The Blackwell Epiphany review
The Good:

Poignant, character-driven story; well-designed puzzles; beautiful retro graphics; strong jazz score and voice acting; powerful, heart-wrenching finale.

The Bad:

Pace drags a little in the middle; main plot twist seemingly comes out of nowhere.

"Get through the light, quick!" are not words you traditionally associate with a ghost story, but then death is usually the end of one’s problems, not the start. In The Blackwell Epiphany, New York City's premier paranormal detective duo have to contend with someone (or something) who's not just killing people, but destroying their very souls. What follows is a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse in a world where desperate people seek help in preserving their spirits for the afterlife. The Blackwell games have always been known for their storytelling, but this one really ups the ante and delivers a gripping and emotionally-charged finale that sends the series out on a high.

For those of you who haven't been following along since Rosa and Joey's debut in The Blackwell Legacy, here's a brief overview. Rosa, thanks to a rare quirk of nature, is a Bestower, able to see and help restless spirits move on to the next world with the aid of her ghostly Jazz-age sidekick, Joey. It's a role that has been passed down through the Blackwell women: first her grandmother Patricia, then her aunt Lauren and now Rosa. It hasn't tended to end well, though, as both her grandmother and her aunt eventually suffered nervous breakdowns.

Rosa and Joey make a good double act. Rosa can do all your typical adventurer stuff, talking to people and picking up anything that's not nailed down, but she's stymied by locked doors and ghosts can be reluctant to talk to her. Joey, on the other hand, can't touch things and can only interact with the world by blowing on it (conjuring up a light breeze), but he can drift through walls and doors like they aren't even there. So long as he doesn't stray too far from Rosa, that is; they’re stuck with each other, much to their mutual frustration.

Initially reluctant, over time Rosa has come to, if not exactly rejoice in, then at least grudgingly accept her role as Bestower. What started out as an annoyance has, over time, come to be her calling. She helps ghosts to move on because "it's what we do." She's even become a (strictly unofficial) police consultant, helping Detective Sam Durkin with anything weird or spooky that comes his way.

As the final game opens, we find Rosa and Joey on just such an assignment, out on a bitterly cold and snowy New York night with only a cup of coffee for company. The police have raided and shut down a local crack house, but a young actress was found dead and (as it turns out) she's still haunting the building, unaware that anything's wrong. (This is a familiar Blackwell theme: the ghosts they encounter are usually unaware of the fact, and have to be made to remember their deaths before they can move on.)

Soon after, Joey and Rosa have barely made it back onto the street before a masked gunman appears. Is he going to shoot her? As it turns out, no, but without spoiling the outcome, what happens instead is even more disturbing. Deeply shocked, Rosa vows to get to the bottom of it, but all she's got to go on is an unidentified body and the mysterious final words of a dying man. Even her friend Detective Durkin has clammed up, on orders from the top.

This is confident storytelling, and really shows how far writer Dave Gilbert has come since Legacy debuted with an officious stand-in doorman who wouldn't let you back into your apartment. Indeed, the early part of Epiphany in particular is very well put-together: the initial scenes at the crack house, like the pre-title vignette in many Bond films, do a great job of setting the stage and introducing you both to Rosa and Joey and the game's controls. Then, just as you're congratulating yourself on a job well done, the main plot kicks off with a bang and shakes the comfortable certainty of long-time players. Nothing and no-one is safe anymore.

For about the first half of the game, this confidence continues as we're drawn deeper into the case and find out more about the mysterious Grace Group that's helping people to find their true purpose in life, but may also be destroying them in the process. It all leads up to a genuinely powerful moment that leaves Rosa standing over a dead body with the police breaking down the door. Unfortunately, having worked so hard to build up a sense of tension, threat and urgency, the game suddenly lets all the air out of the tires. It's like one of those Saturday morning serials where every episode ends on an apparently impossible cliffhanger with the hero plunging to his death, only to start the next episode with a shot of him diving aside at the last moment and carrying on with his day. The shift is similarly anticlimactic here; all the suspense evaporates and you're suddenly back to your day-to-day ghosthunting, with the wider mystery taking a backseat for a while.

At this point, you're given two more essentially self-contained cases to investigate before the main plotline swings back into action again. It's a frustrating design choice, as it really bogs down the pace of the game for a while. These are far from being dull fillers, though: considered by themselves, they're delicate little human dramas that touch on some fairly deep themes. Gilbert has a great eye for the everyday dramas of life and many of his characters are memorable. From the TV news anchor desperate to leave her past behind to the brother and sister striving to deal with childhood abuse, these feel like real people, but it's all done with a light touch that stops the game from feeling preachy or hard going. The only problem is that he can struggle a bit with the bigger picture, the overarching story that knits all the smaller ones together. After waiting so long even to introduce them, then focusing on them to the exclusion of all else, it takes quite a while for the momentum to start building again and much of the early tension is wasted.

