The setting for this game is the Blackstone Asylum, a former mental hospital that is currently being restored as a Museum of Psychiatric History. And what a dark history it houses. Like some medieval castle displaying its instruments of torture, it almost seems to revel in its oppressive litany of well-intentioned quackery and State-sanctioned sadism. Yet the real history still permeates the building in the pathetic remnants of shattered lives and the often poignant details provided by the resident ghosts of former patients.
I haven't read the books on which the game is based, but it isn't necessary to do so as the game stands alone and takes place some five years after the events depicted in the novels. By sheer coincidence I live quite close to the Fremantle Museum which was previously an asylum for women who were considered to be insane and is believed to be haunted by the restless spirit of at least one former inmate. So I can certainly relate to some of the disturbing themes of this story.
In this first-person perspective adventure you are Oliver Metcalf, son of Malcolm Metcalf who was the last superintendent of the old Blackstone Asylum. The malevolent spirit of your father has come back to torment you and has kidnapped your son, Joshua. You have until dawn to find him in the Blackstone Museum otherwise Malcolm will train him, as he tried to do with you, for his own evil ends. At least, this is the surface plot of the story, but the unresolved question remains. Is it Malcolm who is perpetrating this evil or are you doing it yourself? Perhaps you are mad, it is after all you who hears the voices and you who talks to the spirits of your father and former patients who remain attached to locations within the museum. This is for you to decide.
Apart from Joshua and later your wife, Rebecca, no 'live actors' appear on screen and even these two appear only as 'snapshots'. Your interaction with other characters is by means of conversations with disembodied voices. The voice acting and the dialogue is very good and this enables the characters to come to life, so to speak, as if they were really there in the room with you. Once you become aware of their plight it is hard not to care about what happened to them. It's a pity that no on-screen text option is provided for these conversations, however, your questions and responses do appear on-screen to enable you to select them.
The game has two CDs but you only need one to play it. The second disk provides higher resolution graphics for those lucky people with powerful systems. I thought the full-screen graphics were excellent and the music and sound effects contributed greatly to the overall atmosphere. That dripping tap in the kitchen ... it was enough to tip anyone over the edge. The interface is simple and intuitive, your cursor appears as an arrow that indicates a direction for turning or movement, or highlights when it passes over an item with which you can interact. A click of the left mouse button whilst the cursor is highlighted brings up text-command options enabling you to perform an action such as take or open, etc. Your inventory pops up from the bottom of the screen when you move your cursor there and if you select an item your cursor will change into a representation of that item.
The Blackstone Chronicles is a dark and absorbing adventure game that is very much about exploring and talking to characters to unravel the mystery. You will need to listen carefully and look at everything. Also, there are times when you know what you need to do, but won't be able to do it until a character gives you the necessary 'clue', so don't think you have exhausted all conversation in one hit. You will need to return to characters often to see if they have more to say. Whilst I enjoyed playing it, the game is quite short and the in-context puzzles generally aren't too difficult to work out. Everything takes place within the confines of the Blackstone Museum and there are relatively few locations to visit. I never did get into the men's ward or the mysterious Ward 7 which was a little disappointing as I wanted to do more exploring and I wanted the game to last longer.
There are a few timed puzzles, but these are relatively easy and are set up so that you will only get them once you have what you need to solve them. There is generally lots of time to do what must be done, so there is no need to panic. Also, if you fail, the game offers you the option to get a hint or a complete solution, but you shouldn't need to resort to this. These puzzles are no doubt included to increase the dramatic tension and it certainly works here. Though I still wish game developers who insist on putting in timed sequences would offer the option of switching off the timer instead.
Not everyone will be comfortable playing this game. I found it to be disturbing rather than scary, though I welcome the fact that we weren't treated to gory, shock-horror sequences. The writers wisely allow our own imagination to pick up on the cues provided in the game. I particularly appreciated the museum's matter-of-fact, 'official' descriptions of the various 'treatments' and 'cures' carried out on patients, juxtaposed with the chilling descriptions of that same treatment as told by the characters in the game.
I don't know that 'fun' is the correct word to use here given the subject matter of the game, but I did enjoy playing Blackstone Chronicles despite it being a little short and possibly a little too easy for experienced adventurers. On the other hand, players new to the genre may well find it to be much more of a challenge. I must say that Legend games rarely disappoint and this one continues their fine tradition of providing a strong, compelling narrative within an adventure game framework that really allows you to step into the story.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1999.
All rights reserved.
Pentuim 166MHz (200 MHz recommended), 32 MB RAM, Win 95 or 98, 200 MB free hard drive space, 8x CD ROM or faster, 24-bit PCI video card with 2MB memory (4MB recommended), DirectX compatible soundcard, mouse and keyboard.