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Blackwood Crossing

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Vision Games Publishing
Developer: PaperSeven
Release Date: April 5, 2017

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PC Review - 'Blackwood Crossing'

by Brian Dumlao on June 9, 2017 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Blackwood Crossing is a new story-driven adventure game, featuring an intriguing tale that explores the fragile relationship between orphaned siblings, Scarlett and Finn.

Buy Blackwood Crossing

Though some would see it as a derogatory term, the "walking simulators" that have arrived on the PS4 aim to deliver story over action while creating a memorable experience for the player. Some would argue that there's not much in the gameplay department for most of these titles, but most would say that titles like, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, Firewatch, and Gone Home delivered fascinating tales. Blackwood Crossing, the first game from PaperSeven, aims to deliver a similar kind of experience, and while it succeeds with the story, the gameplay is another matter entirely.

The story starts with you in the role of Scarlett, the teenage older sister of Finn, a boy who just turned 10 years old. While riding on a train, you hear Finn calling for you because he wants to play games with you. Running around and making a ruckus would normally be disruptive, but there seems to be no one aboard the train, and a quick game of Simon Says reveals some passengers frozen in time but covered by papier mâché animal masks. One of those people, a young boy in a rabbit mask, is actually mobile. Following him leads to a strange journey aboard a train that seems to lead to other lands and never stops traveling on the tracks.

The story is told in a somewhat fractured form, so you learn a few key things about the duo. Both have been orphaned and are being raised by their grandparents. Finn doesn't recall much, if anything, about their parents while Scarlett is content to leave things that way. Both siblings were also close to one another, but that closeness is being threatened as Scarlett is entering her teenage years and showing an interest in other people. Finn, on the other hand, is having a hard time accepting this and wants things to remain the way they always were.

Ultimately, this is a tale of loss experienced on various levels. It would be a very depressing tale if it weren't for the various settings you get to explore. From the train car to a lush island, none of the places feel foreboding beyond the few moments when darkness creeps in. The setting is also helped out by the powers that you gain as the game progresses. From the ability to pull the darkness to new locations to breathing life into inanimate objects, there's a sense of wonder that punctuates bright spots in the story and adds some levity to the moments of sadness that dot the narrative. Clocking in at only three hours on the initial playthrough, Blackwood Crossing manages to balance both feelings without sudden shifts. It also gives the game the benefit of no dry spells, as each scene provides enough to keep the story moving.

At the same time, your appreciation of the story is going to depend heavily on your feelings toward Finn. His behavior and reactions drive the tale, and your perception of that, perhaps heavily colored by any personal sibling relationships, will determine whether you have any empathy for the character. Some will completely understand where he's coming from, while others will be annoyed that he's causing such a mess for everyone. As such, enjoyment of the game will vary based on this aspect.

The game features some light puzzle elements that are delivered in uncommon ways. Some are conventional, such as finding a broken piece and attaching it to an item to make it complete again; other puzzles involve using newfound powers to fix situations in the world. The one common type you'll run into is conversation matching, where you have to talk to one person and then immediately choose who that person is talking to get more of the story. As is common in walking simulators, those puzzle elements are easy to solve to ensure that players aren't prevented from experiencing the whole story.

The lack of challenge in the puzzles isn't much of an issue, but the game has two difficult factors. The first is that the item selection system from the environment is rather fickle. Some items have to be vocally recognized by the character before they can be used. Some require characters to specifically ask for them before they can be picked up. Others have a small enough area that the cursor needs to be placed before the options appear to do anything with them, and those options take some time before you can act on them. The second factor is Scarlett's movement speed. She can only walk around the world and has no option to run. That seems fine when you're in a train car and everyone you need to interact with is in that car, but go to more open spaces, and you'll wish for a run button so you can reach those areas faster to advance the story.

Blackwood Crossing is a Unity engine game, so you can expect some of the same flaws in the graphics that plague other titles using this tech. The frame rate can get choppy in parts, with the game capped at 30fps, and some of the textures in small areas can look rather off. Beyond this, the game still looks rather nice thanks to the art style. The bright colors and soft CG-animation stylings of the characters give the game a cozy look even during some of the more disturbing scenes. The titles loves to display rather lush scenery at times, with loads of grass and other foliage, and the particle effects also add to the rather mystical look. Like most other walking simulators, this one carries on the tradition of delivering a great visual experience.

On the audio side, the game succeeds in the two areas where it counts the most. While most of the voice cast sounds fine, the ones playing Scarlett and Finn do a very good job of selling their emotions. They play things off so naturally that even the emotional shifts in the latter half of the game don't feel jarring. The music also fits in well, as it doesn't overwhelm you but conveys sadness or wonder, depending on the situation.

Provided you're not short on empathy, Blackwood Crossing has a good tale to tell. The various forms of loss and growing up are dealt with quite well, while the fanciful setting gives you the impetus to keep going even if you know exactly how the tale will end. It does need some work on the puzzle mechanics, as a fiddly detection system and slow walking can be frustrating once the solution is known. Overall, this is a good first effort from the development team, and it's worth a look if you're a genre fan.

Score: 7.5/10

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