Just a little warning, Paper Seven’s Blackwood Crossing will punch you right in the feels, in the best possible way. Exploring grief, guilt and the pain of letting go, the Brighton Developers remarkably effecting first person adventure will leave all but the coldest bastards with a tear in their eye and an overwhelming desire to call their sister at two in the morning.
Telling the the tale of Scarlet and her younger Finn. You find out early on that the pair are orphaned and live with their maternal grandparents. The pair were once very close but as Scarlet beings to sail through the rocky seas of adolescence their relationship, though still full of love becomes strained as Scarlet grows up and leave her childhood behind.
Taking place on a train, the game opens with Scarlet waking up on a train and hearing Finn, calling out for help. You can hear her eyes rolling in reaction to her younger brother’s pleas for assistance. She knows it’s a prank and she’s bored of having to play along to Finn’s childish demands. She’s not mean, she just not into it anymore.
Eventually she grows tired of Finns faux phony cries and goes to find him. He swiftly jumps out of the toilet roaring to try and scare his older sister. After she chides him instead, he flies into a tantrum and runs away. Slamming the door to the next carriage behind him. This is when things get weird. Alice in Wonderland/ Through the Looking Glass weird.
It’s difficult to divulge too much of the plot of Blackwood crossing without spoiling its mystique. It’s a surreal and dreamlike tale, and one which unfolds with a brilliant sense of pace, much like the train the pair find themselves on it’s slow at first and then builds steadily towards its heartfelt and touching conclusion.
Death, grief, nostalgia, and the difficulty of growing up and moving on are just a few of the larger themes running through the narrative. It’s a mark of the quality of the writing that despite going to some pretty dark places at times, Blackwood Crossing never feels heavy handed. Instead it uses a deft touch focusing on the relationship of its protagonists in a way that feels honest, and real. Scarlett and Finns changing relationship brought into sharp focus by a series of scenes that are as heart-felt as they are heart-breaking at times.
As you make your way through the dreamlike world of Blackwood Crossing you’ll come across small puzzle sections to remove obstacles that block your way. The bulk of the puzzle sections involve pairing two characters together to create short pieces of dialogue, and reveal a little bit more of the plot a long with it. You’ll also be granted various powers like being able to bring drawings to life, drag darkness out of objects and even a spot of pyro-kinesis (playing with fire), there are also some straight up adventure puzzles, but an interesting twist not all the items you pick up necessarily have a purpose (or if they did, I didn’t find it). Though none of the puzzles are particularly taxing, each adds another layer of subtext to the plot, and feed into the overarching narrative and its wider themes.
Unfortunately, there are a few minor technical issues to contend with (on PS4/Pro at least), loading screens consistently pop up as soon as things begin to get tense, breaking the pacing of the game in an odd way and then hang around far longer than they should for a game that shouldn’t be pushing the hardware too much. There are also many instances of pixel hunting when trying to interact with various parts of the environment, with players needing to approach some objects and characters at just angle for the interact option to register, making it easy to miss vital clues or objects needed to solve a puzzle.
These are mostly niggles though and none of them detract from the heart of the bit – the delicately woven, expertly written narrative escentuated by superb voice acting from Scarlett and Finn. The chemistry between the pair is palpable and at times you would easily believe that they are actually a bickering brother and sister. Meanwhile, the games soft and often melancholic score helps to heighten the feels further.
Visually Black Wood Crossing is lovely to look at. The game’s small cast were all expertly crafted and expressive (a real feat if you consider that most of them are wearing masks). What was most impressive though was the attention to detail, the fact that when a player looked at the floor and walked forward not only did Scarlet have feet and legs but she swung her hands at her sides like a normal person would.
I didn’t know what to expect and had almost zero preconceptions going into Blackwood Crossing, having only read a press release and seen a screen shot of the game beforehand. But found myself captivated for the duration of its, admittedly short, two – three hour run time all the same. As a a result though, not a moment feels wasted and it does not overstay its welcome at all. Ending as magically, and abruptly as it began. It’s certainly worth giving it a second playthrough too as it hits even harder the second-time round, with minor pieces of dialogue and incidental items in the early stages providing a marvellous sense of Dramatic Irony that flies right over players heads during their initial playthrough.
Blackwood Crossing is a beautiful, and touching game that will stay with players long after the final credits. Despite a few minor technical issues, It successfully weaves an expertly crafted tale of growing up, and giving in that will make even the most jaded old hack sob into his single malt.