Blackwell Unbound

Publisher: Wadjet Eye
Developer: Wadjet Eye
Year: 2007
Platform: Windows, Linux, Mac, iOS, Android

Rating: 6

Right on the heels of The Blackwell Legacy, Dave Gilbert took a risk and went straight to a prequel, which is an especially odd choice given that the first game is far from epic and barely explored the characters there. Yet it still works, and I found myself enjoying the experience significantly more.

In the first game we learned that ghost Joey Mallone–due to an unknown force that ties him geographically to his spirit guide–spent twenty years watching Rosangela Blackwell’s aunt wither away in a hospital room. In Blackwell Unbound, we get to hang out with aunt Lauren before her untimely coma. I assumed going in that we would learn what befell Lauren, but nope, we don’t go anywhere near her final days. This game simply explores one day where Joey and Lauren help a couple of spirits enter the afterlife.

While from a story standpoint this is fairly unsatisfying, the gameplay has been significantly enhanced. No longer do you just control the spirit guide; at any time you can switch between Joey and Lauren to tackle puzzles. Gilbert did an excellent job balancing puzzles between the two protagonists while keeping them logical and engaging. Need to get through a locked gate? Send Joey. Need someone to make some noise to get a spirit’s attention? Send Lauren. There are few puzzles that only require the use of one of the characters; as a result, my mind was consistently engaged. And because you are tackling two cases at the same time, if you get stuck on one you can take a break and take a go at the other. I required no hints, but most puzzles took me a while to break down the solution.

But perhaps most importantly, the acting has improved significantly. Abe Goldfarb, who voices Joey, has become more enjoyable to listen to. A lot of his misogyny has been toned down, and what is still there is appropriately called out by Lauren. But the actor is also just delivering his lines better, and I laughed out loud several times at his sarcastic wit. And Dani Marco excels as Lauren, making me believe this character’s motives, feelings, and relationship with Joey. I found myself a bit annoyed when the game ended, knowing Lauren is not in the next two games of the series. The supporting actors are hit and miss. Disappointingly, the Jamaican studio producer feels like a stereotype. And the old lady just sounds like a caricature of an old lady; I worked in nursing homes for years and never heard anybody talk quite like that. On a positive note, Daryl Lathon does a fine job voicing two distinct black characters.

As alluded to earlier, the ending is a bit of a letdown, and it just feels like part of a larger episode with no great stakes, at least as it pertains to Rosangela. Thankfully, the ending is not the end of the fun, as there are plenty of insightful and amusing outtakes to sift through in addition to concept art, an interview with the artist, and additional music. And, as usual, you can play with director’s commentary in subsequent playthroughs.

While Blackwell Unbound is not an especially memorable game, it is solid from beginning to end. If you were hesitant to continue the series after the first game, rest assured it gets better.

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