Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Blackwell Unbound

Developer: Wadjet Eye Games
Publisher: Wadjet Eye Games
Release Date: Sept. 4, 2007
System: Like, a computer?
ESRB Rating: Huh?
Official Web Site

Today's Game for Lunch comes from guestblogger Greg Costikyan of Manifesto Games and Play This Thing.

In a nutshell: Satisfies that old LucasArts adventure game jones, which no one else is catering to any more. Anachronisms drive me mildly crazy, since I lived in New York in 1973, and I'm not even sure Dave Gilbert could could even talk then.

0:00 I'm expecting to like this game; I'm a fan of Dave Gilbert's earlier titles, The Shivah and The Blackwell Legacy -- old school graphic adventures. Dave is a lone-wolf developer, using Adventure Game Studio, and pulling in friends for the graphics and voice talent; Blackwell Legacy, at least, was very reminiscent of LucasArts adventures from the early '90s, perhaps about the time Secret of Monkey Island -- though shorter, to be sure. In the Blackwell Legacy, Dave introduced Joey Ramone, a ghost who apparently haunts the Blackwell family; in that game, Rosangela Blackwell solved a mystery with his help, and we learned that her Aunt Lauren, whom Joey had previously haunted, had recently died -- after she had spent a decade or more hospitalized and routinely sedated for insanity. Blackwell Unbound apparently deals with Rosangela's aunt, and is set in the '70s.

0:01 Nice piano score, splash screen apparently by the same artist (or at least one with a similar style to the earlier Blackwell game). Yes, I will activate in-game instructions--something lacking in the previous game, a nice little additional bit of polish.

0:03 Brief intro.: Lauren is apparently a chain smoker, and unlike Rosangela at the start of the last game, already experienced with the paranormal. Her apartment looks a lot like Rosenagela's--except that since this is the 70s, there's no computer, and the TV has rabbit ears. Oh, interesting; in the previous game, you controlled only Rosangela; here you can apparently switch between Lauren and Joey.

0:05 Lauren goes to the balcony for a smoke; Joey talks to her. A bit of banter; writing is of course Dave Gilbert's strength, and the voice talent is actually good, so even though this is conventional dialog-tree stuff, it's actually entertaining. I'm asked to look at Lauren's case list (in inventory, mouseover the screen to to pull it down), which I do (forgetting you have to right click for a moment to 'look at'); I'm briefly confused. Most of the clues have been scratched out, and "just a little more to do and we can call it a night." Did I somehow start in the middle of the game? Okay, no, Dave is starting in media res. Two remaining clues: Strange music on the Roosevelt Island Esplanade, and construction halted on 53rd Street because of a bizarre accident.

Uh... Wait a minute. It was Welfare Island, then. It wasn't renamed Roosevelt Island until later. It was part of my mother's political district when I was a kid, and I remember going out with her to make sure the hospital inhabitants there -- there were no permanent residents -- got to the polls on election day (I checked later; it was renamed Roosevelt Island in 1973, but construction didn't begin until years later). There were no Roosevelt Island Esplanade. Oh, well, Dave wasn't living in NYC in '73; I guess I can expect some anachronisms.

Okay, let's check out 53rd street. But first, the usual adventure game routine; examine everything in the apartment.

0:11 Oh, the Yellow Pages. In the previous game, Rosangela looked stuff up on her computer; but this is pre-Intarwebs, of course. I remember the Yellow Pages; not only can you look stuff up, but you need something with the heft of the Manhattan Yellow Pages to kill those motherfucking waterbugs, the really big ones, three inches long. Judging by the state of Lauren's kitchen, I bet she's figured that out, too. Anyway, I don't have a name to look up yet. Man, she has a lot of ashtrays. I smoke, but I'm not in Lauren's league. Hmm... Won't take anything else, but she'll take the camera. Okay.

0:12 O-kay. Statue of Liberty in foreground, skyline in background, lines pointing to place you can go. But why is Roosevelt Island to the left (West) of 53rd Street? It's up the East River. From a harbor vantage, it would be to the right. Oh, never mind. 53rd Street ho.

0:14 53rd and Lex. Okay, in some ways I'm probably the worst possible person for this. I was 14 in 1973, and I remember very well what Manhattan was like. First of all, the street signs are green; they would have been yellow, then. Second, the lamp-posts are the ornate, pseudo-Victorian black-painted things we have today; that's, I don't know, late Koch era, maybe early Giuliani. In 1973, they would have been stark, modernistic grey aluminum things. Never mind...

0:16 The gate to the construction site is locked, and Lauren can't get in. Maybe I should go to Roosevelt Island? Or.. wait, Joey's a ghost--maybe he can walk through the wall? Bingo.

0:21 Okay, there's a ghost in the apartment complex. Seems to think the apartment building is still there.

