Review: Black Mirror III

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Watching a series build to a satisfying conclusion is rare pleasure in the gaming world. Rare, because most series either don’t end, don’t reach a conclusion before being canned, or stuff up the conclusion they get. Black Mirror is an especially remarkable series because not only was it stretched into a series by different developers, it catches that elusive satisfying ending. And on top of that, it manages to be the best-designed and most entertaining out of the entire trilogy.

I made a big deal about how Black Mirror II was perfectly intelligible without playing the first one, but Black Mirror III is the exact opposite. Do not attempt this one without finishing II, and ideally start it up as soon as the credits roll because the callbacks are thick and numerous. Hot-blooded Boston boy Darren Michaels is on the hook for the events that closed out Black Mirror II, and it sure looks like the whole world is against him. The castle’s burning, his allies have perished, and he starts the game alone in a cell. From this auspicious beginning, it’s one hell of an uphill battle to clear his name and battle back the curse that has permeated the series.

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Where Black Mirror I had Samuel poking around the periphery of his family’s secrets and II had Darren caught up in the intrigues of others, III has all eyes on Darren himself. Familiar characters have turned against him, new characters are out to get him, and the only support he has from the onset are cryptic messages, voices on the phone, and his occasionally-helpful therapist. The atmosphere of this game is quite a bit more oppressive than the previous entries, especially once the curse and the stakes fully come into focus, so be prepared for far more narrative adversity than ever before.What makes this work is Darren himself. Through both the events of Black Mirror II and (I assume) the efforts of the writers, Darren is much less the impulsive and at times grating hot-head he was in the previous games. Right from the start here he’s level-headed and snappy with his rejoinders, and has plenty of little quips to lighten even the darkest scenes. He’s funny, clever, and driven in turn and very few scenes fall flat thanks to the newfound dynamism of his character. The rest of the cast supports his evolution as well, with plenty of new blood to challenge him in ways not previously explored. As usual not all the voice acting is up to par (Inspector Spooner in particular is just dreadful to listen to) but still walks the fine line between quality and camp.
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The puzzles themselves have also seen real improvement, possibly more than any other feature of the game. Black Mirror II was already a step forward with simple interactions and journal hints but III takes it far further with puzzles that flow logically and have clever solutions that are not at all laborious to arrive at. While the map is larger and more open than before, puzzles tend to be localized to certain areas and Darren will helpfully resist traveling to unnecessary areas during some of them to keep you on the right track. I don’t mind consulting walkthroughs for point-and-click games but it was entirely unneeded here, something I can’t say about the first two titles.All I can knock the game for are a few glitches, mostly near the end of the game, but ones that can have an outsized effect if you save in the wrong place. One of the puzzles near the middle where you have to underline certain words simply doesn’t work for some people, though it can be skipped without penalty like most of the non-standard puzzles in the game. In the final chapter, however, are two puzzles featuring a maze and a scale that cannot be skipped and can really ruin your day. The maze has multiple solutions but one can hang your game, and the scale can be interacted with too soon to eat items necessary for progression. Keeping multiple saves will help you avoid these pitfalls but they are unfortunate failings in an otherwise watertight game.
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The graphics are just as sharp if not sharper than before, making navigating and exploring a sublime pleasure (or at least as much as it can be in the dismal English countryside). Despite remaining in the environs of Black Mirror and Willow Creek, there are plenty of new locations and new perspectives of old ones to poke around. The sound design is up to the task as I mentioned with the voice acting, and is coupled with some excellent horror movie tunes to keep things spooky. Taken as a whole, the Black Mirror series is one of the best horror adventures out there provided you can appreciate the slow burns and buildups to the grand finale. The first game is ultimately skippable and the connections between it and the latter two are a little strained, but the second is quality and this one here is the real gem. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with the series, and I hope that more people will come to divine its secrets in the future.

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