Reviews - Updated on April 14, 2022

We tend to think that games should keep us entertained for hours on end—and the longer the better. But there are those that, not in words, but in deeds, are equated almost to a movie: they last an hour or two and are designed to emotionally nail the player to a chair in such a short period, evoke the strongest feelings in him, make him empathize and, possibly, even wipe a stingy male (well, or female) tear… Blackwood Crossing is perhaps the most striking such example in recent times.

From time to time, all this resembles a museum of paper figures.

This train is on fire

Formally, this is a short, very beautiful and stylish puzzle adventure game that tells about the relationship between a teenage girl named Scarlett and her younger brother Finn. They were orphaned early and raised by their grandparents. But Scarlett is already growing up with might and main, she has a boyfriend, and Finn remains the same eight-year-old boy who wants to play, demands attention and is very attached to his sister. As a result, Finn withdraws into himself, freaks out, starts a fire, and Scarlett tries to calm him down and save him all the way.

However, this parsimonious retelling does not capture the essence of what is happening in Blackwood Crossing. And there unfolds a real psychological and somewhere even psychedelic drama, somewhat reminiscent of the surreal parables of Terry Gilliam (Terry Gilliam) or, for example, the first season of Legion, shown this year on the FX channel.

Scarlett is going somewhere by train, but in fact this is a trip through the halls of the mind – either hers, or her brother, or their common fictional country, spread out in the subconscious. They periodically see the figures of grandparents, mom and dad, Scarlett’s boyfriend, Finn’s teacher and his classmate, who always hurt him. The figures froze in some poses, as if they were interrupted during a conversation, and instead of faces they have masks of different animals.

On the walls of the car there are movie posters with references to the brother and sister (invented by Finn, of course), and a boy with a rabbit’s head periodically appears in the corridors, who carries Scarlett not into a hole, but to a huge tree, through which you can get out into their own Looking Glass – to the attic , where brother and sister played, or on an island invented by Finn, in his own dreamland.

In the finale, a beautiful lyrical song sounds – everything is fine with the music!

live in your head

In the midst of all this psychedelia, Scarlett and I are solving riddles. Most often, you need to interact with the same figures of people in masks in the correct sequence. In some ways, this is reminiscent of the reconstruction of memories from The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (where, by the way, a sad story about one boy was also told): we must correctly connect the lines of different characters with each other, after which the figures begin to form some kind of common scene. Or, for example, they need to distribute Finn’s things, taking into account what the characters talk about and remember.

Sometimes you just need to look for items and use them in suitable places – to, for example, fix the swing in Finn’s fictional country (Finland, of course!) or use a fire extinguisher and put out the fire set by his brother in the car. In other situations, we quickly press the specified keys to draw something in the notepad.

There are elements of real magic in Blackwood Crossing. At some point, Scarlett will learn to animate objects (for example, drawn butterflies from a notebook) and accumulate fire in her hands – this way you can again put out the fire by simply absorbing its flame, or disperse the darkness that sometimes envelops her brother. Somewhere this darkness needs to be literally grabbed, as something material, and pulled into the light in order to destroy it and free the passage.

And from time to time we are given to choose how the sister will talk to her brother – sarcastically, aggressively or kindly. To a certain extent, this will be reflected in the final.

The graphics, animation and overall style of the game deserve only applause.

The Art of Empathy

As you can see, there is nothing complicated in these puzzles, and the mechanics are extremely simple (except that the interaction with the figures stands out against the general background), but every riddle, every action here works for the atmosphere, for revealing the story and evokes strong emotions – especially when you realize , what happened to Finn and how it all will most likely end.

And when you hand out your brother’s things (grandfather – a penknife that he gave to his grandson, grandmother – a herbarium made by him), when you draw and revive the face of the mother, whom Finn no longer remembers (she died too early), when you hear him calling: “Scarlett, where are you, I’m very cold?” It’s physically impossible to play calmly and perceive all this just as another puzzle / adventure game – simply because the chin is treacherously trembling, and something wet is welling up in the eyes …

Of course, here, as in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, forbidden tricks are used: when such stories are told about children, it is always a blow below the belt that leaves no one indifferent. But we must pay tribute to the authors – the fragile, touching inner world of a child who just wants love and attention, they painted with rather complex, surreal strokes, which is why what is happening periodically reminds either “Alice Through the Looking Glass”, or “The Brothers Grimm” by the same Terry Gilliam. That is why I would like to call Blackwood Crossing a work of interactive art, and not just an educational drama about how important it is to be attentive to the closest people …

At times, the game turns almost into horror.

***

In fact, one can argue long and hard about whether some games deserve to be called art, how close they come to cinema in terms of impact and emotional shock, and so on and so forth. Or you can just spend an hour playing Blackwood Crossing and get all the answers at once, along the way experiencing one of the most intense emotional experiences that games have ever broadcast. And it’s good that such works come out. Whether you cry in the finale or not, they make you think and look a little differently, take a fresh look at the world around you and those who are close to you.

Pros: very emotional story; interesting puzzles; beautiful graphics; everything looks very stylish and unusual; atmospheric music; high-quality, expressive sound.

Cons: puzzles are often repeated.

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