Blackstone Chronicles

a Reeeview item by J Nash (Monday January 4th, 2010)

JN says...JN saysMy triumphant return to reviewing games for PC Gamer after about three years of not doing that. There’s a very obvious joke at the end, that the four good things about the game couldn’t even muster a percentage point apiece and they were simply not important enough to mention. This took roughly three non-consecutive days out of a week to convey successfully to PCG, who wanted the arithmetical discrepancy explicitly addressed in the text (as otherwise the readers wouldn’t understand) and the four good things carefully listed (as otherwise the readers wouldn’t understand). It perhaps didn’t much help their argument that at the same time they wanted the final score changed from the exactly correct 3% to something around 40%. There was a robust exchange of views and some kind of stabbing incident before a victory emerged for intelligence, justice and common sense, ie me. Such vigorous discussions were commonplace as everyone valiantly struggled with back-breaking labour to make a better mag FOR YOU and we parted with lighthearted chuckles. Next month I got South Park. (Funnily enough, looking it up I see that the last game I ever reviewed for the mag was Midtown Madness, so presumably when that accidentally turned out to be terrific the whole of PCG fell into their own atomic reactor while raising their fists in a claw-like gesture of defiance.)

Publisher: Mindscape
Developer: Red Orb


Right, I’ve had enough of this. Like the legendary “up” to jump of platform games, rendered point-and-click adventures keep making the same elementary, stupidly ridiculous mistakes. Why? I don’t know. Nor do I particularly care any more, having reached the point where I’d rather they just all went away and died. Blackstone Chronicles, written using Quicktime, that fabulous multimedia technology that enables anyone to swiftly and easily make complete crap, and based on some horror books by a best-selling author no one here has even obliquely heard of, contains every single design flaw, interface error and useless rubbishness of every rendered adventure ever.

There’s the tedious realistic setting. There are the flat, computery, rendered-look rendered computer graphics. There are the dull, contrived puzzles. There’s the clumsy, entirely skill-free pointing-and-clicking aspect, where you have to systematically sweep every screen for “hot spots” because the artists have show-offily filled every space with background detail that could conceivably (even specifically) be the objects you’re looking for. There’s the way you can see into other locations, but again that’s just the artists, and you still have to go the long way around.

There are the unspeakably primitive controls, where you don’t move directly left or right, but have to turn around first, and where the line between clicking something at the side of a screen and accidentally swivelling on the spot is interferingly microscopic. There’s the shin-shattering obtuseness of having to explicitly “use” or “combine” objects, even if, say, you’re carrying a lift handle that’s been described as a lift handle, and you’re in a lift, and there’s no handle, and you’re trying to operate the lift by clicking on where the handle should be. There’s the fundamental mistake of giving you non-specific items (for instance, a knife) but inexplicably limiting their use (for instance, a knife that can slip only one, unexceptional-looking lock) so you have to try everything on everything.

There’s the incredible wealth of totally, utterly irrelevant detail, so you don’t know whether clicking an object will help, or give you a useless description of something you’re looking at, except you’ve worked out that necessary items are takeable, only to find that some takeable items are there just to tell you that it isn’t important to take them, so you still have to click on everything scrupulously mechanically. There are the atmosphere-smashing plot demands, where you’re funnelled into knowing certain things, so, for example, a ghost will immovably prevent you from taking a meaningless schooldays souvenir, but won’t emit a peep when you bust open a drawer and start reading its clue-filled private diary.

Blackstone Chronicles has four good things in it. I don’t have the space to tell you about them. If rendered adventures appear in a museum, they’ll need only two exhibits. One is the millions-selling Riven, just to remind everyone that you can never, never know fully just how appallingly moronic the human race can be. The other is this game, the god of an aberrant genre.

I will personally kill the next person who tries to write a rendered adventure.