The first thing you'll think of when Black Mirror is mentioned is most likely the popular series (currently on Netflix), but there was something that came before. Back in 2003 the first Black Mirror game, an old-school adventure, was released under the same name. It's not really a classic and, while it spawned two sequels, it's an odd choice for a reboot. Nevertheless, THQ Nordic picked up the rights and put King Art Games in charge of a new entry in the series for PC, but also for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Like its predecessors, Black Mirror revolves around the Gordon clan, owners of an old gothic castle situated in Scotland. David Gordon, who has lived his life up until now in India, received notice that his father has died and that he needs to return home to take possession of the family estate. The game is set in 1926, unlike the original which is set later on, and the castle seems to have seen better days as David arrives. As you arrive you're not met with much warmth from the staff and your family. It's a homecoming of sorts, but David has never been there before for reasons that will be explained later on. You'll quickly get a sense that things aren't right at The Black Mirror House, and this leads to David starting to explore his new home. We don't want to spoil the story from this point on as adventure games can be said to be three-quarters story, and it is one of the strengths of this game. The atmosphere is tense and there is a constant sense of being watched by the other characters. A rather effective approach. You never really know who's an ally and who's a foe, something that is supported via dialogue options during conversations. You can be honest or lie in certain situations, depending on how much you trust that particular character. It works well.
The puzzles an adventure game offers are of the utmost importance. During the golden age of the genre much relied upon how entertaining and challenging they were. If they weren't well designed you could be stuck for ages. This is something that Black Mirror is guilty of, at least partially. Very early on there is a puzzle that requires you to decipher a set of runes into a four-digit code and we tried everything, tearing some hair out in the process, frustrated that our logic didn't match that of the game. Ultimately, we felt forced to solve it using the time honoured tradition of trial and error, simply trying all possible combinations until stumbling upon the correct one. Something that took us almost two hours.
The game is simply not efficient enough at providing the player with hints and clues or introducing the player to the correct way of thinking. We're aware that it's not meant to be easy, but puzzles should be designed in a manner that the player is never in doubt about what needs to be achieved. Later there was a long period during which we didn't get stuck, but unfortunately, our troubles weren't at an end, even as we'd figured out what the game wanted from us. These experiences do weigh heavy in our opinion of the game, which is a shame as there are some great puzzles in between the poorly designed ones. It's a mixed bag, and that is troublesome as it makes up much of the actual game mechanics found here.
That's not our only concern. The controls and the camera are horrible, to put it plainly, which ruins much of the experience. You control David Gordon from a side-view camera, not a static one, but one that follows. The problem is that there are many blind angles where your character disappears under a staircase or is trapped behind a pillar. Not major issues perhaps, but you'll always find yourself getting stuck on the geometry. It's very frustrating, and adding to the frustration is the fact that you need to be in the correct spot in order to interact with or investigation points of interest. Having to make these corrections as well as getting unstuck from behind posts, desks, and pillars make it feel unpolished. Another example of poor implementation are the invisible walls you run into when you think you can advance, but where something inexplicably prevents you. One example of this is the great door from which you enter the castle, if you return to the hall later on you can't go back there as that part of the hall is simply invisibly walled off.
Things do improve as you finally get to venture outside of the castle and you're given more freedom to explore the surroundings. This is where the graphics are properly showcased and get to shine.
Speaking of the visuals, they are rather good. The castle itself contains lots of detailed and well-realised rooms, and outside the natural environment is oppressive and eerie. The castle is in rather a poor shape, and it contains many dark rooms without much illumination. Therefore you'll be walking around with a candlestick which adds to the atmosphere. However, during the daytime, you can see some of the lines around textures and things that bear witness to a game that hasn't been polished to perfection.
The characters, in general, are also well crafted, with features that are solid for the most part. However, the lipsync isn't on point throughout and from certain angles, the eyes appear dead and lifeless. It's also obvious that some characters have been given a lot more love and attention than others and these stand out from the cast of characters. Once again, it's a bit of a mixed bag.
The sounds in Black Mirror, however, do a decent job as a whole. The voice acting is solid and some of the characters speak with a thick Scotish accent, which lends authenticity. It would appear as if the actors have been given somewhat free rein to improvise or add flavour as the words don't necessarily match the subtitles. This is particularly true when they use Scotish idioms and the text is in plain English.
There's not much to say about the music. It comes into play in the more dramatic scenes, but for the most part, as you explore the castle there are only background sounds designed to set the mood. These noises work with simple instruments to accompany the visuals. Together the audio and visuals will make you feel alone and unsafe, making it feel as if there's danger lurking in every corner.
Despite offering plenty of atmosphere, it is difficult to recommend Black Mirror. It's obvious that the game has potential, but at the same time, it's hard to imagine that its flaws can be easily patched out, as some require a rather big update of the core experience. But if your interest has been piqued we'd still suggest you wait for a couple of updates. Normally we wouldn't suggest this in a review, but here the technical shortcomings are such that they get in the way of the experience.