Black Mirror is a horror/mystery game with some gorgeous scenery, lots of dialog, and surprisingly few puzzles. The large amount of dialog makes this game a very leisurely experience—you can't rush through it, and I would expect some serious frustration for those game players that are in a hurry.
Graphics (quality, animations, cut scenes)
Black Mirror gives you a third-person viewpoint, with 3D characters on a pre-rendered 2D background. The 3D characters are almost completely free of the blocky look that I am used to seeing. They are quite well done, and don't stand out as anomalies within the game world.
The cut-scenes are well done, and character motions are quite natural. There is a large amount of animation within the scenery (rain, flowing water, flying birds). Horror is an integral part of this game, so much of the scenery is very dark in nature, which is more than just lighting.
One other thing of interest: there are a lot of areas you get to explore during the game. Every time I thought I had seen everything, the game would open up an entirely new area for me to explore. The developers certainly didn't skimp on the graphics budget.
Black Mirror is a very beautiful game: the graphics weren't artistically innovative, but they were well done and supported the game's theme very well. There are some fairly gory scenes in this game, so you should be careful about playing this game with younger children.
Sound (music, voices, special effects)
There was very little music in the game, but sound effects were plentiful, well done, and helped greatly with the sense of realism.
The voice acting was very strange, and sounded very stilted. The main character's voice was the worst offender. After thinking about it for a while, I decided that part (or all) of the problem is the script itself: it is obviously a translation, and the language is not what people would use in normal conversation. If I used English that formal when I spoke, I would sound stilted as well.
On the plus side, the voice acting was not nearly as bad as that in Watchmaker, and a few of the character's voices were superb, especially that of Ralph at the sanitorium. Overall, the voices were something you could get used to, so I don't consider it a problem with the game.
Story (plot, theme, depth)
I am not going to describe the plot at all, other than telling you that it is a combination of horror story and mystery. The game does a good job of gradually exposing the story through dialog and written notes.
The ending is the weakest point: it leaves a large number of questions unanswered, along with some apparent inconsistencies.
Characters (depth, development, interaction)
There is a lot of dialog in Black Mirror. In spite of this, I never got a really good understanding of many of the characters. They weren't simple "inventory holders", but conversation with them seemed to iinvolve nothing more than simple questions-and-answer about the current inventory item. I suppose I am not really complaining here: Black Mirror managed a large cast of characters with more flair than many other games.
Puzzles (difficulty, uniqueness, suitability, ugliness, linearity)
The puzzles were the weakest point in Black Mirror. There weren't that many real puzzles; the game consisted more of walking around, talking to people, and clicking on hot spots.
The hot spot clicking was a tiresome feature of the game. You had to find each hot spot, click on it with your left mouse button until nothing new was said, and then right click on the same hot spot in the same manner (right clicking was for examinging an object more closely). We got stuck in one spot because we had failed to right click on a hot spot, so after that, we clicked repeatedly on everything that we could.
Another strange feature of the game also involved hot spots. Many objects could not be picked up or manipulated until they were needed by the main character. You usually knew that some object would be needed in the future because the hot spot would not disappear after examining it with left and right mouse buttons. This type of design is logical, but annoying. Most adventure gamers are used to having and inventory full of strange items, but Black Mirror usually wouldn't allow you to pick up an item until it was needed.
Just to be perverse, the game forced me to carry some items in my inventory for the entire game, and there were hot spots that didn't exist until you triggered them by some action in the game. Black Mirror doesn't force you to hunt for pixels, but it certainly forces you to hunt for hot spots.
There were some timed sequences in the game, and you were forced to reload from a saved game when you were inevitably killed by not doing the right thing, or not doing it fast enough. Black Mirror is definitely a game that follows Sierra's design philosophy—save early, save often.
I encountered one dead end in the game, where I was completely unable to continue until I restored from a previous point and solved a previous puzzle in the "correct" manner. Again, save early, save often.
There were puzzles that could not be solved by deduction or logic. You had to die repeatedly in order to find the solution. This is bad puzzle design, and again, you are forced to save often.
Controls (user interface, save/restore, sound/video adjustments)
Black Mirror is controlled by the mouse only; this is a pure point and click game. The left mouse button was used to examine objects, the right button to examine something closer up. For some reason, some of the screens were of the old "side scrolling" type, but pressing the tab showed all exit hot spots and scroll-to areas, so it wasn't a problem. If you double-clicked on an exit hot spot, the game would shorten the animation sequence. I found myself using this frequently, since some of them involved watching the character walk for a long time.
Left-clicking nicely allowed you to skip a conversation or narration segment. On the other hand, you always had to wait for a character to go through a little animation sequence to get in position for some conversation.
Bugs or problems
Black Mirror uses a copy protection system provided by StarForce. On Windows 98 SE I encountered two severe problems, both of them related to some device drivers that were installed by the StarForce copy protection software:
Uninstalling the game does not remove the StarForce drivers. This is completely unacceptable behaviour. I have complained to Dreamcatcher and demanded that they provide me with facilities to remove the drivers. Dreamcatcher has since sent me a program called "sfclean.exe" that appears to remove them.
The StarForce device drivers conflicted with the device drivers for my USB memory drive, and caused my machine to crash whenever I plugged in my memory drive. This problem has not yet been resolved by Dreamcatcher.
Contact Dreamcatcher if you have uninstalled your game, and find any of these files remaining on your disk: prosync1.vxd, prosync1.sys, sfhlp01.sys, prohlp02.sys, prodrv06.sys
Black Mirror nicely provided an in-game gamma setting, but it turned out to be problematic. Even with brightness turned up all the way, my monitor is very dark and requires a substantial gamma correction for most games. The in-game gamma setting didn't provide enough range, but it completely overrides the video card setting. As a result, I was forced to play the game with all the lights turned off, and my video card's "vibrancy control" turned up.
See the previous section about StarForce copy protection problems.
- Very pretty, good graphics
- Lots of new locations as the game progresses
- Good sound effects
- Copy protection scheme that actually breaks other software
- At least one dead end
- You must die first in order to solve some puzzles
- Left-click, left-click, right-click every hot spot
- Gamma setting problems
- Not enough puzzles—mostly point and click everywhere
- A few gory scenes
- Can't pick up items until you need them (realistic, but annoying)
- Hot spots don't exist until you trigger them
- Timed sequences
- Ending leaves unanswered questions and inconsistencies
Black Mirror is an average game with great graphics and sound effects, and a lot of dialog. If you hated The Longest Journey because of the large amount of dialog, then you will probably dislike Black Mirror for the same reason.
Once I got accustomed to the very leisurely pace of the gameplay, I enjoyed Black Mirror. This isn't a game that can be rushed—you need to get used to wandering around and talking to everybody and clicking on everything. Don't forget to save periodically, since you will be replaying parts of the game after you are killed.
If you do decide to play Black Mirror, be sure to do a full backup first, since the copy protection software may not be easily removed.
This article copyright © 2003, Murray Peterson