Blackwood Crossing Review

Go grab the tissues and get ready to give your folks a call. Yeah, it’s going to be one of those.

Blackwood Crossing, created by Brighton based indie developer PaperSeven, is a narrative-driven first person adventure game that explores the relationship between the adolescent Scarlett and her eccentric and creative younger brother Finn. Awakening upon a seemingly ordinary train, the arrival of an unknown figure triggers a series of peculiar events that soon prove it to be anything but. What follows is a richly emotional journey into the decaying relationship between two orphaned siblings.

At its heart, Blackwood Crossing tells a very real story that all too many will experience in their lifetimes. Players take on the role of Scarlett as the transcendent train journey transports her back and forth through the amalgamated world of memory and the imagination of her younger brother. As the story delves further into the events surrounding their parents deaths; it explores themes of love, life and loss in the most spectacular and yet humble fashion, and along the way it becomes a sort of coming-of-age story. Through the narrative device of the imaginative Finn; the player is presented with a glimpse into the world of what it’s like to lose loved ones at a young age, complete with the sad reality of no longer remembering your parents’ faces, or losing grip on the older sister you’d always counted on.

The animation and art style of this game can only be described as charming. A bright and vibrant, almost fairy-tale aesthetic, that betrays the dark themes lying beneath the surface. You absolutely believe that you walk in the midst of a child’s mind as it steadily declines with the unveiling story. The visuals are at times breathtaking, not for their scope or breadth but for the richness of detail and childlike innocence imbued into each setting; from the train itself through to the lush greens of wooded isles and the most impressive tree-house you’ll see in or out of a video game. Sprinkled throughout this title are also some brilliant and surprisingly meta references to popular films, albeit somewhat warped renditions, along with a few ingenious inventions and the occasional 90’s throwback.

Although Blackwood Crossing is primarily a narrative venture, its use of puzzles are a great addition to the overall tone of the game. Though not to be counted amongst the most brain-meltingly difficult conundrums, they do a great job of enhancing the childlike feel while encouraging exploration of the environments and keeping the game from feeling like an on-rails adventure, despite the setting. One such puzzle that included the deciphering of a made up language felt suitably satisfying to solve while not so advanced as to break character immersion. They also serve as an effective storytelling device; from the discovery of small childhood mementos through to the masked apparitions of family and friends whose stories must be pieced together in order to progress. What gives these puzzles an appropriately magical touch is the development of Scarlett’s extraordinary abilities; a set of strange powers acquired as you travel through this world, including pyrokinesis and the gift of giving life to the inanimate.

Initially this game can feel a little slow to play; as the occasional back and forth is required at times and with the lack of any sprint button, Scarlett’s slow and steady gate may have you feeling impatient to move on. If you’re having a hard time with any of the puzzles, this can grow to exacerbating levels. That being said, this isn’t a game or a story to be rushed and that soon becomes very apparent. The impatience quickly wears off as you explore every nook of the environments laid out before you, diligence being key to progression here. The story itself only really took a few hours to complete on the first playthrough. So do yourself a favour and take it slow, enjoy it. This game, like most of its kind, is best enjoyed for that first special time. In terms of replay value, while trophies give it the extra layer, there isn’t much to bring you back for the instant replay other than to experience the story all over again. As a linear path with some minor deviation; the joy comes in uncovering the story hidden therein, fans of games like Gone Home will enjoy what Blackwood Crossing has to offer.

Aside from its cleverly structured story; where this game really shines, entices and pulls at the proverbial heart strings is through the fantastic performances of the British voice cast. Especially that of the two protagonists and their personal journeys both as siblings and as individuals; watching each character progress, mature and mend their fragile bonds with each other is a bittersweet journey that’s sure to have you weeping by the end. When coupled with the minimalist style musical score, it quickly evolves from the fairy tale and becomes a truly powerful and intriguingly dark drama.

So, the verdict? To find a game that moves you to such a degree as Blackwood Crossing is a rare treat, one that should be seized right away. A brave and unique concept packaged with a story that is equal parts whimsical, sombre and poignant. As a younger sibling who once played in a world of cardboard machinations and imagination, this hit me where I live. Whatever your experience, this is one of those stories that’ll unexpectedly render you blubbering and reaching for the phone to call home. The underlying tale of the disaster that has befallen this family is justly told and cleverly structured throughout, truly a thoroughly grown-up and proudly British indie title.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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