Aggie Awards

The Aggie Awards - The Best Adventure Games of 2014


Best Adventure of 2014: The Blackwell Epiphany

The bad news about our 2014 Adventure Game of the Year is that as the final installment of the five-part Blackwell series, it should not be played on its own or out of turn. The good news about our 2014 Adventure Game of the Year is that as the final installment of the five-part Blackwell series, it should not be played on its own or out of turn. Yes, if you’ve missed out on the popular paranormal indie series from Dave Gilbert and Wadjet Eye Games until now, it’s best to start all the way back at the beginning, with the complete assurance that it’s all leading to a climactic “epiphany” that sends the series out on the highest of notes.

The Blackwell series has actually been kicking around for over a decade, originally appearing in 2003 as a freeware title by the name of Bestowers of Eternity. Following a name change and design overhaul, things really began in earnest in 2006 with the commercial release of The Blackwell Legacy, and there’s been no looking back ever since. Its two playable stars are the socially awkward spirit medium Rosangela Blackwell, and Joey Mallone, a wise-cracking, Prohibition-era ghost who has been inextricably tied to several generations of long-suffering Blackwell women (including Rosa’s aunt Lauren, who got her own flashback prequel in Blackwell Unbound). Like her maternal predecessors, Rosa can see and talk to spirits – including Joey, often to her chagrin – and is fated to help lost souls across New York City find their way to the afterlife, however reluctantly.

The symbiotic Rosa-Joey dynamic forms the crux of both Blackwell’s story and gameplay. Their unlikely partnership leads to plenty of snappy banter that belies a burgeoning friendship and respect, and the two must continually work together to succeed, Rosa tangibly interacting with the real world and the ethereal Joey able to bypass physical barriers. Each new spectral “case” involves its own relatable human drama that touches on surprisingly deep themes, but as the protagonists’ relationship evolves, the larger questions remain: who was Joey in life, and why is he bound to the Blackwell women in death, and they to him under penalty of hereditary dementia? There are brief glimpses of answers along the way, but it isn’t until Epiphany that this mystery comes to the fore. And when it finally does, against a terrifying backdrop of malevolent entities threatening to destroy people’s very souls, the result is incredibly poignant. We don’t use this word loosely, but it’s as close to the “perfect” ending for the series as we could have hoped.

But Blackwell Epiphany isn’t just the narrative high point of the series – every element reaches (or remains at) its peak here. With four solid but unspectacular games of experimentation under his belt, including a few small missteps here and there, for the series finale Gilbert finally nailed the formula in all respects. While never the most challenging adventure series, the gameplay in Epiphany is the most substantial by far, its dual-protagonist puzzles slickly integrated into the supernatural story. Production values are superb, from the smoky, mournful saxophone jazz to the always-stellar voice acting from newcomers and returning characters alike, and of course the gorgeous pixel art. To be sure, the unapologetically retro, low-res graphics would have looked right at home twenty years ago. But since great art is timeless, that just means they look every bit as lovely now as they would have then. And with more ambient animations than ever before, Blackwell’s New York has never looked more alive (so to speak). It’s wonderfully atmospheric and delightfully nostalgic all at the same time.

As if a brilliant core game weren’t enough, Wadjet Eye once again added a wealth of bonus extras, including in-game developer commentary (primarily from Gilbert and artist Ben Chandler), recording bloopers, and a deleted scene, among others. That’s going well above and beyond the call of duty, particularly for a small independent developer, offering an entire entertainment package. In this digital age, that’s as close as we come to “feelies” anymore.

We’ve always admired the Blackwell games, but we’ll admit: we didn’t see this coming. Three years in the making, Gilbert and co. haven’t just bettered their previous efforts with Epiphany, they’ve blown them out of the water. This is compelling adventure gaming with mature, confident storytelling at its best, capped by a finale so emotionally charged that if you’re not moved by it, you’d best take a pulse – like the ghosts that Rosa and Joey must help move on, it’s possible you’re dead and just don’t know it.

So should you play The Blackwell Epiphany? That’s easy. The answer is an enthusiastic and unequivocal… maybe! No no, we’re not hedging our recommendation, just adding a caveat. What you should play is The Blackwell Legacy, and then work your way up from there if you haven’t already. You CAN jump in at the end, but the sensational final payoff will be all the sweeter if you see the series through from start to finish.

With all the “big name” developers and franchises arriving back on the scene of late, many of them funded from public coffers, it’s a testament to Dave Gilbert’s perseverance and growth as a writer/designer that the self-financed Blackwell Epiphany was able to take on all comers and triumph, and for that we are pleased to bestow upon it our top Aggie Award for Best Adventure of 2014. We’re sorry to see the last of Rosa and Joey, but they certainly got the send-off they deserved. For those of you who have missed out on the series so far, it’s time to finally see the light.

