Black Mirror II – Review

By: Paul Millen

Published: April 7, 2010 Posted in: Review

Before we begin tonight’s review, please enjoy a little skit on the subject of unfortunate computer game balls-ups.

Curtain.  A computer science shop, where computer scientists work.  There is a wooden counter, shelves etc.  The computer science shop is decorated with computer sciency type things like computers and bubbling glass vase things. The shelves hold a number of caged Nintendo DSs, an ear growing on the back of each.  A COMPUTER SCIENTIST stands behind the counter, experimenting.  A CURIOUS GENTLEMAN enters.

COMPUTER SCIENTIST: Good day, sir.  How can I help you with your science today?
CURIOUS GENTLEMAN: I have a question.
COMPUTER SCIENTIST: (putting down a science stick) Fire away sir, happy to help.
CURIOUS GENTLEMAN:  I was wondering.  What is the smallest amount of absolute balls a computer game can contain before the whole thing, which is otherwise quite decent, becomes absolute utter balls as well?

A pause. The COMPUTER SCIENTIST makes bubbles with his mouth for a while.

COMPUTER SCIENTIST: Hmm.  Well, sir – that all depends.  The extent of the contamination entirely rests upon the concentration and location of the balls-up.
CURIOUS GENTLEMAN: I see.  Do go on.
COMPUTER SCIENTIST: Let us take as our example the absolute worst-case scenario.  The game is heavily story-driven; a point-and-click adventure say, like Broken Sword…
CURIOUS GENTLEMAN: (bellowing) Ah, yes!  I do enjoy the exploits of young George Stobbart.
COMPUTER SCIENTIST: Quite.  Well imagine such a game, which is solid throughout, in possession of a compelling story, but then for reasons unknown has a stroke or something, right at the very end, and turns to – as we computer scientists like to say – incoherent, dribbling bat-shit.
CURIOUS GENTLEMAN: (interestedly) !!
COMPUTER SCIENTIST: The amount of utter balls may be comparatively small, but, appearing at a critical, climactic moment, the effect is catastrophic: ruining the story, the game and rendering the player confused and angry.
CURIOUS GENTLEMAN: Yes…  Yes, I see now.  I am markedly less curious.
CURIOUS GENTLEMAN: Good day, then.



And now, the main presentation…..

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–Forwarded Message Attachment–
Subject: RE: Black Mirror II – notes!
Date: Tue, 6 Feb 2010 13:43:49 +0000

Hi Guys,

I’m just on my way out the office for a massive holiday, but before I go here are a few notes on BM II.  As lead principle chief consultant design and localization manager, I hope you pay careful attention to all these suggestions.  It is imperative that they are acted upon before release.  We’re close, but there’s still a few issues preventing all of your hard work from really shining – let’s sort em out!

- Firstly, voice acting.  Is there time to re-record one or two English vocals?  We can get away with the screwy German/American accents for Darren and the Maine locations – a Maine accent’s weird to start with and no one really knows what it’s supposed to sound like, but the majority of the game is set in the UK and there we have a few problems.  At the moment the English characters… well…  It’s too often like a David Lynch dream sequence.  I’d probably let it pass but we somehow manage to get a single minor Welsh character whose accent is perfect.  So it can be done, apparently.

- The whole bit with the police is pretty unbelievable.  The cops are involved in a murder investigation, right?  Yet they repeatedly allow the protagonist (who is a prime suspect) to walk about the police station, screw with the evidence, contaminate a crime scene and dictate the direction of the enquiry.  Darren’s a student, for chrissakes – what is he?  Like 20?  This is generally indicative of some pretty unnatural behaviour in a few locations – might need tweaking, dialogue rewrites etc.  Otherwise, we’ve got a nice ‘realness’ going on with the narrative, art etc., good job. (until it all goes batshit at the end of course – see later note)

- Ok, I know Frank was really into these but the random instadeaths are pointless.  The game autosaves just before anyway, they aren’t dramatic or challenging, they are annoying (yeah, Frank, I said it) and only serve to slow the game down.  And often the deaths don’t even tie up with the story.  I’d seriously think about getting rid.

- I like the whole horror thing, really like it – the way the game starts out light and breezy then gets darker and darker and more gothic and gory.  Great stuff, great pacing – good use of weather.  But we can push it further, be more confident, step away from the token goof characters – break loose and make that mature point-and-clicker we all wanted.  Also, lose the dubious depiction of the guy with learning difficulties; I can see what you’re trying to do but it doesn’t quite hit the mark – voice acting again m’afraid…

-  Right, this has gone on long enough.  We’re aiming for realism here, yeah?  The horror, the logical puzzles – they’re pretty good.  So why can we not think around the old infinite pockets inventory thing?  This isn’t the kind of game where pocketing a 12ft ladder or yards of large diameter industrial hose can be joked away.  How about, Darren acknowledges that the larger items are useful but, get this: doesn’t pick them up.  Instead they exist in a collection of usable objects (a memory??) where they can be utilized when needed.  Surely we can come up with some animations of him carrying a ladder?

- The music in the pub is shit and annoying.  How do banjos and harmonicas suggest a small English pub in the mid 90s?  70s pop – that suggests a small English pub in the mid 90s.  Change accordingly.

- The Ending.  Now, I know it’s a series.  I know we want people to buy Black Mirror 3 but we can’t charge thirty big ones and end the game on a cliff hanger, we just can’t.  It’s not even that,  it’s just nonsense.  It only serves to make the whole bloody story redundant, dontcha think?  In fact, it generally goes off the deep end a little in the last quarter.  Whatever, no biggy – a killer final cut-scene would probably fix it.  BE SURE TO INCLUDE ONE!!!

That’s about all.  We’ve got a pretty good thing going on here folks – the art’s awesome, the story’s gripping – love it.  Just sort out these issues and we’re all set.  I’d say we’re about 69% of the way there.

Anyway, plane to catch.  See you in a few months – adios!
BS Dick.

Black Mirror II is released in the UK on April 30th by LMG under Odyssia Adventure.

Paul Millen