Publisher: KISS ltd
Developer: TAD Productions AB
Release Date: 08/01/2014
When it comes to Eldritch horror settings, the idea is that the main character is slowly driven insane by the unbelievable things he or she witnesses. Blackbay Asylum is a game that asks what happens when the main character is already a complete lunatic. The result is something truly odd. At times, it’s fantastic black comedy. However, it often stumbles under the weight of its own main character. It’s worth a look, but it’s certainly not for everyone.
As the story goes, Doug Dunheiw is an inmate at the aforementioned Blackbay Asylum. He’s no wrongly committed man either. He’s in there because he’s a convicted serial killer that murdered many members of his family, as well as his mother’s book club. Luckily for Doug, he finds that his cell has been left unlocked one day. Unluckily for Doug, his cell is unlocked because the asylum is full of murderous monsters and the many corpses of his fellow inmates.
The game starts off with a strong comedic bent. Whether it’s the pamphlet urging patients to accept whatever mental or sexual degradation comes their way, or the crazed chef humming along as he chops up a corpse, there is a lot of very dark humor here. Doug himself is a mountain of a man in wearing a diaper and a smiley shirt. It’s not meant to be taken seriously. Around chapter six though, the game starts taking on more a a traditional Gothic horror vibe. Gone are the wacky situations in favor of ancient scrolls and rituals. Doug seems to forget he’s a lunatic that just wants to go out and murder more people, and starts thinking about saving the world from nameless Gods that live under the earth. There’s a definite dissonance here, and the overall story falters because of it. By the time the rather odd twist ending comes around, you’ll be scratching your head in bewilderment.
Visually, the game is pretty low budget. The character models animate poorly and look like they were made of plastic. This is possibly done on purpose, but it doesn’t mean it looks good. You’ll switch between a top down view and a first person view throughout the game. The environments are creepy and full of gory details either way. At least from a visual standpoint the first person view is preferable. It’s much easier to tell what things are supposed to be. The art direction is amusing though. The asylum is basically a hole, and the gory remains of various victims almost make the place look better. The setting has been done to death, but there’s still something ominous about a loony bin. It just feels right that crazy stuff should be happening there.
If you’ve heard the music in one horror game, it feels like you’ve heard them all. The fast paced piano tunes and eerie synthesizer music that follows you throughout the game are a familiar addition. They’re decent enough and add to the atmosphere, but noticeably loop much more often than you’d like. The voices are flat out terrible though. None of the accents match, and the inflection is all over the place. One or two of the actors do a decent job, but they don’t do enough to save it. At least the effects are decent enough.
Though the game has two different points of view, the controls for both are largely the same. You use WASD to move, space bar to interact, shift to run, and the mouse to control your inventory. When in top down, using the mouse is fine. However, in first person, you need to use the mouse to both control the camera and access your inventory. They did this by requiring you to right click to indicate when you want to look at your inventory. This freezes your camera and brings up a cursor so you can access your items as normal. While you will get used to this, it can be quite jarring at first. If you forget to right click again, you won’t be able to look around until you do.
In order to interact with something, you need to walk up to it and press the space bar. If you can pick an item up, you will. If you need to look closer at something, you will. Most of the objects in the game can be interacted with on some level, though most of it is just getting a line or two from Doug. If you actually want to use an item from your inventory, you need to walk over to the right spot, and then double click the item in question. It’s a little clunky, but it gets the job done.
As an adventure game, BA is all about exploration and solving puzzles. Puzzles come in the typical fashion. There are environmental puzzles that require you do use the right object, safes that require you to figure out the combination, mazes that can only be solved by taking the right path, and mini-games that are short versions of common puzzle types. You’ll flip switches, rotate pieces, and place objects by following various clues.
For the most part, the puzzles are surprisingly logical. For example, you need to find Doug’s glasses so he can read a number written on a distant object. Through exploration, you’ll find a note that says the glasses were placed in a vending machine as a joke. Grab some change, buy the glasses, and you can read the number. Of course, there are plenty more subtle brain teasers out there as well. For example, the combination to a safe can only be figured out if you can decipher a rather twisted poem. The more obtuse puzzles will have you scratching your head for sure.
The game’s biggest sin is that you can’t save your game. Instead, the game only saves when you beat a chapter. The next chapter is then unlocked and can be selected from the menu. This means if you get stuck on a puzzle and quit the game, you’ll have to redo everything up to that puzzle again before you’re allowed to take another crack at it. Several of the chapters are fairly short, but the trickier ones can last up to an hour. That being said, you’re going to have to make sure you can play for a while whenever you start up this game. There really is no good excuse for something like this.
From start to finish, the game is probably going to last you somewhere between five and six hours. This of course depends on how quickly you pick up on some of those more subtle puzzles. It also depends on how diligent you are in checking everywhere and everything. After all, it wouldn’t be an adventure game if you didn’t have to run back to the start of the level to click on some random thing you missed earlier on. Sadly, this game’s length puts in more in line with the more casual adventure market rather than the more hardcore audience this game is clearly targeted to. Seeing that this game is priced quite high compared to similar titles, that’s not ideal for sure.
Short Attention Span Summary
Blackbay Asylum sure has its moments. In fact, it starts off quite strong. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there that will enjoy what it does. However, it has several faults that keep it form being all it could have been. The story is disjointed, the presentation is spotty, the first person controls are awkward, and you can’t save your game mid-chapter. As such, the game is worth playing simply as a curiosity rather than the next must have adventure game.