By – Thomas Faust

Blackwell

So this is it.  After eight years, the fifth and final episode of Wadjet Eye Games’ Blackwell series wraps up the story of writer-turned-medium Rosangela Blackwell and her ghostly companion, Joey Mallone.  The Blackwell games have been Wadjet Eye’s flagship franchise for a while, and it shows.  Their production values are pretty high, considering they are still using the ageing AGS engine.  Full voice acting, detailed graphics, and that smooth, jazzy soundtrack all contribute to one of the most polished adventure experiences out there.  However, the real question is whether the story holds up.  Is Blackwell Epiphany a successful send-off or does it peter out, leaving loose plot threads and a stale aftertaste in your mouth?

Rosangela Blackwell is a Bestower; someone who can interact with spirits and help them move on to the afterlife.  The job comes with a free ghostly companion to offer guidance and snarky asides.  That’s Joey, a rather old-fashioned spirit who’s been in the Blackwell family for a few generations.  Together, they’ve been helping lost souls for a while, and while it’s a worthy cause, freeing ghosts doesn’t exactly pay the bills.  Because of this, Rosangela has been working as a consultant to the NYPD occasionally using her otherworldly connections as informants and helping out with some stranger cases.

The beginning of Epiphany sees our two unlikely heroes in the midst of a snowstorm.  It’s early January, and the New York winter is in full swing. Armed with nothing but some hot coffee, Rosangela finds herself in front of a ruined house. She’s been called here by Sam Durkin, her police handler, and left to figure out what’s wrong with this place.  It doesn’t take long for things to turn completely bad and lead Rosa and Joey on their final adventure.  Oh, and of course there’s the small matter of all previous Blackwell bestowers going insane. Can Rosangela avert this sword of Damocles, or is this how the series will end?

Blackwell Review

With this being the fifth game in the series, it is probably not a good idea to start here. You can finish the game, but a lot of things won’t make much sense.  If you’ve been playing all the previous Blackwell games, you’re in for a treat. Everything wraps up so very neatly that it actually makes you think this course of events has been Dave Gilbert’s masterplan all along.  In a way, it always felt like a TV series, with individual episodes and an overarching mystery lurking in the background.  Blackwell Epiphany is the series’ conclusion, and it does deliver with a brilliantly executed mid-game plot twist and an appropriate finale.

I’m going out on a limb here and claim that this was easily the best adventure game story I played in a very long time.  Really, it’s that good, and you should be rushing out to buy it at once if you’ve accompanied Rosa and Joey on their past adventures. Just be aware this is grim stuff.  The previous games haven’t exactly been light fare, but Epiphany has all of them beat by a long shot.  It‘s never directly on-screen, but the game deals with some rather heavy issues, so it’s not exactly wholesome entertainment for the entire family.

The gameplay hasn’t changed all that much.  It’s still standard point & click fare with an emphasis on conversation and logic instead of inventory-based puzzles.  Left clicking is used to move and interact, while right clicking gives you a more detailed description.  You can still switch between Rosa and her companion. Joey cannot directly interact with corporeal things, but he’s able to pass through walls and blow on things. Granted, it’s his only means of interaction, but it’s overused a bit.  “When in doubt, blow on stuff” gets old fast, but on the other hand, we have to cut Joey some slack.  He’s a purely spiritual presence, after all.

Blackwell Review

Occasionally, you need to search for further information on your mobile phone’s browser or combine clues to gain further insights.  If you played the previous Blackwell games, you’ll feel right at home here, and the puzzles won’t give you a hard time. Epiphany is also longer than its predecessors.  If the previous games have been TV episodes, this one’s a feature-length movie.

This is a polished game, with detailed character and background art by Ben Chandler.  There are two instances of the rather infamous pixel hunting, but both items are plainly visible and you get additional conversational clues to their whereabouts.  Rebecca Whittaker and Abe Goldfarb lend their familiar voices to Rosa and Joey for one last time, and the rest of the voice acting cast do a great job as well.

Thomas Regin’s soundtrack once again serves as excellent atmospheric backdrop, but by now it almost sounds too familiar at times.  On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine the Blackwell series without this music.  There are only a few technical issues that don’t impede your experience a great deal.  When playing with a widescreen resolution, there are small black bars on the edges of the screen.  If you buy the game on Steam, it tends to become unresponsive and requires a restart when opening the Steam overlay (with Ctrl+Tab). Thankfully, regular autosaves have you covered and you won’t lose much progress.

Blackwell Review

Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?

Have you been playing and enjoying the previous entries in the Blackwell series?  If so, this amazing game is undoubtedly worthy of your time and the $14.99 asking price.  Bidding goodbye to Rosa and Joey is truly a sad thing, but the series couldn’t have possibly ended in a better, more satisfying way.  Whatever Wadjet Eye does next, they have one hell of a legacy to live up to.

Blackwell Epiphany Technical Summary:

Blackwell Review

  • Time Played – 6 Hours
  • Widescreen Support – Yes
  • Resolution Played – 1366×768
  • Windowed Mode – No
  • Bugs/Crashes Encountered – Game crashes after using the Steam overlay
  • Control Scheme – Keyboard, Mouse
  • DRM: Steam, DRM-Free via GOG
  • System Specs – i5-4200U@1.60GHz, 4GB RAM, Radeon HD8670M 1GB
  • Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
  • Availability – Official Site, Steam, GOG
  • Demo – Yes
  • Saved Game Location – C:\Users\Username\Saved Games\Blackwell Epiphany
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