Runners-Up:


The Talos Principle

Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse

Valiant Hearts: The Great War

Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure
 



Readers’ Choice: Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure


Now THIS we saw coming. (We’re adventure gamers, after all – we’re trained in picking up subtle clues like the same game winning 9 of 12 previous awards for which it was eligible.) It was a long, long wait for “Project Fedora” – most of it spent not believing the day would ever come – but the end result was clearly worth every minute. While Tesla Effect may not quite have achieved the heights of Under a Killing Moon or The Pandora Directive, it was still classic Tex: a complex, multi-layered story, delightful blend of thematic genres, snappy dialogue between memorable characters, tons of optional interactions, loads of puzzles and gameplay variety, a great score, and hours of slickly-directed live-action video. Oh, and five different endings. Are we forgetting anything? Probably, but we’re out of space. Besides, you knew all that already: you voted it the Best Adventure of 2014.

Runners-Up:


The Blackwell Epiphany

The Talos Principle

Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse

The Wolf Among Us
 



And so endeth the 2014 Aggie Awards. Still to come, a few final notes and the complete game list. As always, we encourage feedback in the comments section below. (The respectful, insightful kind that understands the celebratory purpose of the Aggies, in case that needs to be said.)

The Adventure Gamers staff would like to offer our sincere congratulations to all the developers that won awards, and our thanks to the many readers who participated in our public voting poll.

Now, everyone take a short breather, then get back to making and playing games, because 2015 looks to be an exceptional year for adventures!

Continued on the next page...

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Related Games

The Blackwell Epiphany

Platform(s): iPad, iPhone/iPod Touch, PC

Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse

Platform(s): Android, iPad, iPhone/iPod Touch, Mac, PC, Playstation 4, Vita, Xbox One, Linux

The fifth adventure of George Stobbart and Nico Collard in the acclaimed series from Revolution.

The Wolf Among Us

Platform(s): Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

An episodic adventure from Telltale based on the popular FABLES comic series.

Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure

Platform(s): PC

A new adventure in the acclaimed Tex Murphy series.

The Talos Principle

Platform(s): Mac, PC, Playstation 4, Linux

Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

Eight different cases with increased player freedom in the latest adventure from Frogwares

Tengami

Platform(s): iPad, iPhone/iPod Touch, Mac, PC, WiiU

Valiant Hearts: The Great War

Platform(s): Android, iPad, iPhone/iPod Touch, PC, PlayStation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

Set in WW1, Valiant Heart tells the story of five characters whose destinies are linked.

The Journey Down: Chapter Two

Platform(s): iPad, iPhone, Mac, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Linux

FRACT OSC

Platform(s): Mac, PC

Detective Grimoire

Platform(s): Android, iPad, iPhone/iPod Touch, Mac, PC, Linux

J.U.L.I.A. Among the Stars

Platform(s): Mac, PC, Linux

Hadean Lands

Platform(s): iPad, iPhone/iPod Touch, Mac, PC, Linux

The Dream Machine: Chapter 5

Platform(s): Mac, PC

The Fall: Episode One

Platform(s): Mac, PC, Playstation 4, WiiU, Xbox One, Linux



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Comments

lobo pampeano
Feb 18, 2015

Can you please let us know how many readers voted? I’d like to have an idea how many active memebers we have.
Thank you..

threerings threerings
Feb 18, 2015

I totally agree with the Best Story choice.  The Blackwell Epiphany is one of the few (only?) games this year to make me cry.

Skywalker333 Skywalker333
Feb 19, 2015

whoa, huge community love for Tex Muprhy! I must say I didn’t expect it even if i loved the game Smile

gamrgrl gamrgrl
Feb 19, 2015

Really loved the video! Wonderfully edited to some super-haunting music.

DrFrankenstein DrFrankenstein
Feb 19, 2015

What’s with the Tex Murphy domination of the reader awards? Feels like a prank of sorts.

Jackal Jackal
Feb 19, 2015

It’s not a prank, and there’s no sign of voter fraud of any kind. (We looked.)

There are just a boatload of people who love Tex and Tesla Effect, it seems.

after a brisk nap
Feb 19, 2015

Thanks for clarifying that, Jack. The list did look a little fishy. Guess I should try to get around to Tesla Effect at some point!

SunshineSlayer
Feb 19, 2015

So happy for Tesla Effect.  Well deserved.  Here’s to hoping that wasn’t the end for Tex.

zane
Feb 19, 2015

haha…. For a change im agreeing with the site choices more than the reader. Tesla effect was not an awful game… i backed it, i had fun… but geez… not understanding the votes here.

zane
Feb 19, 2015

And the one that really boggles me: best gameplay for tesla effect. Those puzzles… i dont know… and a large part of the game was dungeon crawling in a straight line… just eh…

Conditional Love Conditional Love
Feb 19, 2015

I feel the same DrFrankenstein. I liked Tesla Effect a bit, Tesla Effect probably deserves an award or two, but to give Tesla Effect the Best Setting award is almost ironic. The quality of Tesla Effect’s background art is often shockingly poor.

