfold. You see, to move through the items, you have to put your cursor on the inventory scroll icon and then it begins to slowly move through the list. If you leave it on the icon for more than a second or two, the inventory bar speeds up for a very brief moment…and then closes completely out. So when you are carrying thirty or so items and it only shows twelve on the screen at a time, you can imagine how annoying this little glitch is. This will easily become the most frustrating aspect of your time with Black Mirror 3 and it’s one of the worst item implementation systems I’ve ever seen in an adventure game.
Aside from all that, the game plays like any generic point and click title out there. You use the left button of the mouse to talk to people, get an item description or pick something up from the environment. You use the right hand button to interact with an object in your inventory. Then you proceed through the game by solving puzzles. Most of these are “use item A on item A,” but there are a few others like fixing a photocopier, piecing together a skeleton, or the horrific endgame labyrinth puzzle that all but kills one’s enjoyment for the game. Seriously, what’s up with adventure game and truly awful labyrinths to end the game this year? First Gray Matter and now this.
Anyway, much like the rest of Black Mirror III, there are some pretty big flaws in game’s controls that will annoy even the most ardent point and click fan, while turning off more casual fans of the genre altogether. It’s not all bad though and most of the game is enjoyable enough to play through. Still, the things that are wrong with Black Mirror III prevent me from giving it anything more than a mediocre rating here.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Mediocre
Most adventure games are a “one and done” deal, meaning that they are exceptionally linear and offer no replay value whatsoever. Black Mirror III tries to alleviate this issue a bit. You can unlock character art and cut scenes as you play through the game. I’ve beaten the game and there are still some of each that I haven’t unlocked, which makes me think I could have/should have died somewhere that I didn’t. As well, there are four mini-games to be unlocked, including a very fast paced version of Centipede known as Star Raiders. The mini games are quite fun and you just might come back to play those more often than you would either of the two Black Mirror sequels. Still, the main game leaves no reason to replay it, unless you want to someday play through the entire trilogy in a row. Which isn’t very likely.
Replayability Rating: Poor
Like a lot of adventure games, Black Mirror 3‘s challenge comes from its myriad of puzzles. Some of them are straightforward if you have a quick wit, while others…can be pretty esoteric with their solutions. For example, there is a puzzle at the end of the third chapter where you try to force Mordred to the surface by using caffeine, smoke and a lack of ventilation. This sounds odd, but the puzzle is straight forward. Then there are puzzles like the “find out which anonymous grave belongs to persons one through five” that is pretty vague with the clues and solutions. Like a lot of the less logical puzzles in an adventure game, Black Mirror III‘s weird ones can easily be solved through trial and error. However I’d advise against anyone purposely going that route as you’ll be spending a lot more time doing that.
A nice touch provided by the developers is Adrian’s diary. As he completes tasks and finds new plot progression points, he will write them down in his diary. This won’t give you any solutions to the puzzles at hand, but if you are ever unsure where to go, who to speak to or what to do, the diary generally points the way. Even better, there are some puzzles in the game where you are given a time limit or Adrian dies gruesomely. 99% of adventure games out there don’t provide the potential chance of death for your protagonist, so this is a nice change of pace and it’s almost worth letting Adrian fail here and there for the death scenes.
All and all, Black Mirror III has some weird puzzles, but the overall variety, flow and difficulty is highly enjoyable…except for the times when the inventory system gets cumbersome.
Balance Rating: Enjoyable
Black Mirror III is not only the third game in this series, but it holds to the same visual and gameplay trappings of the original. As well, the game really doesn’t bring anything new to the table except for the story. The game even pokes fun of itself from time to time about the lack of originality in some of its puzzles by saying, “This didn’t fail me last time,” referencing a puzzle that was repeated in BM2 and the occasional other reference to puzzles that have been done to death in other adventure games.
Aside from the plot, which is really just an exact continuation of the second game to the point where both must be experienced to get the full effect from either, Black Mirror III is a very generic point and click game from beginning to end. Those of us who devour adventure games regularly will be happy with the purchase, but they’ll also know that every puzzle and plot point has been cribbed from a previous game. That’s a bit disappointing.
