Review: Black Mirror II
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The original Black Mirror was an interesting bit of classic adventuring, a slow burn through the mysteries of an ancient British castle and its noble line. Personally I loved it but it’s a tough sell in the modern era, with some questionable puzzles and practically glacial pace. Black Mirror II needs no such qualifications though, as it builds on the pedigree by improving virtually every part of the formula.
You play Darren Michaels, a young physics major out of Boston who’s spending time with his mother in remote Biddeford, Maine. The appearance of a striking young woman in town sets off a chain of grim events that entangles Michael in the mysteries of Black Mirror, a storied castle in the English countryside. There’s a lot of ground to cover between Maine and England but it’s filled with tantalizing secrets, vicious machinations, and plenty of puzzles to solve.
The gameplay is standard point-and-click gameplay from the classic era, updated for more modern sensibilities. Double-clicking on a point of interest jumps you right to the action, bypassing the slow character plods and sometimes laborious animations. There’s a highlight button to see all the interactables in a scene, and a very useful journal that includes optional clues for trickier puzzles. Most importantly, the bizarre left click/right click mechanics of Black Mirror I have been dropped for simple left-click interactions which progress through stages of discovery with every click. Keep this in mind, too… There’s one object in the game you have to click five times; the first two clicks get you an item, and the next three reveal a key puzzle.
Your adventure is rendered in sharp detail, with 3D characters superimposed on 2D rendered backgrounds. I generally don’t like this style but Black Mirror II has one of the better renditions of it, since the backgrounds almost match the detail of the characters and ONLY the characters are 3D, so no out-of-place polygonal items laying around. Everything is voice acted as well, and outside of some questionable European accents and a few weird word choices it adds greatly to the feel of the game (and can be freely clicked through for the impatient).
That feel of the game is really what helps set Black Mirror apart from other adventures. What I liked about Black Mirror I was the sense of forlorn decay as you plumbed the depths of Gothic ruins. That feeling is still around in II, but is mixed with a lot more detective work and scheming. You were fighting an expression of evil in the first game, whereas here you’re contending with conspirators and villains, and the more active antagonism really helps keep the game fresh and engaging. Biddeford, Maine might not seem like an interesting setting at first, but mix in a murder and blackmail and it really starts to grab you.
There’s not much negative I can say about the game, outside of Darren. He’s an acquired taste to be sure, a hot-headded Boston youth who doesn’t shy from getting in people’s faces. I found him annoying early on but by the late game he mellows a bit as the stakes become clear. In fact, the overall game really improves as it rolls on, making more and more connections with the first game. That’s something I really want to praise, too, how Black Mirror II builds off the first game without making it necessary. You can easily play this installment without having touched the first because Darren learns of the backstory as you do, and prior events are only used as solid world-building for the story told here.
Black Mirror II really took the best parts of Black Mirror I and made a fantastic new experience out of them. The gameplay is more streamlined, the puzzles are more challenging but also clearer, the story builds on the original while standing tall on its own, and the graphics and polish are a huge step up. It’s still on the slow burn side of the adventure spectrum but is even more worthwhile than its predecessor. I would absolutely put this one near the top of any adventure or horror list for how well it handles both genres.