Blackwood Crossing is about the relationship between a brother and sister. You play as Scarlett, an adolescent girl slowly drifting away from her younger brother, Finn. The game starts on a train, which serves as its thematic hub, and then works its way out to various other locations – some literal, some symbolic.
The characters you meet are often purposefully obfuscated, the locations melt into each other in a dreamlike way, and the through-line of the narrative is anything but forthright. If it wasn't already obvious, this is a game attempting to tell you a story in an unconventional way. You're not completely in the dark, though – it's clear that something important has happened, and over the course of the game you'll come to figure out exactly what that is.
One of the main ways you do this is by piecing together conversations that your family and school friends have had. As you interact with each person, they'll repeat a small section of dialogue, and it's your job to figure out who's talking to whom. Once you do, you'll be rewarded with another sliver of dialogue that will help you unravel the greater story.
There are also puzzles to be solved. Some will see you using magical abilities to influence your environment, while others will see you piecing together memories. These sections are never particularly challenging or robust, but that isn't really the point. Their job is to help convey the story, and in that respect they do a serviceable job. There are certainly moments where the flow of the narrative is interrupted by the puzzles, but most of them help push things along.
Which brings us to the story itself. A game like this obviously sinks or swims on its ability to tell us something interesting or moving about its characters and scenarios. Unfortunately, the title mostly fails to do this. Furthermore, while we won't reveal any major plot details, trust us when we say that we saw the ending coming a mile off.
Some of the problem lies in the writing. The dialogue often feels clunky and obvious: character's either talk in platitudes or unnatural sentences, and the overall structure of the story isn't particularly engaging.
Most of the problem, however, lies in the voice acting. Conversations, especially between the two main characters, rarely feel like they're actually happening because the character's inflections never match up. One character will ask a genuine question, only to be answered in an inappropriately violent and angry way. It feels stilted, and means that it's difficult to ever properly absorb the story.
Despite this, the title does have some striking moments thanks to its visual and sound design. Character models look a bit janky, but the overall design of the world is unique and beautiful, and the dreamy way levels bleed into each other is fascinating to behold. The music, similarly, does a good job of maintaining the atmosphere, while bolstering the more emotional moments.
It's hard to dislike Blackwood Crossing. It makes a valiant attempt at telling a tender story in an unconventional way, and for that its developers absolutely deserve credit. Unfortunately, its attempts largely fall flat. There are some striking visual and auditory moments to be sure but they don't make up for the predictable narrative and spotty voice acting.