Unfortunately, too, when the revelation of the big bad does finally arrive, it comes totally out of left field. The justification makes perfect sense, but there's just no way to see it coming, even in retrospect. There are also a couple of pretty significant plot threads that, although tied up, don't really get the airtime I felt they merited. They're not exactly afterthoughts, but they feel somewhat dutiful, like they had to be included despite the fact that they didn't really have any place in the story as such. We finally discover the origins of not one but two of the series’ most prominent characters, and learn a little more about a shadowy organisation that is the antithesis of everything Rosa and Joey stand for. In the case of the latter, it's really too bad that it wasn’t integrated further into the storyline, which could have made for a much more satisfying dynamic.

If all that sounds like pretty damning criticism, bear in mind that I'm judging it by the high standards established in the first act of the game. The second act is still very good, it's just that the pace is a little off, the urgency suddenly removed, and the potential was there for more twists and turns. What we actually get feels comparatively small-scale, but then the Blackwell series has always been focused on human stories rather than grand conspiracies. The last act, when it comes, abruptly kicks things back into high gear and goes all out for the grand finale, providing an extremely satisfying end. If you're a regular, the last scene in particular is just perfect. Seeing it, you realise it couldn't have ended any other way and I needed to take a moment of quiet reflection as the end credits rolled before I could pull myself together.

Continued on the next page...



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Game Info

The Blackwell Epiphany

Platform:
PC

Genre:
Mystery

Developer:
Wadjet Eye Games


Game Page »

Worldwide April 24 2014 Wadjet Eye Games

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The Blackwell Epiphany

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User Score

Average based on 20 ratings

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User Reviews

Posted by smulan on Jun 20, 2014

the final

It's a game that moves you to tears, makes you laugh and leaves you admiring its clever construction. A grand final.... Read the review »

Posted by Niclas on Apr 25, 2014

The final and best installment in the series

I have said it before, I'm a big fan of the Wadjet Eye games, and especially the Blackwell games. The first 3 are decent, but the fourth in... Read the review »



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About the Author
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Peter Mattsson
Staff Writer

Comments

Skywalker333 Skywalker333
Apr 30, 2014

Just finished the game. An absolutely amazing end to the Blackwell series. I just can’t wait to see what David Gilbert will come up next!

For anyone who wants a walkthrough, i just uploaded my playthrough Wink

borabosna
May 1, 2014

Amazing game! The writing and the characters were so good. I think it’s left click to interact, right click to examine.

I saw the main plot twist long way coming to be honest. You can even sense it in the demo.

Paracetamol
May 2, 2014

I have to say that this was one of the best adventure games I have played. Very emotional, but it did not rub it too much into your face. Very well balanced puzzles and I feel a little stupid that I looked at a walkthrough when the answer was very near.

If you are like my and liked for example the “Black Mirror” series, please give this game a try. But play the other games in Blackwell series first, at least the “Convergence” and “Deception”.

zane
May 4, 2014

Very very very good. I see the 5 games as one big awesome adventure.  Just fantastic pacing and storytelling.

Lazuli
May 7, 2014

I’m so sad this is over! This is a pretty spot on review.
I also saw the plot twist coming much earlier, but truth be told, it didn’t matter. The game is all about the chemistry between Joey and Rosa   (and, I always felt, Lauren especially) and the human details are just wonderful. The storyline is wonderful. I will really miss it.

after a brisk nap
May 13, 2014

Nice review. I agree with most of it, apart from the bit about the big twist coming out of nowhere and being impossible to anticipate. Without going too much into spoilers, I think just being aware of the cast of characters and standard dramatic conventions makes it quite easily predictable. (As several of the other commenters confirm.)

In any case, the endgame is very satisfying, paying off things that have been set up since the The Blackwell Legacy. It doesn’t tie up everything, no, but the things I myself cared most about are all well accounted for.

Personally, I think what keeps it from a perfect score is more that the puzzles are solid but not exceptional, with limited variety. There’s not as much creativity as in Resonance’s puzzles, for example. Also somewhat less than full marks for the voice acting. 4.5 seems about right.

McPillager
Jul 9, 2014

This game demonstrates what an adventure should really be made of and not necessarily hd graphics. I gave it 5 stars for I was taken by surprise. Daedalic please take note and maybe you get a good game finally.



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