Family squabbles are a fact of life. Young children usually adore their parents, then in their teen years, turn away from them, often with a good deal of rancor. By the time a child has reached adulthood, a peaceful acceptance most often has occurred. In truly dysfunctional families, that peace may never be achieved, even after the death of the parent. Haunting memories may be replayed innumerable times and never resolved. Now, imagine, if you will, that your despised father was the director and head psychiatrist for an insane asylum, and that he did “research” on his charges, studying pain tolerance and the use of pain as therapy. Imagine the hate you must feel when this callous egotistical father forces upon you, your participation in his work. Do you hate him or yourself more? Could you ever forgive him? Can you forgive yourself? Even after his death you are forced to participate in one of his charades, this time to save your son – the only hold he has left on you. And you dare not refuse. Such is the background for Blackstone Chronicles.
You will play as Oliver, father to young Josh, and only son of Malcolm Metcalf. Your mother died at your birth – yours and your twin sister’s, and she died as a young child, leaving you alone with this vindictive, manipulative, and abusive parent. The Blackstone Asylum has long been closed and is due to be renovated as a museum. Your father, Malcolm, long since dead, has taken your son hostage to compel you to complete one last mission for him. You must shake off your loathing of this place, and search every inch to rescue Josh. You must communicate with the ghosts of the place to learn all you can, though perhaps ghosts is not quite the right term, since the voices are disembodied, and usually can only be reached through a picture or other object that is meaningful to them. Each area has its own character to describe its use, and often abuse. Most of these were inmates, and each tells his/her own painful story. Each area also has a museum-like display case showing two artifacts of the person or the area involved, and a touchscreen to activate a recorded message describing the person or area.
Many of the psychiatric treatments described here were, in fact, used in asylums in the earlier part of the twentieth century, but Malcolm Metcalf used them in addition to his very own treatments, which were tantamount to torture of his patients. His stature in the psychiatric community gave him immunity from investigation of his cruel treatments. Delineation of these horrific and painful abuses makes this both a difficult premise to accept as a game, and at the same time, a game you can’t stop playing – you simply MUST find out what happened to these people. I stayed up three hours beyond my bedtime to finish this game because I couldn’t stop where I was – I HAD to finish it. This to me is the ultimate in storytelling in a game structure.
One of the very best parts of this game was the voice acting. There was not one single voice that wasn’t totally believable. From the nuances in Malcolm’s therapeutic voice, to the child actor playing Josh – all were chillingly accurate. Even Malcolm’s devious machinations were subtly conveyed in his voice, as well as his pervasive sense of superiority. This amazingly high quality of voice acting greatly enhanced the immersiveness of this morbid story. The music was variable, at times very good, at others not so good, and at others, nonexistent. Because of this, the music was not a contributing factor in the overall mood of the game. The sound effects were well done, as a whole, but not outstanding.
The interface was that of first person, point & click, with node to node movement. There was an interesting use of cursors, with a change to a large arrow for forward or sideways movement, and a curved arrow to enter a room or elevator. Hot spots were easily found, without pixel hunting. Graphics in the game mode were excellent and crispy clear, though in the cut scenes they were darker and very blurred. I do want to mention here though, I never used the 2nd disc, and realized this after finishing the game. The high resolution graphics were on this CD, so I can’t honestly downrate the cut scene graphics. The inventory seemed pretty straightforward, yet using the items often required three or four tries to accomplish what you were trying to do. A couple of times there were more than one item that COULD have been used for the job, but only the correct one was allowed by the game.
The puzzles in this game were of medium difficulty, and most were adequately clued for the player. There were no absurd combinations to achieve a puzzle goal, all were realistic. All the puzzles were well integrated into the story line, though most required a bit of backtracking to find information or obtain an inventory item. There were several timed sequences, all of which resulted in your death if not completed in time. At each of these, though, you were given a choice of a hint, the answer, or just a restart to the beginning of that sequence. And in no case was the time too short to complete the goal comfortably. If you have to die in a game, this is the way to handle it! All in all this was a very satisfying game to play, if not exactly a likable one.
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