An Adventure in Terror
|Review by Wendy Nellius
Blackstone Chronicles is based upon a series of 6 books by John Saul. Each book represents a specific tragedy that took place in the town of Blackstone and somehow seemed to be connected to the Asylum. Each story is linked to a mysterious dark figure that brought gifts that destroyed the receivers' mental health and their lives. Through a team effort with Bob Bates of Legend Entertainment, a psychological horror like none other was born.
For years the Blackstone Asylum run by Malcolm Metcalf sat on the highest hill in town always maintaining a constant threat to the community. If you talked back to your parents, you could get sent there. If no one could care for you in your old age, you could get sent there. If you committed a crime, you could get sent there. Slightly confused lately? You could get sent there. The asylum was always there looming in the background filled with a dark and foreboding history.
The asylum was closed in 1959, but has recently been acquired by the Blackstone Historical Society as a museum of psychiatric history......or perhaps we should say torture as most of the methods originally used in psychiatric medicine fell into that category. They have done extensive renovation to and in an effort to maintain realism, have even restored the living quarters of a few former patients (or inmates as they were called) complete with their original belongings.
Oliver Metcalf (son of Malcolm) has returned to the place where he grew up after being gone for 5 years. Upon entering the asylum, he is greeted by his father Malcolm. The only problem here is that Malcolm is dead. Is Oliver only imagining his father's voice? As the conversation continues, we realize that this was not the typical father-son relationship.
"You disobeyed me Oliver. You never finished the task."
"I used pain as a motivational device. I never hurt you in anger Oliver. Not every father can say that"
"The son disobeys the father. Perhaps I'll have better luck with your son."
"He's in the secret room. You have only until dawn. You must get there by daybreak or Joshua will be taught what it means to be a Metcalf."
Ok....so you can pretty much tell Malcolm isn't the loving and giving father that you can't wait to see during the holidays. Malcolm has kidnapped Oliver's son Joshua. He played the sweet old grandfather to get Joshua to accompany him to a secret room. Now....it's not clear right now what it means to be a Metcalf, but it sure as heck doesn't sound good. And, you only have until dawn to find Joshua.
The entire game takes place in the asylum. So, the first step is to start exploring. As you check out items in the room, Malcolm will pompously provide a little description of the item and the asylum in general. They way he describes things, the asylum seems like it had a very healing and enriching environment. And, Malcolm comes off sounding like a saint who saved a lot of people from their sad, demented lives. But, as in real life, you shouldn't believe everything you hear.
Blackstone Chronicles comes with 2 CD's. Installation is completed using the 1st CD. You then have a choice of playing the game with the 1st CD which allows you to play the movies at low resolution or the 2nd CD with the movies at high resolution. The game is played from the 1st person perspective and is mainly point and click. However, you will need to use your keyboard a few times for a specific purpose. I have read that Blackstone Chronicles can be run on XP. However, my Windows XP system did not seem to like the game......perhaps it was scared. So, I ultimately ran it on an older computer with Windows 98. No problems were encountered during the installation or during game play.
The main menu can be accessed at the top of the screen during game play. Features include:
|Save, Load and Quit|
|Restart: This will allow you to restart the game without having to quit the game.|
|Settings: Allows you to adjust the voice, music and environment volume. You have the option to turn on/off panning. Also, there is the option of turning the undo function on or off.|
|Undo: Click on undo and your last move will be reversed. This is a great feature although I never really needed to use it.|
|Help: This feature gives you additional info on navigation within the game.|
Getting around is accomplished using classic Adventure game cursors. Large directional arrows allow for movement between nodes. Your basic directions are straight, right and left. Unless you turn the panning off, each time you move, you will encounter animation. Even with the panning turned on, this can be eliminated by right clicking the direction al arrow. However, this is only suggested only when you are running back and forth in areas you have already visited. The animation and sound is truly integral to setting the mood. The cursor will light up if an item can be interacted with. Clicking on an item will produce a drop down menu detailing your interaction choices. Interaction will vary. Some items can be only examined. Or, you may have the option to pick an item up, read a book or document, or perhaps open an item to examine it further.
All items you have collected during your investigation are accumulated at the bottom of your screen. Hovering the mouse in that area allows viewing. Pleasing was the fact the inventory box expands in size as you collect more items. Near the end, it can encompass nearly half of the game screen. The upside is that you can see all the items at once without have to scroll through them. One negative note is that you do not get a description of the item without actually clicking on it. Drop down menus are also used for each item in inventory by left or right clicking.
All of the main rooms have a small display stand with two objects of relevance to the history of the asylum. Pressing a question mark below the item will give the museum friendly description. Oliver can also take some of the items he feels will be useful to his quest. There is also a touch screen that can describe general psychiatric history, information about specific disorders and particular inmates of the asylum. However, listening to and reading this information seems extremely clinical and does not take into account the toll taken on the inmates. But, you will learn that part soon enough. The backgrounds are pleasant enough on the first floor.....nothing too scary. Rich red colors and ornate doors surround you. A large staircase sits in the center of the room. At the top of the staircase is a large painting of Malcolm.....just watching.
As you continue your journey throughout the asylum, you will meet some of the former inhabitants in spirit form. On the 2nd floor of the asylum are private rooms which could be acquired for an inmate if their family had enough money. But, these souls seem to be trapped due to the fact that a treasured item has been stolen from them by Malcolm Metcalf. All are willing to provide Oliver with help providing he is able to find and return these items. It is in speaking to these souls that you begin to understand the true horror of their lives. They have ended up in the asylum for various reasons; not all due to mental illness. All their stories have one thing in common.....hatred or fear for Malcolm who subjected them to such evil treatment.
