After a long wait, gamers finally have the chance to play PaperSeven’s Blackwood Crossing. PaperSeven has been very good at maintaining the secrecy around the plot and mechanics of their game, so when I started Blackwood Crossing, I was not sure what to really expect. I found a story that began both hauntingly stunning and amusing, but ultimately left me heartbroken about the past and hopeful for the future. I completed the game in one sitting and, if it had not been for the fact that I needed to get to work in the morning, I would have started a second play through right then and there.
Blackwood Crossing is presented in the whimsical style of the film Alice in Wonderland. The game puts the player in control of a teenage girl named Scarlett who is watching over her younger brother Finn as the two take a train ride. The player quickly learns the two are orphans who live with their grandparents. Scarlett still remembers their parents but Finn does not, and he is worried about being completely left alone after his older sister begins getting involved with boys, concerned about wearing make-up and black fingernail polish, and held-up on her cell phone all the time.
Both are endearing characters but I found myself understanding Scarlett’s point of view a little more. As an older sibling myself, I understand the hardship of growing up faster and not wanting to push family away, but earnestly searching for my own independent identity. I found Finn’s early antics to be a desperate and annoying attempt at getting me to play with him, but Blackwood Crossing always made sure to pull back on Finn’s tantrums just before I started hating him. I never felt like I was babysitting Finn. He needed me, but in a way that was reminiscent of Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite. Behind the haughty façade, I could see a deep sadness and fear of being abandoned by his only remaining family. I wanted to protect him and make up for the time Scarlett had spent ignoring him.
That is not to say that Blackwood Crossing is all doom and gloom. There are some stunningly good-looking environments, plentiful bouts of sarcasm and humor, and quiet moments of sibling love sprinkled throughout its two-hour campaign. The game does not really reward exploration, and funnels the player into small, interactive spaces. However, it has dozens of Easter eggs in reference to movies and other forms of media for the pop culture fan who enjoys poking their head into every nook of every train car.
There is a tiny bit of choice in the game when it comes to how Scarlett interacts with Finn. Occasionally, Finn will say or do something and the player is given a three to eight second window (depending on how desperate the situation) to choose how Scarlett will react to her brother. I pretty much always chose a sarcastic response but I am looking forward to playing through the game again and being more bossy or sweet and noting the differences in how Scarlett and Finn react to one another. The player will not find expansive dialogue trees, but it is a welcome means of the player conveying their own feelings through Scarlett. I just wish it happened a few more times throughout the game.
I am wary about going into additional gameplay mechanics in Blackwood Crossing, as they are difficult to talk about without spoiling major plot points in what is a story driven game. Most of the mechanics are what you would expect from a typical adventure game: finding items and cleverly figuring out how to use them to solve puzzles. However, the game quickly takes a supernatural turn and introduces abilities that Scarlett can use to solve puzzles and (sometimes quite literally) pull back the darkness that is clawing at her brother. I will say that there are children’s games like Simon Says, Warmer-Colder, and Hide-and-Seek that are utilized very well. I felt like I was a kid again actually playing those games with a younger sibling. The additional supernatural elements that Blackwood Crossing sporadically sprinkles throughout them made me gasp in wonder in near unison with Scarlett.
PaperSeven’s Blackwood Crossing is a beautiful two hour story about two orphans trying to reconnect, and instead discovering they were never separate to begin with. A little boy finally gets the opportunity to vent his frustrations over his sister’s growing distance as she gets older. A teenage girl finally finds it within herself to forgive the guilt that is preventing her from recalling the memories of her parents. The player gets to watch these transformations unfold while traversing an ever-changing train, fearfully running from shadows, and confronting the hardships of growing up without any sense of purpose or belonging. If the achievements for this game are any indication, there are some additional story elements I missed out on that may present me with a different final outcome to the plot. I cannot wait to play Blackwood Crossing again tonight and find out.