0:25 The ghost claims she'll only leave her apartment "as a corpse," which perhaps is what happened; in the foreman's trailer, there's a note from someone who is upset that she's not being paid the same amount per month for vacating her apartment as originally agreed (that would go to the real estate firm, presumably, not the construction foreman, but never mind). The ghost still won't tell much to Joey, though, who is clearly "one of THEM," whoever They may be. Can't seem to make much progress here, so perhaps it's time to go to Roosevelt Island.

0:26 It's not clear on how they get here, since the subway station on Roosevelt Island didn't open until the late '90s, and the cable car wasn't built until the 80s, so the only access in 1973 is an offramp on the Queensboro Bridge, but never mind. Nor that the "esplanade" doesn't exist, nor that there's any reason for this saxophone-playing jazz musician to be hanging out on a desolate island occupied only by municipal service buildings. But hey. Let's talk to the dude.

0:29 The ghost won't talk to Lauren, nor to Joey, until Joey pulls his saxophone. Apparently he thinks he's on the stage at "Johnny Ivory's" (I foresee a visit to the Yellow Pages).

0:32 Okay, can't get anything out of the guy. Maybe time to go look up Johnny Ivory's in the Yellow Pages, and also the name of the woman who sent the letter to the foreman at the construction site -- Harriet Sherman (as I've written down, since it doesn't seem to go into my notebook).

0:35 Harriet's in the phone book, I claim to be from the construction company, she'll answer questions for the $60 "I" owe her. I've previously established that Lauren has $60 in small change in a jar by her door. Fine, except that Harriet apparently lives in "Battery Park City," which at this point is a gleam in the governor's eye, consisting of a large pile of sand off the West Side Highway, where they dumped the excavation debris from the World Trade Center construction. The first building won't go up until 1984. But whatever.

0:37 Johnny Ivory's on Bleecker and Seventh. Be a little more plausible for a music venue if it were farther east, but not impossible--the Village is not a high-rent area at this point, but it doesn't utterly suck, like much of the city. I decide on Harriet first.

0:40 Wow, that's a bust. Harriet used to live at 53rd and Lex (and has an amazing view out the window her non-existent apartment of what I have to assume is the then-non-existent Jersey city skyline, but never mind). And what is it with the colonial stencil decoration along the walls near the ceiling? Barely appropriate in, say, a reconstruction of a mid-19th century dwelling, completely stupid in a modern apartment, and probably not on anyone's decorating horizon in 1973. Off to Johnny Ivory's, I suppose.

0:42 Oh, yeah. This looks like a bad piano bar on Bleecker.

0:44 One of the photos on the wall has a (younger) sax player whom Lauren identifies as the guy on the promenade; I'll take her word for it. The plaque is "courtey of Jambalaya Records".... Yellow pages again, I suppose.

0:50 Oh, man, is the piano player a sleazeball come on artist. It makes me feel... you know.. dirty. I wouldn't go out with a guy like that... I mean, really, what kind of a girl do you think I am? Uh... anyway, basically no help, except the dialog choice to 'ask for a copy of the picture' suggested that maybe I should use my cleverly-taken CAMERA to take a picture of it. And it shows up in inventory, so I guess that was right. But nowhere to go now really except I suppose I need to check out "Jambalaya records" in the phone book.

0:53 Jambalaya Records, 240 Essex Street. Woah -- once upon a time Jewish ghetto, and now (in 1973) seriously scary Hispanic slum, with a few hardcore Jewish rag merchants holding out along there and Orchard Street and catering to bargain-hunters. You'd be goddamn insane to go to that address, in 1973, as an attractive and unescorted (well, escorted only by a ghost) female, never mind that record labels (or muscian's agents, as it turns out) are not likely to be open, at such a remote and friendless address. (The area has a seriously hip night club scene now, BTW.)

0:59 Dwayne (from de Aylands, apparently) manages jazz and reggae musicians; he recognizes the photo as belonging to a band call the C-Sharps, which he used to manage 8-10 years ago. Asking him about them again reveals that the female singer (presumably the chick in the photo) had a voice like velvet, but they just "disappeared." Fine, except where to go from here? Possibly back to Johnny Ivory's to see if the sleazeball piano player knows of the C-Sharps. Ding! Time's up.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? I not only would, but will.
Why? Dave's games tend to be five hours max, so it's not a lifetime commitment, and I'm entertained enough by the story (and am seriously in lust with the voice of Lauren, albeit her toon is not of my type). The anachronisms are quibbles -- although you know, Dave, if you want input on New York back to mid-60s, just drop me a line -- and earlier, talk to Eleanor Lang, who is a serious New York history fetishist and has a big library on the topic back into the 19th century.

1 comment:

costik said...

Uh... This is actually a review of Blackwell Unbound, not Blackwell Legacy...