Fans of scary and intriguing storylines were pleased to hear that the acclaimed 2003 title The Black Mirror was being reimagined in the modern 2017 setting — myself included. However, the unfortunate truth is that developer KING Art has failed to faithfully rebuild the classic hit for the gamers of this decade. Occasionally, story points, horror sequences, and the odd puzzle offer a satisfactory experience, but overall the game fails to impress on almost every level.
Story: An okay attempt, but not nearly good enough
The story of Black Mirror follows David Gordon, a member of the famous and prestigious Gordon family which has held major sway over Scotland and its affairs for generations. Upon hearing news that his father committed suicide, David is called back to his family's ancestral mansion which he is set to inherit from his father. However, as he explores the home and learns more about his family's (and his father's) past, David begins to unravel the disturbing mysteries of the manor and fears that he may eventually meet the same fate as his father.
This type of story I described sounds intriguing, and the one told in the 2003 original truly was. In this Black Mirror title, though, the potentially interesting plot is undermined by a disappointing cast of characters, which includes the protagonist David himself. Most of the people in the game rarely feel like they have much substance, and as a result, it was incredibly difficult to get into the story. Blowing the dust off the Gordon history books through exploring the mansion offered some good narrative setup, but the game never capitalizes on it. It doesn't help that the voice acting performances were nothing special, either.
Overall, the main issue is that nothing really hooks you in. None of what's here is truly gripping enough to entice the player, and for a story-dependent experience, that's a major problem.
Gameplay: Moments of excellence marred by frequent annoyances
Things start to slightly look a bit up with the gameplay. As with most point-and-click adventure games, the majority of the title is played by controlling David Gordon as he walks throughout the various eerie rooms and hallways of the manor. There are a plethora of things to examine and investigate, ranging from books in the library to the contents of table drawers. The things you'll find in these nooks and crannies are the aforementioned bits of Gordon family lore that offer context and background to the location you're in, as well as other various snippets of info. Searching and finding these extras is one of the best experiences that Black Mirror has to offer the player.
Things start to fall apart when you encounter some of the terrible lighting and wide, wonky camera perspectives, though. Even with a bright light in hand, trying to scan the environment around David was often a chore, and the strange camera angles only made things worse. In addition, David's default walking speed is way too fast, and you'll likely find yourself overshooting doorways you want to enter or other interactions.
Thankfully, things begin getting better when some of the game's horror aspects start to become present. Despite lacking a good story, Black Mirror retains the ability of the original to create effective atmospheric tension through a mixture of jump scares, environmental world building, and the discovery of disturbing past events as you venture through the hallways of the Gordon ancestral home. I would be lying if I said that I wasn't a little on edge as the story progressed and things got more and more unsettling. At the end of the day, Black Mirror makes solid attempts at offering quality gameplay which are hindered by poor presentation of the setting.
Performance: Bad, buggy, and broken
Where Black Mirror truly drops the ball is in its performance. I lost track of how many times my framerate dropped below the already disappointing 30, and the game hitched and froze constantly, both in-game and during cutscenes. The audio of the music and dialogue occasionally cut out for several seconds, and the game even crashed to the Xbox dashboard on two occasions. What's worse, it didn't do a good job of receiving button inputs from my controller, either. Several times I had to press a button three or four times until the command actually went through.
For a game that already has several issues, performance this bad is a devastating nail in the coffin. It might actually be the worst performing game I've played on Xbox this year.
While Black Mirror manages to get some things right with horror atmosphere and great exploration of the setting, it fails to achieve success on almost every other front. Between the poor writing, average voice acting, the low-quality lighting and camera, and the god-awful performance, Black Mirror is a game that offers you little for what you pay. I would recommend missing out on it until KING Art releases an optimization patch — if they do so.
- Interesting premise.
- Decent gameplay.
- Terrible performance.
- Poor story writing.
- Uninteresting characters.
- Inadequate camera and lighting.
Black Mirror is available on Xbox One and Steam for $39.99.
This review was conducted on an Xbox One, using a copy provided by the publisher.