For more on Black Mirror, check out OnlySP’s first impressions piece.
THQ Nordic’s new Black Mirror is a reboot (unrelated to the popular British science-fiction show) of a series that began with 2003’s The Black Mirror. As with the original, the game is a Gothic horror/ghost story, heavily inspired by both Lovecraft and Poe. Unlike the first instalment, though, Black Mirror is neither a fresh start nor a particularly inspired point-and-click adventure.
Black Mirror is by no means a train wreck, just impractically mediocre. The voice acting is not terrible, the puzzles are more than just a cakewalk, and the game lacks the utter soullessness of Valkyria Revolution—a similarly perfunctory IP-management title from earlier in the year. However, the game’s intended audience is impossible to pin down because, as a perfunctory IP-management title, Black Mirror does not really seem to be for anybody.
Throughout its meandering and unenjoyable plot, the game never properly justifies its existence. The aforementioned ghost story does nothing new with the formula—a fact that, in itself, is not damning; every adventure game might be someone’s first—but, worse, it leaves important connective tissue on the cutting room floor. Knowing the quality of KING Art’s previous releases (these include The Book of Unfinished Tales, which is not as unfinished as this game) Black Mirror is clearly missing something, be it development time, budget, or staff. Fans of the genre will follow the horror beats easily enough, filling in the blanks with the regular cliches, but anyone for whom these ghost stories are new will likely be lost. Combined with the general linearity and a dearth of interactivity in the environment, Black Mirror‘s world feels hollow and unexplored.
The game has also failed to heed the most obvious lessons of the adventure genre. The eponymous Black Mirror castle boasts tedious hallways and connecting rooms with nothing in them, and the dialogue trees with NPCs do not so much branch as spill in a pile of missed opportunities on the floor. Rather than the conventional click-to-move, controlling protagonist David Gordon resembles a Telltale game or, perhaps, 2015’s Until Dawn—in the way that a supermarket trolley missing three wheels resembles a unicycle. Moving between scenes becomes a thankless chore when the poor controls are combined with the game’s laughable optimisation. Long load times between screens, even during tense story sequences, make the uninspired plot even less tolerable. The question returns: who is this title even for?
Unfortunately, Black Mirror is certainly not for the kind of gamer who wants a well-told horror story to sink their teeth into. Aside from being obviously unfinished, the characters are flat archetypes, and the story-as-such is over within a few hours. From a visual standpoint, everything in Black Mirror could be done better with film or, for that matter, a retro 2D game rather than the clunky 3D style that the developers have adopted.
The game is also not for fans of the series, as the rebooted storyline suggests. Conversely, gamers with no prior knowledge of Black Mirror or adventure games are as likely to be unimpressed with its dull plot and technically-jerky presentation. Players can be forgiven for hoping (mistakenly) that the game offers more than meets the eye.
KING Art Games has plenty of experienced and talented developers on board. Far worse games exist, lacking in even this level of care and attention. Still, in the long run, Black Mirror is a rushed mess that offers little to engage the imagination in any way.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4.