November 4, 2011 6:00 PM | Cassandra Khaw
Smart, well-written and refreshingly free of obtuse puzzles, Blackwell Deception is a chip off the old block. Much like its predecessors, Wadjet Eye Games' latest point & click adventure is a distinctively old-school experience jazzed up with The Big Apple's sauciness and urbane wit.
Blackwell Deception will once again have Rosa, a mousey red-headed psychic who is a bit of an embarrassment to her hair color, and her spirit guide Joey gallivanting through New York and doing what they do best: bicker, fight, help restless spirits find resolution, solve mysteries and investigate the city's conglomeration of phony psychics.
Okay, so the last bit is new but that doesn't really matter. What matters is the fact that you probably raised an eyebrow at the mention of false mediums. You might even have snickered a bit. Comedy goldmine, right? I remember thinking the same damn thing when I loaded up the title screen for the first time. Imagine my surprise when I realized I was wrong. If anything, Blackwell Deception is possibly the darkest chapter in the series yet.
(Spoiler-esque content and rambling below the cut. Proceed at your own peril.) Wait a minute. Dark? How? Is there pixelated gore? Questionable material? Are tentacles somehow involved? The answer's a resounding no. The closest the game gets to inappropriate content is an allusion to ectoplasmic coital relations. You could trust your young nephew with this game. In spite of its kid-friendly disposition, Deception remains a disquieting affair. Where other games address the problems that can arise from a cozy evening with a grimoire, Deception talks about horrors that are much, much closer to home.
"Urban isolation has always been one of the underlining themes in my games." Creator Dave Gilbert informed me during a brief discussion. "But it's especially prevalent here." Ostensibly a tale about the supernatural, Deception is also a story about people and the many ways a metropolitan lifestyle can break a person.
The archetypes are all here. There's the impressionable college student that has been led astray, the disintegrating modern family, the workaholic who literally works himself to death, the sociopath liar - heck, even Rosa's one herself. Socially awkward protagonist somehow entrusted with responsibilities that would be too much for someone like her? Yeah. They're people we've all met. People we know. People we might have been or still are. Some of the game's most powerful scenes revolve around Rosa's interactions with her friend Jeremy Sams, the atypically focused ghost of a reporter who refuses to acknowledge his demise. In the beginning, regardless of how hard you might try to steer the conversation in that direction, Jeremy will constantly deflect your questions or compose excuses. He does not want to accept his death. Instead, he wants to continue his work. What do you do in such a situation?
How do you diplomatically inform someone that they're dead? How do you tell the quintessential workaholic that his marriage falling apart? It isn't easy. Regardless of whether it is in a fictional setting or in real life, it's not easy to answer the questions that Deception poses.
"It's interesting how reviewers and fans often talk about how 'New York' the games feel." Gilbert mused. "You're indoors most of the time." A well-traveled New York native, Gilbert also reaffirmed my initial suspicions about the game. "I want to not only show the city, but the people of the city or, well, my own experiences with them, at any rate."
Social commentary aside, Blackwell Deception is also a pretty damn good game. The production values are higher than ever, the delivery more ambitious. I especially liked the introduction of Rosa's myPhone and the way many of the game's puzzles seem to be revolve around it. It's a pretty clever nod towards society's obsession with connectivity.
Even the writing feels significantly tighter, a testament to Gilbert's year of experience. As for the puzzles, they're harder than before but rest assured you won't be waving rubber chicken at everything with a label (Monkey Island, I am looking at you).
I could go on. I really could. Blackwell Deception is the culmination of years of experience, a brilliant look at life in the big city and a wonderfully self-contained piece of work. Even if you've never heard of the franchise before, you're not going to do yourself a disfavor by picking this one up. It's Friday. If you have nothing to do this weekend, skip the beer and grab Deception instead. Better yet, spend your day off with both.
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