I’ve read practically everything H.P. Lovecraft ever got published and Edgar Allen Poe is my favourite poet. I also got bullied a lot at school but that’s entirely coincidental. Black Mirror is a reboot of the gothic horror adventure game of the same title that was released in 2003. The original Black Mirror drew heavily from Lovecraft and Poe’s dark, gothic imaginations to inspire its aesthetic and THQ Nordic’s reboot tries to do the same. For these reasons alone I was pretty eager to try out the copy that THQ Nordic sent us. But unfortunately, things went a little further south as time went on…
Black Mirror aims high in terms of its horror aspirations. Psychological terror that pulls your sanity to pieces is extremely difficult to pull off but when it succeeds it’s truly exceptional. It’s the reason people still go on about H.P. Lovecraft’s work today and one of the reasons I feel Bloodborne is one of the greatest games ever made. The Game actually starts off very well with a frantic chase across the dark Scottish countryside and a player character that is muttering insanities to himself as he flees an invisible assailant. Our character eventually self immolates as part of what feels like a dark ritual. An appropriately enigmatic and grisly opening for a Black Mirror game.
After this we meet our protagonist, David Gordon on his way to his ancestral home in Scotland to claim the family property after his father mysteriously dies. David is drawn with dark, gaunt features that compliment his Victorian style clothing. The character design is a little spoiled by how jovial David is but this isn’t too bad of a quirk given that it’s only the start of the game. The graphical style is drawn very much in the same vein as Telltale games like The Walking Dead. Its serviceable and has its charms but you really feel the quality drop when it comes to the character animations. I know Mo-cap is expensive but some of the character animations in Black Mirror look like they were imported from Resident Evil 2.
The lighting is almost always very dark throughout the game. This is to be expected though and in many cases works very well for creating a haunting atmosphere. The mansion itself is very imposing and I found the portrait of David’s grandfather at the top of the stairs to be particularly eerie. The only problems I had with the lighting were when, later in the game, your companion is carrying the light source rather than your character. This is pretty frustrating when the person carrying the light is 15 steps behind you and you’re trying to find the door.
This brings me nicely to the gameplay. Black Mirror is a puzzle based adventure with a pretty straightforward and linear progression path. The puzzles are usually intuitive and satisfying but there are a couple that frustrate. The ones I found to be the most annoying involve a key that can be adjusted to fit various locks. This was actually a pretty cool idea but the issue I had was in actually adjusting the key’s teeth. The prompts to turn the teeth often completely obscured the positioning of them so I had no idea what the finished key looked like. Coupled with an unwieldy inventory system this got very draining.
The worst elements of the gameplay are the devastatingly long loading times. I feel like I spent an equal amount of time staring at loading screens as I did actually playing the game. This issue is compounded massively by two major problems. One is that you are not prompted to press a button to walk through a door. This is insanely annoying in a dark mansion where if you stray to close to a door, which you can’t see, you will be forced to endure a loading screen as you leave and another as you return. The second major problem is that there are sections of the house which have nothing in them other than another door, essentially creating completely unnecessary loading time.
The graphical glitches were a pain as well. The framerate was unreliable to say the least but the main offender was the common occurrence of white edge shimmering on textures for the environment. Walking around the old mansion was incredibly jarring when all of the seams for every model had a glitchy white outline. This often comes down to poor texturing and it’s not something I expect to see in a finished game.