GAME REVIEW: Wadjet Eye Game’s “Blackwell Epiphany”

Wadjet Eye Game’s “Blackwell Epiphany” is the conclusion to their popular “Blackwell” series, which focuses on the exploits of the women of the Blackwell family and their snarky, incorporeal spirit guide, Joey Mallone, as they guide spirits to move on after death. After interviewing them a few months ago, Literally, Darling received an advance copy of “Blackwell Epiphany” to review. Here are our thoughts.

Plot: 8.5/10

The plot to “Epiphany” was fantastic, recalling several elements and characters of the previous games in the series and tying them together nicely. Rosa Blackwell and Joey are now unofficially working with the police—specifically Detective Sam Durkin, who keeps turning up in Wadjet Eye games like a bad-tempered penny. However, things quickly go south when a man is murdered in front of Rosa and Joey, and his spirit is then dramatically ripped apart, something that they have never encountered before. Their investigation into first his death and then subsequent violent spirit deaths, and the reason why spirits keep getting ripped apart, is the main plot of the game.

It was a good way to tie up the series, but it doesn’t quite feel like the overarching plot was planned out from the beginning, and is slightly clunky. However, given that all of the games are tied together so nicely, it’s easy to overlook that. While the previous game in the series “Blackwell Deception” had a nice, open ending and a perfect way to continue the plot, with Rosa and Joey investigating essentially soul-harvesters, “Epiphany” didn’t actually continue on that thread, and though there were several nods to it throughout the game, it was still a bit of a let-down.

My biggest problem is with the ending of the game. While the ending did make sense and didn’t feel like some sort of a cop-out, it didn’t seem an appropriate ending for the entire series and was a bit of a slap in the face. I was let down and thinking, “This? This is what I’ve played through five games for? It hardly seems worth it.” But, they do say that the journey is more important than the destination, and luckily for “Blackwell Epiphany,” the journey holds up very strongly.

Overall, I felt the plot was good, intriguing and I personally couldn’t wait to get to the end of the game to see what would happen. There were plenty of twists and nothing played out exactly like planned—or like you hoped—leading to a fairly satisfying conclusion. (Break out the hankies people, it’s a tear-jerker).

Characters: 10/10

This category, I must admit, has a bit of an advantage in that the primary characters have previously appeared in the series and they’ve been built on and have more opportunity for character development. Joey, Rosa, Sam Durkin and a few others (spoilers!) have already been developed as characters, and bring life and vitality to their roles.

The “incidental” characters in Blackwell games are usually dead, at one point or another, and “Epiphany” is no exception. However, there’s much more variety in these characters than there have been in previous games—an art dealer, police officer, TV presenter, prostitute and priest. None of these fit the stereotypes of their professions and each of them has a unique backstory that you have to find out during the course of the game. I have to say, out of all of the Blackwell games, “Epiphany” is by far my favorite cast of characters.

Sound: 9/10

While sound wasn’t necessarily as apparent in this game compared to, say, “Blackwell Unbound,” I’ve grown quite used to the cool jazz background scores. The music fit the scenes, particularly the music in the void scenes, and at the ending of the game. It wasn’t necessarily “stand-out” but I’m also not the sort of person who notices music in video games too much. All the tracks fit the scenes and supported the plot, nothing was out of place or distracting your attention away from the main story.

The voice acting was also a big step up from previous games, explained in the Commentary by the fact that Wadjet Eye hired a voice director to cast this game, which is a first. Abe Goldfarb and Rebecca Whittaker give by far, their best performances as Joey and Rosa and my favorite newcomer was Miranda Gauvin as Heather Goffstein.

Ease of Play: 8/10

The ease of play is probably my biggest issue with the game. If you’ve played any other Wadjet Eye games it’s easier to acclimate to this particular style of “point-n-click,” as every company or series has a different feel to their games and slightly different mechanics. For example, the same principles that work in a “Nancy Drew” point-n-click wouldn’t work in a “Broken Sword” game. I personally always find it takes a little bit of an adjustment period to really immerse yourself into the game’s mechanics.

However, a big issue I had, particularly with playing the early release version, is the hint system. Throughout the game if you’re stuck, Rosa can talk to Joey and choose “Plan your next move,” which prompts them to discuss what they should do next. Unfortunately, this system wasn’t adequate and would frequently give me hints that I’d either passed already or couldn’t do yet. For example, when trying to break into an office, once Joey floats through the walls and into the room, they prompt you to have Rosa look at the computer. Well, duh, I’d like to say, but it completely skipped the greater problem of getting the physical person through the walls of the hidden room and into the vicinity of the computer.

So, while the basic mechanics are easy to acclimate to, the process of puzzle solving is a little harder to get used to and the hint system could use a major overhaul.

Visuals: 9/10

The visuals were absolutely fantastic. Considering Blackwell is a pixel art game, you might think it’s a bit strange to praise that when they’re nowhere near as crisp, clear or realistic as something like “Bioshock” or even “Assassin’s Creed.” However, they’ve vastly improved upon the visuals of the previous games and I find myself quite liking the pixelated-kitsch factor. The new art director, Ben Chandler does a great job of keeping the visuals consistent with the style of the previous game while also greatly improving them.

The biggest improvement was definitely the character portraits during conversations which are now so much more detailed and expressive. Also, an adorable bonus that I personally love is the addition of footprints in the snow that Rosa makes when she walks. It’s cute and realistic (and you can get an achievement if you don’t walk too much!).

Overall: 9/10

Overall, despite the tear-jerking ending (No seriously, I actually cried), I loved this game. It was much longer than the previous installments and was a satisfying conclusion to a great series, and a great story. While it’s sad to say goodbye to Rosa and Joey, I can’t wait to see what Wadjet Eye is developing next, as they’ve definitely gotten out a lot of the kinks throughout the development of the Blackwell games and each has improved upon the last.

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