Before Charlie Brooker came onto the scene, Black Mirror was more commonly known as a series of point-and-click adventure games released on the PC in the mid-2000s. Its initial three entries were fairly well received, and after a seven year absence, the name is back with a re-imagining of its story, themes, and a mix-up in the gameplay department. So, does this blast from the past manage to replicate its past successes?
After learning of the mysterious circumstances surrounding his father’s death, David Gordon visits his family’s stately mansion in the Scottish highlands to uncover what really happened. As he learns of a potential curse put upon the family, his father’s descent into madness, and what could lie beneath the mansion, the plot thickens and expands to a scope we didn’t see coming.
It’s this that becomes the driving force behind Black Mirror, and so we were pleased to find a quality tale to follow. The revelations and twists you unearth are genuinely interesting and surprising, while making the characters of David Gordon and his side-kick all the more convincing. This is then backed up by some quality voice acting, with the entire cast putting in an excellent shift that combines David’s high-brow English vocabulary with Scottish dialect. Making each and every member of the mansion believable went a long way in terms of our investment in the story, and so we came to care for their troubles and perils.
When it comes to gameplay, Black Mirror feels like a combination of Life Is Strange and the puzzle solving of a classic Resident Evil title. You’ll explore the mansion as you hunt for clues, talk to fellow residents to glean any information they might have, and then solve puzzles as you encounter them. It’s these brain teasers that provide the most amount of challenge, but the game’s structure is undoubtedly the second biggest hurdle.
What the title has you doing at any given moment is enjoyable, but it is very rigid in how you approach it. The QuestLog will always give you an objective to accomplish, but the descriptors are far too vague and as a result, you’ll often find yourself mindlessly exploring the mansion in the hope that you’ll bump into the interaction you need to progress the story. There’s no dynamic way of solving a puzzle or uncovering the next story beat: you have to interact with the game in the exact way it wants you to, or you’re not going to make any breakthroughs.
To break up the murder mystery hunt, you can engage a number of the mansion’s residents in conversation. You’ll get a basic set of dialogue options, which more often than not allow you to ask every question presented on the screen. There’ll also be cases where you can influence David’s actions, as you choose to either continue to eavesdrop on another dweller or make your presence known. The ramifications of these choices and actions seem to have an extremely minimal impact on the overall adventure, primarily just affecting the current scene you’re in, but they’re a neat touch that introduce a small amount of flexibility.
What isn’t flexible, however, are characters' facial expressions when engaging them in discussion. The aforementioned scenes are of a high quality voice-acting wise, but when it comes to displaying any sort of emotion or expression, the in-game characters’ faces are stiff as cardboard. This is a real shame because a great deal of emotion can be found in the writing, but the personification of it can’t do it any justice. And if that wasn’t enough, an unhealthy dose of very poor lip-syncing worsens the overall look even further.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Black Mirror’s flaws, as the clunky and frustrating controls will be your main source of annoyance. A slow walking and turn speed makes navigation a tedious crawl, and thanks to getting caught on geometry all too often, this frustration was heightened even more. The scheme and layout only just feels like a step above tank controls.
It’s clear that Black Mirror wasn’t developed on a big budget, and unfortunately that has led to a number of glitches finding their way into the final release. Interacting with objects at certain angles will cause David to stand still in place with no amount of button presses breaking his apparent trance, which effectively crashes the game. The framerate violently fluctuates, too, as it goes from providing a smooth experience to suddenly tanking and leaving the frame counter in the low teens. Load times are also far, far too frequent. You'll encounter one every time you enter a different room, and with each lasting 10 to 15 seconds, they become a real drag on the experience. Random invisible walls will halt your exploration, and graphical glitches can be replicated on demand. At least there’s a guaranteed Platinum Trophy at the end of the five hour mystery, though.
We really wanted to like Black Mirror more than we did, but a few too many technical hitches put a cap on our enjoyment. This mystery is absolutely one worth solving thanks to the captivating plot and engaging characters, but be prepared to wrestle with poor controls, glitches, and frequent load times.