Originality Rating: Bad
Now I know I’ve been rather harsh to Black Mirror 3, but it deserves it. Bad voice acting, a horrible inventory system, outdated graphics and a story that is only accessible to people that have played the second game from beginning to end , with the first game being a secondary requisite as well. However for those that have spent time with either (or both) of the first two games in the series, Black Mirror III wraps up things nicely, if not dramatically. I enjoyed playing the game, and even though I knew there was a lot unexplained or that the developers assumed you would know going into BM3 having played the previous entries in the series, it was still FUN. I’m actually glad I skipped over BM2 and went right into BM3 because otherwise, I would have probably given BM3 an overall higher rating that it deserved as the storytelling issues and lack of accessibility to newcomers wouldn’t have been so apparent.
All that being sad, I had fun with Black Mirror III and I’m looking forward to playing BM2 (as well as reviewing it) once my list of games I have to get through is weeded out. Black Mirror 3 still manages to be a game I had fun with in spite of its flaws, and if it was able to hold my attention as uninviting as it was, fans of the first two games will no doubt be transfixed by this final game in the series.
Addictiveness Rating: Enjoyable
9. Appeal Factor
Have you played Black Mirror II? If not, then you probably won’t enjoy this. Black Mirror II is a must have for getting the full effect of Black Mirror III, and without it the game will be incredibly unfriendly to newcomers. Even though I played most of the first game and the demo for the second, there were times that I had no idea what was going on and thus had to shrug my shoulders, carry on through the game and knock the story rating down a few points for its issues.
Have you played Black Mirror I? If not, than you probably won’t enjoy this for the same reasons mentioned above. It’s far more crucial for you to have played BMII than BMI, which is a good thing since BMI doesn’t play very well (if at all) on modern systems, and the North American release had severe issues back in the day to begin with. Still, to get the intended effect and feel that the developers are going for, you have to not only have played the first two Black Mirror games, but you should know their stories by heart. Because of this, the audience for BM3 is a shockingly small one, and even though adventure gaming has become a niche genre here in the states, only a fraction of those gamers will truly enjoy what is put before them here, if only because of the story constraints the developers have put on this game. It’s insane and financial suicide I know, but what can you do except say, “What the hell, Cranberry?”
Appeal Factor: Bad
Kudos to Viva Media for waiting to release Black Mirror II and III at the same time here in North America. Usually when an adventure game is released in Europe while North America has to wait years to get it (if at all!), it annoys the hell out of me. See Deep Silver and Secret Files 2. However, since Black Mirror II has an ending that is Soul Reaver bad and Black Mirror 3 pretty much forces you to have played BM2 as well as remember its story in great detail, this was the best way to do things. With BM2 released two months ago, it means the story stays fresh in the minds of those that purchase BM3, while gamers on the other side of the Atlantic had to either replay the game or wrack their brains for plot points and character names. Even better, Viva Media also gave gamers the option to buy both games together at a drastically discounted rate. $19.99 for two full length adventure gamers? That’s a guaranteed sale in the eyes of most adventure game fans and it more than offsets the potential of a gamer picking up BM3 without having played BM2. This is a great example of why some developers need a different company to act as their publisher.
So was this game worth ten bucks? Oh my yes. Especially compared to the plethora of casual adventure games that have flooded the market in the past few years. Black Mirror III may have its issues and it may not be something I can recommend to anyone who hasn’t played the first two games first, but the Black Mirror two pack is something I can certainly recommend as a good deal consider it’s only $19.99 for the two. Now if we could get the first game re-released (and without Star Force), that would just be icing on the cake.
Miscellaneous Rating: Good
Control and Gameplay: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Bad
FINAL SCORE: MEDIOCRE GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
Black Mirror III: Final Fear isn’t a bad game by any means, but it’s also a game I can’t recommend unless you have played through both of previous titles in the series. The game drops you right where Black Mirror 2 left off and never bothers to recap or explain things to those that are new to the series. As such, it’s the most unfriendly game to newcomers I have played in years, if not ever. The voice acting is terrible and the graphics are about a decade behind the times, but even with all these issues plaguing the game, there is something charming about Black Mirror III that makes it hard to put down. The locations, cast and plot weave together in such a way that you want to see how things resolve. If you’re a fan of either of the two previous games, you’ll probably love this trilogy ender. If you haven’t played a Black Mirror game before this, then you shouldn’t bother picking this up at all, as you’ll no doubt spend the entire game trying to understand what all is left unsaid and unexplained.