In The Black Mirror, you take on the role of Samuel Gordon. When your grandfather mysteriously dies one night, you come back home to the Black Mirror manor for the funeral -- plus to find out what’s going on. Soon enough other people start to die, you begin experiencing severe headaches and bad dreams, and you learn that a curse was placed on your family over 500 years previously.
The story of The Black Mirror works pretty well. In fact, it’s the best part of the game. The mysteries are presented early, giving you some anticipation about what is to come, and the developers took the time to develop the characters and the history of the Gordon family, so you actually care how the game turns out.
Plus, the engine -- which uses a third person perspective and works like a more sophisticated version of Sierra’s old point and click adventures -- looks great, and since it’s usually nighttime and raining, and since you get to crawl through places like sewers and graveyards and sanatoriums, the game is nicely atmospheric and fun to explore.
All of that sounds like a recipe for success, and The Black Mirror works well at times, but it’s simply an adventure that needed a good editor and didn’t get one. In an era where most adventures don’t even last 10 hours, The Black Mirror has 25-30 hours of gameplay. That sounds like a good thing -- and it can be -- but a lot of the time in the game is spent doing menial tasks and waiting for something interesting to happen.
As an example, at one point you’re at a relative’s house. A handyman is fixing a doorbell. You’d like to grab something from his toolbox, but since he’s standing right there, you can’t. So you talk to the lady of the house who decides (with no prompting from you) that the handyman should mow the lawn. So problem solved, right? Nope. The handyman decides he’ll get to the lawn eventually, and so you have to go back and forth between the handyman and the lady of the house two more times before he finally decides to leave. Were the extra two trips in any way necessary? Did they add anything to the game? No and no, and the game is filled with similar time wasters.
The Black Mirror also has a relatively slow pace. Much of the first half of the game is made up of interviewing various relatives and staff at Black Mirror manor, and everybody speaks slowly, as if they all took a shot of valium before you arrived. Worse, the few puzzles there are at the start of the game are all pretty easy, and, coupled with the steady patter of rain, it’s easy to get lulled to sleep. Luckily, things pick up in the second half of the game, but still, if you’re not patient, The Black Mirror isn’t the game for you.
Finally, The Black Mirror is just sloppy enough to be annoying. There is some confusion about what it means to left click or right click on an object, some puzzles require knowledge not included in the game, and there’s a bunch of background material that should have been provided but wasn’t. For example, in the game’s first scene you find yourself in a room with Robert, Victoria, Bates, and Heinz, but you don’t know who any of them are. I don’t think I figured out who Robert was until about halfway through the game, and I never did figure out who somebody named Cathrin was, which was annoying because apparently she died at the manor, and your character felt responsible. Why bring something like that up but then fail to explain it?
And so I liked the engine The Black Mirror used, and I thought it was a good game to look at, and I even enjoyed the arc of the story (although the “surprise” ending was too heavily telegraphed). It’s just the details of the game I didn’t get along with, all the unnecessary walking back and forth, and the general simplicity of the puzzles. So The Black Mirror earns a borderline recommendation from me, but developer Future Games did enough things right that I’m hopeful they can create another, better adventure sometime in the future.