Relationships between family, friends, and everyone around us can be difficult to manage with life happening so fast and constantly changing. Things get messy. Things get complicated. Situations don’t always go the way that we intend them to. There are moments that may not even stick with us but could play back forever in someone else’s mind, for better or worse. It’s what makes us human and it’s these moments and relationships that Blackwood Crossing explores. Scarlett and Finn are two orphaned siblings that are not only still coming to terms with being orphans and what it means to be without parents but the current of life keeps pulling at them and doesn’t slow down.
Scarlett is in a relationship and leaving her childhood behind as she becomes a young adult while Finn is left to sort through everything on his own. With no parents and Scarlett being busy with her boyfriend and other obligations, Finn feels abandoned and alone. It’s a situation that may not be familiar to everyone as far as specifics go but we’ve all felt the burn of neglect. Many of us have also been on the other end and hurt a loved one, maybe without even realizing it. I have three younger brothers and I know I’ve hurt them before. I don’t know what burns more harshly, receiving the burn or being the one behind it. Blackwood Crossing explores both sides of these dynamics and helps reveal the effects our actions may have on others–especially when we don’t even realize it.
Scarlett and Finn’s journey seem very normal at first but it quickly takes an unexpected turn that will let you know that this game will be anything but. You’ll start by walking down the train with Finn as he talks to you and shows you things. In an almost magical manner, he’s able to disappear and reappear with no explanation. Everyone other than yourself and Finn is equipped with animal masks that make it feel like something straight out of Through the Looking Glass. It’s as beautiful as it is unnerving. It’s off-putting and something definitely seems off. The mood seems fine though and it’ll feel like you’re on guard for no reason. These characters are revealed to be people that you and Finn know, such as grandparents, parents, Scarlett’s boyfriend, Finn’s bully, one of Finn’s teachers, and mysterious person whose identity isn’t known. The reason for them all being here is not made clear and Scarlett and Finn will have no idea why they’re there either.
They won’t talk to you normally either. They’ll have a bit of dialogue that will replay each and every time you interact with them and it’s made clear that they’re having a conversation with one of the other people present. To progress past sections where they’re all present in the beginning and throughout the game, you’ll need to interact with the first person that speaks in the conversation and then the one who is responding to them. As you interact with each one of them it will pretty clear what each full conversation is. However, even if it is not apparent for some reason, there is not too much room for error; with there only being eight different people there are only so many combinations. I could tell who was talking to who almost every single time. There were only one or two interactions where I was not immediately sure. A quick guess helped sort out the mix-ups I had though and I was quickly onto the next objective.
This is a narrative focused game like Firewatch and Gone Home so you’re either going to love it or hate it. I personally really enjoy these games as long as the story and characters are interesting and Blackwood Crossing has a thought-provoking and immersive tale that is filled with interesting characters and interactions. The gameplay consists of walking around and interacting with people and objects. There are some light puzzles where you’ll have to manipulate objects or use certain objects in certain places. This will require some thinking but it more than anything it simply involves you and helps surround you more and more within the world. As you travel to different locations you’ll move Scarlett and manipulate and interact with objects while also exchanging dialogue with Finn and piecing together conversations between the eight people that move with you to most of the locations. It may seem light on the gameplay but this is a game where you travel through a story and experience everything all at once.
It won’t be long before you’re completely focused and lost within this world. You’ll travel to many different destinations and on many occasions how you get there won’t make any logical sense. For example, in the beginning when you travel to the end of the train you’ll be in surrounded by grass, trees, and in the last train car will be their grandpa’s greenhouse. When you look out the rest of the windows on the train you’re clearly moving but as you travel back and forth to these last two cars, the train isn’t moving at all. It’s very surreal and with nothing really being explained in these moments you’re forced to accept this reality. With how well it’s all presented I’m sure you’ll be more than eager to let go and get lost in this world–I know I was.
The story is sweeping and majestic but it’s the subtle moments between Scarlett and Finn that help strengthen this tale to its fullest potential. It is a story I would not dare spoil; it demands to be experienced by all fans of the narrative video game genre. If for some reason this is not a genre that you enjoy playing then I would still recommend buying the game to support the developer and watch a playthrough of it as they become available online. Out of all the narrative-based video games, this is absolutely towards the top of the genre.
The music helps compliment the emotional story. I played this with headphones and would recommend everyone do the same but if that isn’t a feasible option for you then I’d at least recommend playing with the volume turned up high so the sounds can surround you. Another thing that really adds to the magic and immersion is the voice acting. I came away very impressed with all of the voice acting, particularly the dialogue of Scarlett and Finn. If these voice actors didn’t provide convincing delivery then this tale wouldn’t have reached the heights that the developer worked so hard to raise it to. There were a few moments where I got lost and wasn’t initially sure of the puzzle’s solution but as long as you pay attention you should be fine. I tend to get overly focused distracted at times so puzzles in games like this sometimes take me a little bit longer. If you don’t struggle with any of the puzzles and move at the speed that the developer anticipates then you’ll complete the game in about three hours. The length may not seem like it’s that long but it felt like much longer and I mean that in the best way. The experience and the journey itself are both so much more important than the length itself. It took me about three and a half hours and I loved every moment of it. This story is still swimming around my head and I know that I’m going to be replaying it tomorrow for our YouTube channel because of how much I loved this game. It needs to be experienced to its fullest, just like every single moment of our life that’s equally important–whether we realize it or not.
A review copy of Blackwood Crossing was provided by Vision Games Publishing for this review
- An immersive and emotional journey
- Graphics that help fill this imaginative (and at times dark) world with wonder
- Sweeping sounds and stirring soundtrack will take your breath away (if the story isn't already)
- Button prompts help pull you further into the narrative and feel meaningful
- Well written conclusion and epilogue
- There were times where I wish Scarlett could walk faster (or run) but I will admit it makes it makes her feel more realistic and helps add to the immersion
- If you don't pay attention to the environment and characters you may not always know what to do