“Black Mirror” was released in 2004 by the small Czech developer “Future Games” and was a rather unexpected success.
It is said that Samuel Gordon, the protagonist in “Black Mirror”, was inspired by nobody else than Johnny Depp. If you add to this the mysterious story, riddled with some supernaturalness here and there, the style of this adventure does indeed remind of films like “The Ninth Gate” or “Secret Window”. At the end the plot takes a turn that was criticized by many, but that I think is perfectly appropriate for the genre. I for one felt the story and its characters were very consistent, so I really wonder why the game hasn’t already been made into a film starring Depp! ;)
Great! Finally real brain-teasers again! The inventory and application puzzles are all downright logical, every action makes more or less sense. You don’t have to start combining anything with everything in desparation – like in many other crazy adventures. Every step and every action arises quite logically from the requirements of the situation. You’re not expected to do totally wacky and unrealistic actions that you would never even think of by yourself. Nevertheless, the authors have somehow managed it so that the game is not too easy at any time.
As for the image or combination puzzles which are implemented here and there, you will not (as so often) be served with unimaginative slide puzzles, but with quite nice little tasks which even require a certain general knowledge sometimes. For example, you have to know the look and arrangement of the planets in our solar system, or the order and symbols of the twelve zodiac signs – or at least google them. ;)
Conclusion: Not too difficult nor too easy – the perfect balance has been found here.
Since the game is already from 2004, it can of course not come up with cutting-edge graphics. What struck me first was that the characters seemed strangely flat and dull and had pixelated edges, so they were always standing out strangely from the background rather than blending into the environment harmoniously.
When I first started the game it appeared a little slack in general – the shadows weren’t dark and the lights not glowingly enough. The sky and clouds could, too, have looked more dramatic. With the gamma slider in the game options you can conjure a little of the gloomy atmosphere, but of course it can’t do miracles either.
However, all in all, the graphics of the game are quite nice, and thanks to splashing water, pouring rain and circling crows it doesn’t seem too static either.
At first I wasn’t sure if I could really believe my ears, but it’s true: In the German version, Samuel Gordon, who – as I said – was inspired by Johnny Depp, is spoken by no one else than David Nathan, Depp’s German standard voice actor. This automatically makes the game a real ear candy. Nathan is simply a great speaker, and you never get weary of his voice, even when you hear it say “I see nothing special there” for the thousandth time. ;) But the rest of the speakers can’t be faulted either.
(Note: This valuation refers to the German version of the game. I hear that, in the English version, the voice-overs sadly seem to be very bad. This is a real shame, because bad voices can destroy the whole atmosphere of an otherwise brilliant game.)
What I liked was the background noise: You can always hear rain, wind, water splashing, crackling fireplaces etc. This isn’t really something special, but it made a positive impression on me anyway.
I found it a pity that there was only rather little music to be heard in the game. The main menu is accompanied by a promising mysterious melody, but in the game itself there are only very short musical effects in particularly important or spooky situations.
The controls are basically simple – and yet you may get stuck at some point, because they haven’t been explained to you. With a normal mouse click, you can pick up things or use them, while the right click is used for viewing and exploring. As long as the cursor turns red when hovering over an object, it means that you can still do something here. Only if no more actions are possible with an object, the cursor turns silver and the object is no longer clickable. The specialty here is that sometimes you have to take and/or use things two or even three times in a row in order to achieve the desired result. Right from the start, you should therefore make a habit of clicking everything with left and right clicks, until the cursor no longer becomes red or you just keep getting the same text over and over.
While some people find this system horrible, I actually liked it, because this way the next action was not always so obvious, and you had to be more attentive in order not to miss important details.
The inventory can be reached at the bottom of the screen at any time, and the handling is just like with all other objects: left click = take, right click = view.
Apart from that it may be noted that, unfortunately, you can’t make Samuel run faster or switch to the next scene immediately. You always have to wait until he has moved across the screen at walking pace.
Actually, I’ve already said everything: an almost cinematic game, in which story, characters and puzzles compensate for the slightly older graphics and lack of music. I’m curious if part 2 and 3, which – in contrast to the first part – were developed by a German company, can live up to this success.
By the way: Apparently the game was so popular that it was later made into a radio play. Again, David Nathan is in on it, too, as well as some other speakers from the original game.