Blackwood Crossing: a rose amongst the thorns called EGX Rezzed
EGX Rezzed was a bit of a weird one for me. I’m not sure if it’s representative of all gaming expos but it seemed rather lifeless: rooms set up with rows of games attended by people who don’t really know the games, queues to take pictures with Youtube personalities, new generation consoles that were set up with games that you could just play on any other console… I’m sure this was someone’s idea of a great day out but it didn’t really appeal to me on the whole.
The most fun I had on the day actually was playing indie titles and yes, I’m already aware of how hipster this is coming across! There was a brief moment of humour when I became Luke’s guardian by asking the nice men at the Xbox stand for a lanyard for him but other than that, I actually found the indie stands to be the most genuine. Luke and I had a few “interviews” lined up for the day with certain developers that, when we actually turned up to them, were more of a guaranteed sit-down in front of the game… it was the indie titles where we didn’t even have a scheduled time that we had the best dialogue with developers about their games; a lot of titles by the big names were presented like “this is the game, play it” whereas I found some refreshing respite from certain indie developers who actually asked what we thought of the games and if there were any issues that could be bettered. This may not have been picked up on by most but this definitely massaged my inner marketer!
I somehow ended up playing a lot of interactive adventures on the day to the point now where it’s now “Zeke’s kind of games”. One of my kind of games that I played on the day was Blackwood Crossing (developed by PaperSeven and published by Vision Games); I was intrigued by the playable snippet on the day so was keen to offer to review the full copy…
Without giving too much of the story away, the best way to sum this up is to say this game is certainly metaphoric: you play as Scarlett, a girl who is on a train with her younger brother Finn. As you walk through the carriages and talk to Finn, it turns out you’re not actually on a train.. well, the last time I checked, they don’t tend to have greenhouses and/or trees and treehouses in them! Each interaction with your sibling and the other passengers on the train makes the environment shift and reshape around you whilst at the same time helps Scarlett uncover the thrilling subtext that this experience is trying to tell her!
I can’t comment a great deal more on the story as it’s a very short and sweet experience; It took me two evenings to complete so if I say any more, you won’t have reason to play it yourself… all I will say however is this game is psychologically thrilling on par for me with movies such as Shutter Island and Inception. I definitely found myself asking a lot of questions as I played it and the soundtrack did an outstanding job of building up suspense in the right moments by reacting to your actions!
The gameplay like most narrative driven adventure games is pretty basic: you simply walk around in first person view and interact with things around you, with options for different tones of dialogue to the people you talk to… this kind of gameplay for me can get boring quickly when the story isn’t engaging enough or the puzzles are a little too sloppy but this wasn’t the case for Blackwood Crossing; I think it works really well within the pace and timeframe of this title.
One thing for me (which probably just sums up my impatience more than anything) was that you cannot run!! This really wound me up about 10 minutes into the game when I couldn’t get my head around a puzzle and found myself calmly pacing around a carriage when I wanted to run around screeching “WHERE IS IT!?”. Rather shamefully, I followed a walkthrough for that bit and then, after I stopped being thick and realised that wasn’t actually that difficult and perhaps I should calm down, had no issues with gameplay afterwards…ahem.
Graphically, Blackwood Crossing is beautiful! I think I must have played this on a 4K Xbox at Rezzed as there seemed to be a bit of a resolution downgrade on my journeyman’s PS4 but the art style and animated graphics meant that PaperSeven could focus on making this game look pretty instead of hyper-realistic, which, I believe they have achieved very well using a palette of vivid colours one second to dark and moody colours in some of the physically and metaphorically darker areas of the game.
Due to the very short nature of the game, paired with the many questions raised by the thrilling narrative, I find myself wanting to play this again to try things slightly differently and see what else of the story I can uncover. I probably won’t do this for a while though and may just end up trawling google for answers… but the intention is there.
To summarise then, Blackwood Crossing is a short-but-sweet interactive adventure that leaves you asking a lot of questions in a good way! PaperSeven’s focus for the game was clearly based on the storytelling and it certainly left its mark on me as not only a highlight of my trip to EGX Rezzed but one of the most interesting games I’ve played thus far of 2017. It feels like they were aware of the limitations of the story and their gameplay mechanics and made a wise move in letting the game go out with a spectacular bang instead of fading away into boring, repetitive puzzles!