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Black Mirror’s Early Hours Suggest an Adequate but Uninspired Reboot

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The Black Mirror, a point-and-click adventure game released in 2003, was developed by Czech team Future Games and remains in the hearts of fans as an accomplished Gothic horror—remarkably, given the game’s famously wonky English voice acting. Years later, German studio Cranberry Production continued the series with Black Mirror II in 2009 and Black Mirror III in 2011. Despite the change in hands, these sequels carried on the spirit of the first game while wrapping up certain story elements to create a contained trilogy.

Combining the spooky-mansion horror of Alone in the Dark and Resident Evil with literary mystery and significant Lovecraftian undertones (think ‘The Rats in the Walls’), the Black Mirror games boasted many hours of story and puzzles that hearkened back to the glory days of the adventure genre. For series fans, news of a reboot by the new IP holder, THQ Nordic, did not amuse. As one might expect, a reboot raised concerns of dumbing down the core concept in an attempt to reach a new audience. By starting again, this new Black Mirror was unlikely to leverage prior investment in the series the same way that, for example, a Black Mirror IV would have done.

Of course, both of the original developers, Future Games and Cranberry Production, are now absorbed, disbanded, and reconstructed in the ways small teams so often are in this competitive industry. Whatever alchemy resulted in the Black Mirror games cannot be repeated to the same efficacy—and any attempt to do so would probably make things worse.

On the other hand, KING Art Games—developer of this new version—has so far avoided the tumble-drier effect of the European development scene, and even had a hand in the planning of Black Mirror II. The team’s bread-and-butter is also point-and-click adventures, most notably the comedy-fantasy The Book of Unwritten Tales series. As part of THQ Nordic’s ongoing project of franchise management, then, having an accomplished developer breathe life into a popular name such as Black Mirror (even though the widely known television series is entirely unconnected) is not a bad idea.

This process has resulted in one of the most common types of reboot: the pre-fresh-boot—the story is at once a sort of prequel to the original, a refresh for the series, and a way of restarting from number one. As examples, think of 2013’s Tomb Raider, last year’s Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, or the movies Rise of the Planet of the Apes and X-Men First Class.

The newly-released Black Mirror takes place decades before the original, in 1926, but retains the mysterious Black Mirror House as its main setting. The opening hours establish the house itself and the Iwan Rheon look-alike protagonist David Gordon, and are deeply entrenched in the evolving point-and-click adventure tradition. As with Telltale Games’s famous episodic series, the game is viewed from a third-person perspective and players directly control the character, rather than using a cursor and clicking to move.

Between Until Dawn, the recent works of Quantic Dream, and the continued output of continental developers including KING Art, one would think there might be a better term than ‘point-and-click’ for a genre that is now designed to be played with a controller. However, a title like Black Mirror is point-and-click to the bone, even if, say, the console version has no mouse of which to speak.

David Gordon returns to his family home after years in India, wandering slowly from location to location and interacting with whatever he can. Then, when the player is sick of wandering, the game presents a brain-teaser—often in the form of a locked door—followed by stretches of story, more wandering, and more puzzles. At least in the early stages, Black Mirror does nothing particularly groundbreaking; absent are quick time events and nominal dexterity challenges, such as those found in the action-adventured-based Uncharted series, which is also for the best.

However, since it does not evolve the form, Black Mirror must rely on the series’ horror roots and literary ambitions to entertain—both of which produce mixed results in the game’s early hours. The House is almost exactly what one expects of an old Scottish mansion, and the standard horror cliches of creaky floorboards and creepy servants are all given plenty of air to breathe without striving for originality.

Black Mirror will need to up its game considerably to prove a mid-range, 3D, direct control title is more worth players’ time than the dozens of excellent (and usually truly ‘point-and-click’) adventures available on Steam. Right now, the game lives up to the ponderous pacing of its genre forebears without the je ne sais quoi that made the Black Mirror series stand out years ago, but the game still has plenty of time to change that.

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