Finn, who is young and impetuous, struggles with coming to terms with the loss of his parents at a young age; while Scarlett is thrust into trying to cope with being the parental figure for Finn, as well as tackling the typical teenage landmarks while moving into adulthood.
The story begins with Scarlett waking suddenly on a train, hearing Finn calling to her for help — the little scamp has locked himself in a train bathroom. Finn, the bronze haired superhero-in-miniature with his cape, must have the lungs of a god, because British train bathrooms are not the place you'd typically lock yourself in for a laugh (they're vile). A search of the surrounding train cabins finds them littered with passenger belongings, but no passengers. This mysterious opening introduction allows you to get to grips with the very simple controls.
A small reticule acts as your pointer and will widen if an action can be performed on the object you are currently focused on. Pressing A will use it, or B will inspect it. The triggers are also used to help solve puzzles later. The instructions are always there, so if you happen to quit the game and come back later, you won't forget how to play. After Finn has run away, Scarlett pursues him through the train.
It's pretty apparent from this moment onwards, that timelines and reality are no longer in employ. The naivety of childhood is crushed beneath a story that will cut deeply. Death can be a bit like that, though.
Finn, who desperately craves the love of a family he can't remember leads Scarlett on a harrowing journey through the mysteriously empty train that changes and warps within. While there are no passengers, entities begin to appear — people wearing colorful handmade masks. These apparitions are memories of people the children once knew and act as part of a recurring puzzle — each speaks a short statement, and you have to piece together who is talking to whom.
Often in narrative-led games, you typically play as a silent protagonist, playing witness to events outside of your control. Many story-driven games are just narrated over, with the player merely walking around and listening, taking in the scenery and piecing a story together. Without a compelling narrative, the enjoyment might otherwise fall apart, but given that you're one of two closely related characters with an already disrupted relationship, you can't help but be drawn into Blackwood Crossing's story.
It's a powerful story, too. On the one hand, you have a young woman desperately trying to have a normal life with boyfriends and socializing while dealing with the guilt of having a young and needy brother (among other things), while on the other we have a young boy occasionally acting out from feelings of abandonment. Their interactions are sometimes stilted, the voice acting doesn't always sound entirely genuine, but the emotional intent is there.
When it comes to gameplay, you won't be doing much more than walking around, but the puzzle elements prevent Blackwood Crossing from becoming a fully-fledged 'walking sim.' As you progress through the roughly 3-4 hour long story, the kids both develop magic powers; they're able to draw fire into their hands, drag the dark, slushy Umbra into the light to destroy it or breath life into inanimate paper drawings. These skills aren't overdone or used ad-nauseum, quite the opposite; they're used to break up the long spells of walking around.
The narrative genre often takes a closer look at human emotions, something we don't often see in other genres. Blackwood Crossing takes a bold leap into examining emotions and family dynamics, tackling subjects such as love and grief, separation and moving on. It's a topic that lends itself well to the genre, as the minimalistic gameplay places a magnifying glass over the narrative the game competently weaves.
- Dreamy and vibrant visual quality.
- A deep and heart breaking story offset by bright environments.
- The variety of puzzles make it more engaging than most of this genre.
- Very generous with achievements.
- Pricey for a 3 hour experience.
- Script and voice acting feel awkward sometimes.
Blackwood Crossing is $15.99 and available right now.
Disclosure: This review was performed on an Xbox One with a code provided by ID@Xbox.