ChronoWolf ChronoWolf
Feb 19, 2015

From what I understand: “Setting” refers to the universe in which the game takes place, and how encapsulating it is in terms of story, relevancy and delivery. Graphic design is probably a more accurate category when talking about “background art”, presentation or graphics, in which case Tesla was not even a runner up.

thom-22
Feb 20, 2015

Excellent awards presentation! Your efforts are much appreciated—both the decision-making and the fun and informative write-ups. I like the inclusion of the Silver Aggies. I thought it was a great year for our genre and this year holds great promise too.

Majsan Majsan
Feb 20, 2015

A little question about the extras you write about for Blackwell. Is the bloopers and the deleted scene a part of every version of the game? I have the gog version and haven’t found those two, and they only list wallpaper as extra material… Or maybe I just haven’t been “clicking” around enough Wink

smulan smulan
Feb 20, 2015

I guess Blackwell Epiphany i s the right game for best adventure ( _guess_ has to do with me playing far from all of the competitors), especially if you consider it a price for the whole Blackwell series. Tesla Effect, altough a decent game -but far from as good as its predecessors - has a ring of fanboy choice to it.

Jackal Jackal
Feb 20, 2015

Majsan, the bloopers and deleted scene are accessed in-game (via icons) at the appropriate time if you have the developer commentary turned on (which you can do through the main menu “Options” screen).

Thom-22, thanks very much. The Aggies are always a lot of work, but we hope people have fun with them.

DaveGilbert DaveGilbert
Feb 21, 2015

I don’t want to add much to this discussion for obvious reasons, but had to at least leave a message saying thanks. So… thanks!  This made my week.

incometrader
Feb 21, 2015

Odd to find so many votes for Tex Murphy when with the exception of this site and one other, the game reviewers gave it a meh 6-7 out of 10. I don’t blame people for doubting the voting.

I personally hate FMV so I’ll miss out, happy everyone else enjoyed it so much.

Ahenobarbus Ahenobarbus
Feb 21, 2015

I`m just happy for the results. Epiphany and Tex Murphy totally deserved to be in top here. They were both great but Epiphany was especially epic top quality game! Thanks for the whole Blackwell series Dave!
I`m happy to see that The Wolf Among Us and Broken Sword got prices at some categories too. In my books, they were 3. and 4. best games after Epiphany and Tex.

I hope Big Finish Games guys check these results, we need more Tex Smile

Simon_ASA Simon_ASA
Feb 21, 2015

Thanks for your work with Aggies. Once again, you somehow convinced me to check several games that I missed.

lobo pampeano
Feb 22, 2015

Hey Jackal, about my question… you know…  how many voted???

Phaid
Feb 22, 2015

I’m not at all surprised Tex won a lot of these awards.Tesla Effect was a huge surprise to me on many levels - it’s hard to bring the adventure magic of yore back to life, especially on a shoestring Kickstarter budget, but Tesla Effect 100% pulled it off. It was a grand return of Tex - funny, atmospheric, clearly a labour of love. Puzzle-wise, the final acts of the game were weaker than the preceding one, agreed, but that’s the only complaint I have.

I kind of wish The Journey Down:Chapter 2 got more love however, it was absolutely amazing, yet seems to have flown under everyone’s radar.

itseme itseme
Feb 22, 2015

guess i am the only one that voted for the goat as best character…

Jackal Jackal
Feb 22, 2015

Lobo pampeano, I forget the exact number but there were several hundred people who voted.

lobo pampeano
Feb 22, 2015

Ok, something around 400-700 votes, (less than 1000)?

Jackal Jackal
Feb 22, 2015

Definitely less than 1000, and probably closer to 400 than 700. I never actually counted them all up together, and I don’t have direct access to the data at the moment.

Plenty to determine a consensus, anyway.

lobo pampeano
Feb 22, 2015

Ok, thanks!

GreatBird
Feb 22, 2015

Why was CONSORTIUM not considered amongst all those games considered for awards in all those categories?!  Seriously, how is this game THAT over-looked??

It is often referred to as an adventure game (among other genres), and has over 20 voice actors and 4000 lines of recorded dialog as part of it’s fabric….

Jackal Jackal
Feb 23, 2015

Because the game described by its own developers as a “role-playing experience” is not considered an adventure at the only place that matters to the Aggies.

rsommerer rsommerer
Feb 24, 2015

By the way, for the next year I would like to suggest a new category - for best make up: Grim Fandango will be up for voting, as well as maybe a new episode of the Journey Down… Maybe also a new category for worst jokes would be a good idea Smile

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