In the basement, nightmare meets reality. As you first enter the dark basement you will immediately notice large blood stains. Hmmm....blood stains should be unusual for the lovely place Father described. Heavy metal doors in the hallway provide access to the therapy rooms. Therapy can involve being forced into a steam box or hot water for hours on end, being injected with deadly viruses in order to produce a fever, or the ever popular electric shock. What is perhaps most poignant is the devastation in the voices of those who actually went through these treatments and ultimately did not survive. The emotion in their voices, whether it is sorrow, fear or anger, is transferred to you as the gamer. As bad as this may sound, what you have experienced by this point in the game is most certainly not the worst. So, be prepared.....it gets worse if you can imagine that.
It is with superb story telling where Blackstone Chronicles makes its mark. You are not told all of the horrors at once. There is a consistent slow build throughout the game and it is extremely disturbing. There is one particular character near the end that I can not get out of my head no matter how hard I try. At certain points, I even felt sick to my stomach and a bit depressed. Depression and horror are intertwined throughout. Take for instance the following:
"Even a criminal knows when he's going to get out. We were imprisoned with no release date". - Yes, that's depressing alright.
"You sit in that chair with those electrodes clamped to your skin and between the shocks there's this strange odor. And, then you realize that the last smell in your nostrils as you die is the stink of your own flesh burning." - Are you horrified?
But, a story told by the wrong voices can go downhill fast. That doesn't happen here. The voice acting is incredible. Malcolm Metcalf's voice is absolutely perfect. He sounds like a true psychopath devoid of any compassion and his voice will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. All the inmates were done just as well. They truly made an effort to evoke emotion from the gamer. Oliver's voice which is extremely mellow can be interpreted as a lack of urgent concern for the well being of his son. But, this can easily be reconciled by considering the fact Joshua is quite young. Since he is in a locked secret room, it wouldn't make sense to traumatize him as well. As long as Joshua seems ok, it allows Oliver to concentrate on finding his location.
You will never see any of the characters. You will talk to them through a picture of them or an item of importance to them. Even though Joshua is alive and hidden in the secret room, Malcolm is allowing you to talk to him. A picture of Joshua will appear at random times during the game. When speaking to characters, dialog will pop up on the screen. Think of what you see on the screen as a thought in Oliver's head. What he actually says will be different from the typed question on screen. If you have done all you can with a specific question, it will become italicized on the screen.
You will need to speak to specific characters more than once as they hold the keys to your continued journey within the game. Most of the puzzles are inventory based and really aren't that difficult. The answer most often can be found in a conversation with one of the ghosts. There are a couple of logic puzzles as well, but theses won't tax the seasoned gamer. The game is linear and certain tasks must be completed in order to move forward to a new chapter. You may find yourself unsure of where to go. But, you usually can figure this out by visiting everyone again. You can ask your questions all over again to see if you missed something.
There are however, some timed puzzles. Each time Oliver retrieves a stolen item for one of the inmates, a sort of evil trance takes hold of him. He will then try to kill himself using one of the various treatments the inmates suffered through. It's not that these are so difficult to figure out. It's just that the music is creating tension and there can be a ghostly inmate telling you to hurry up over and over or you're sure to die. Well, that's a lot a pressure to think fast and I fall into the category of a "take your time and really think it out" puzzle solver. I don't do well when I'm rushed. So, basically I died. And, in case you're wondering.....these are very slow deaths. You're meant to experience what it's like to die of electric shock or by slowly passing out as your body temperature soars beyond its capacity. Even in a game, it is a horrible feeling to know you're dying and you can't save yourself in time. You're just listening to the sounds of your body giving out. This is truly a mind screwing process. If you do happen to die, you'll get the option of restarting right before the puzzle. Or, you can get a hint or have it solved for you. But, these puzzles are definitely solvable after the initial heart pounding death.
Ambient sounds are used to full effect to convey the atmosphere of the game. In the kitchen, the constant drip of water into the sink would drive anyone crazy. Depending on where Oliver is walking, the sound of his footsteps is modified to reflect the location. So, he will sound different upstairs as opposed to when he is walking on concrete in the basement. The big metal doors open and shut with finality. The authentic sound of the elevator as you travel between floors really puts you in the environment. The music is equally suited to the mood of the game. Each location has different music. Truly, the music isn't that bad down on the main floor, but it gets darker in other areas of the asylum.
Graphically, this game still holds up pretty well considering it was released in 1998. The asylum is a combination of many elements of its' past; the mansion it began as, an asylum which it morphed into and the final classification as museum. You will see all aspects in the backgrounds. Large animal heads hanging on the wall and beautiful guest rooms on the 2nd floor speak to the mansion. The horror in the basement and clinical nature of some of the surprise areas are all representative of an asylum. Of course, the museum added some new seating and the displays. There is also a beautiful chapel that I'm not sure fits, but is quite detailed. And, of course there are the secret locations...but those will remain secret until you play the game.
Overall, Blackstone Chronicles is a great game that will play with your mind and not let go for quite a while. I can honestly say this because it made me feel things I didn't want to feel. I can also say I won't revisit this game for exactly the same reason. If you can handle the dark subject matter, then you should definitely give Blackstone Chronicles: An Adventure in Terror a play. It is a true example of storytelling at its best.
Final Grade: 92/100
|PC System Requirements:|
|Windows 95/98 (XP Possible)|
|Pentium 166 MHz or higher|
|32 MB RAM|
|24-Bit PCI Video Card (2MB Video RAM)|
|DirectX 6 compatible sound card|
|8X CD-ROM Drive|
|Hard Drive space of 350 MB|
|Mouse, Keyboard and Speakers|