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Lora's Adventure Game Reviews: The Black Mirror

The Black Mirror

The Black Mirror (Game release date: 2003)
Slow-paced but darkly menacing horror adventure game with gorgeous visuals and a well-crafted mystery plot.

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Highlights: Excellent mystery plot, terrifying moments,
gorgeous graphics
Lowlights: Slow gameplay, characters are hard to
relate to, low interactivity, unsatisfying ending

First things first: this Czech murder-mystery game scared the crap out of me on more than one occasion, which is probably the best compliment a reviewer could pay to any piece of horror fiction. The music is well done, the graphics are beautiful, and the game designers have a disturbing knack for making the scary parts happen when you're really not expecting them (inspecting something entirely innocuous-looking, for example). Any murder mystery that gets you to secretly suspect one character only to turn him into a victim himself is a good murder mystery, and The Black Mirror did this to me.

The game gets off to a slow start, though, and the sense of suspense--though riveting in the best places--is frequently hampered by the slow pace of characters' movement and dialogue. I'm a great fan of interrogation as a tool to solve mystery adventures, but most of the time talking to the NPCs in this game doesn't even reveal any useful information, and conversations become a tedious chore that disrupts the flow of the game. It doesn't help that the characters in this game are all so distant and affectless, which makes you even less interested in spending time talking to them (and robs the inevitable deaths of impact.) The main character, Samuel, is also hard to identify with, and the player has frustratingly little input into any of his reactions or decisions--he's just like another NPC, in other words, except that he needs you to pick things up and put them into his pockets for him.

Still, none of these flaws kept The Black Mirror from making my heart race or from permanently searing some of its most electrifying moments into my brain--something many a big-screen movie has tried and failed to do. For anyone sympathetic to the graphic adventure genre, the absorbing storyline, stunning graphics, and wonderfully menacing ambience of The Black Mirror put it high on my list of games not to miss.

Style: The Black Mirror is a third-person puzzle-adventure game with a 3D point-and-click interface. You control a single character. The plot is a murder mystery and there are supernatural and horror themes. The game is untimed except for a couple of realtime puzzles, and no manual dexterity is required. Combat and leveling are not elements.

Series: The Black Mirror is not part of a series. It is a completely stand-alone game produced by the prolific Adventure Company.

Finding The Black Mirror: This game is still in print so you should have no problem finding it in your favorite software store. You can also buy it online if you like.

Getting The Black Mirror to Work: The Black Mirror is a recent game and I encountered no gameplay bugs while playing it. Some people have reported problems getting the game to start, however, or repeated crashes at the beginning of Chapter 2. Make sure that your DirectX is up to date, but if you're still having the problem, ask Linda at Adventure Games Forum for her unofficial patch.

Hints For The Black Mirror: You can check out my low-spoiler page of Black Mirror hints if you like. There is also a good hints page at UHS which reveals only one hint at a time, so you won't accidentally learn the answers to future puzzles while scanning for the one you're stuck on.

Pitfalls In The Black Mirror: There are two occasions in this game where you have to perform an action before a realtime clock runs out, and also several instant-death scenarios. Save often. Keep old savegames, too; there's one point at which you can use up an item you need to escape from death later.

Game Length: 25 hours, about standard for a graphic adventure game.

Age-Appropriateness: The Black Mirror is rated M (for 17 years old and up) due to suspense/horror themes, violence, and gore, including suicide and the murder of a child.

Lora's Black Mirror Review: Rating: 8 out of 10 (Very Good)

4.5 out of 5Plot and Quests: The plot is generally excellent, even giving you enough clues that you can figure out the true murderer yourself before it is revealed to you. However, like most graphical adventures, The Black Mirror does suffer from its inflexibility. There is only one way to complete each quest (with one lone exception); no alternate endings, no choices to be made. This game has a gripping and suspenseful plot, but you have no input into it. The conclusion of the game is particularly frustrating on this count.
4 out of 5Puzzles and Mental Challenges: Primarily inventory puzzles (of the "what could I use to get this rusted gate open?" sort), also some visual and memory puzzles. Not especially challenging, but still fun.
2 out of 5Characters: You only get one PC in Black Mirror, and you cannot customize or develop him at all. You don't even have the choice of conversational options to help you feel ownership of his personality (though you do get to choose whether to lie or not on several occasions), and his final decision of the game is beyond your control and not one most players would choose. Some of the NPCs are interesting, but their flat reactions to each other impair your developing any emotions towards them.
4.5 out of 5Gameworld: The Black Mirror is set in a creepy manor in a remote area of England. The gameworld is consistent and realistic; the modern setting and the supernatural elements combine to create an appropriately eerie feeling.
3.5 out of 5Gameplay: Like most modern graphical adventures, Black Mirror is really just your standard Infocom game with graphics and sound appended. That isn't inherently a bad thing--I loved those old Infocom games--but this genre really has not advanced much since the '80's where gameplay is concerned, and it only takes ten or twelve times walking your character across the same eight location screens on his way to talk his latest finding over with the inconveniently located Robert before you start to realize: Hey, this was much less of a pain when you could just type "E,E,N,E,NW,U,W,talk Robert." :-o There are a few places where it is possible for your main character to choose an action that will get him killed, necessitating a reload; other than this, though, there is no way to lose this game. Puzzles can only be done in the same, linear order, and it's impossible to paint yourself into any corners.
4 out of 5Interface: Black Mirror's game interface is graceful and unobtrusive, adding to the immersive feel of the game. However, movement is much too slow, and there is a ponderous pause before each character begins to speak. I'm sure this was intended to create atmosphere, but in practice, it creates boredom. There's a lot of conversation in The Black Mirror, and the five-second delays before each response really start to add up and get on a player's nerves by the end.
5 out of 5Ambience (Graphics, Sound, etc.): The graphics are gorgeous, the music is spooky and well-integrated into the game, and the overall mood is excellent. My only complaint is the voice acting, which is soporific--but then plotwise, it's not that unreasonable for Samuel's family to speak in such sepulchral tones all the time.

Lora's Recommendations: I recommend Black Mirror with a few reservations: it's definitely not for kids, and it doesn't make a good introduction to the 3rd-person adventure-game genre for a person who's never played them before (it's possible for your character to die, for example, and the lack of input into the plot might bore people who aren't used to that as a general flaw of the genre). If there had been a little more attention paid to the characters of Samuel and his family, this would have been an outstandingly terrifying game. Even as it is, The Black Mirror paints a mood like only the best of games can, and for that, it is worth overlooking its flaws to play it.

If You Loved The Black Mirror: Computer adventure games have been going through a real resurgence in the past few years, and there are several good ones to choose from. The Longest Journey (Dreamfall) is my personal favorite, a fantasy epic set in a dystopian future which allows for much more interactivity than most graphic adventures do. Other recent games you may enjoy include the spooky paranormal adventures Seven Games of the Soul and Dark Fall, and the techno-fable Syberia. If you loved being scared by a computer game, I also recommend the surreal psychological thriller Sanitarium. Finally, Planescape: Torment is a more action-oriented game that does involve some tactical combat, but if you liked The Black Mirror, you may really enjoy the mesmerizing Gothic ambience and excellent suspenseful plot in Torment.

For a more detailed review of The Black Mirror game including spoilers, plot holes, and impacts it could have on the adventure genre, please see my Backseat Game Designer page. Enjoy the game!

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