A more permanent ending than death.
In this age of sequel-churning development, we’re used to yearly releases of the hottest series, such as Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty. Although the sequels coming out now share traits in common with debut entries, franchise story arcs have vastly changed, major protagonists have come and gone, and development and writing have switched hands several times. These titles invoke an expectation and the narrative is wrapped around that gameplay skin to different effect with each release.
By contrast, since 2006, the Blackwell games have always featured a member of the Blackwell family and Joey Mallone, the involuntary spirit guide for a family of mediums. Whereas you’ll start an Assassin’s Creed game without a clue about the Templars and the next wrench in the proverbial gears, you already know the players, the plot, and the format of Blackwell Epiphany. It sounds like I'm lamenting this, but I’m honestly not.
The familiarity lends itself to picking up the game and playing it like an old friend who’ll meet you for a drink one night after work. You’ve both been busy these past few weeks, but once you’re together again it’s like you never parted. As soon I was thrust upon the streets of New York City with only a vague clue about a ghost haunting an abandoned building, I was home again.
Point-and-click is point-and-click. If you can’t grasp the gameplay set out for you here, it’s a wonder what can and does sink in your skull. Blackwell Epiphany has not tossed this formula one bit and the retro-style graphics demonstrate that abundantly. After clicking on New Game, you’ll know what to do right away or you’ll figure it out by clicking on everything and listening to Rosa’s or Joey’s observations.
I will tell you what is notably different in this entry: the finality. Wadjet Eye Games says it's the end, but that's apparent in the grander questions being asked and answered, in characters you've been waiting for finally making their appearances, and in the tired capitulation of the main characters to their purpose. It feels like Rosa and Joey have finally embraced every aspect of their roles, more so than any previous title, and that makes it feel finally over.
Make no mistake, what awaits fans at the end is the end. The. End. I won’t spoil it for you, but the events that close this tale are as final as it gets. I don’t know that it was a good ending; that is to say, I'm not sure how well it was written compared to the rest of the series. The stink of deus ex machina caused my nostrils to flare a bit, but the tale itself is enthralling enough that I didn’t find myself scrutinizing anything until the credits rolled. It’s a struggle between the journey and the destination that rewards the former.
What I truly enjoyed about the deaths investigated in this entry were their connections to each other. Sure, each previous Blackwell game drew lines between the dots by the end, but this time all the connections are clear to begin with. Leaving less mystery opened the individual tales to more emotion and affection. I was drawn to all the characters I met, which is a better testament to Gilbert’s writing than the previous passage. There’s something to be said about playing through a supernatural plot feeling like everyone you meet is someone you know or heard of. It is the finest of New York City stories in that way.
If there is any complaint I can lodge against Blackwell Epiphany other than the heavier-handed and/or questionably dropped plotlines, it’s that the longest game in the series at five hours, felt too short. You’d generally be hard-pressed to think that short for a point-and-click game, but it feels like the ending shenanigans happen just as you reach maximum engrossment. I managed to feel most at home then and I guess I wanted to capture that for a bit longer.
So I find myself in the position of tying up the loose ends of this review like the game had to tie those up of the first four games. I loved this game like I loved the first four, probably more. The series has matured to this point, and I’m understandably loath to let it go. Fans will definitely enjoy the ride, latching onto each minute. Newcomers, well, go play the whole series—they’re on sale often and you’ll thank me when it’s over.