Black Mirror 3 Preview

You wait seven years for a Black Mirror game and then two come along at once, or, in this case, roughly one year apart.  Black Mirror 3 is developed by Cranberry Production, who took up the series mantle with the second game and is the third and final part of the dark, Black Mirror story.  Coming from the high-end of the 2.5D point and click adventure spectrum, the Black Mirror series has secured a loyal following, with its beautiful visuals and absorbing  story of dark deeds, murder, and the fate of the mysterious Gordon Family.

I have a fond place on my shelf for the second title; not only was it the first game that I reviewed for GamingLives, but it was the title that shoved me back into the genre playpen and slammed shut the gate.  With the second game done and the story left grasping the edge of a precipice with its clawed hands, news of the third part couldn’t come soon enough – hopefully not subject to the same gap between the first two titles.  However, we were recently able to get our itching hands on a sizeable preview version before the 22nd April release, and it was with anticipation that I stepped back into the town of Willow Creek for the trilogy’s closing act.  I shouldn’t have to point out to our sexy and intelligent readers that in talking about the third part of a trilogy, some faint spoilers, especially in regard to previous parts, are to be expected, but to play safe, consider this a warning nod.

Black Mirror 2 was set 12 years after the brutal events of the first game and introduced a new protagonist in the shape of Darren Michaels, or Adrian as we should now call him, who has a master’s degree in sarcasm and a penchant for grungy jackets.  Events conspired to lure him from  Biddeford in Maine to Willow Creek, England, home of the infamous murders from the first game. The small town was still living under the shadow of tragedy and the famous Gordon curse, which had haunted the place for centuries.   Adrian was yanked wholesale into the twisting train of events, culminating in everything he knew to be true – his past, and even his very identity – being turned upside down.  The story ended somewhat abruptly, paving the way for an obvious third part and leaving fans somewhat dissatisfied and clamouring for more.  Well, now Cranberry have delivered, but will it be what we expected?   Do we even know what to expect anymore?

If anyone thinks that they will be in for a quiet first act, as in Black Mirror 2, then they need to think again.  Black Mirror 3 grabs the player’s attention by the scruff and shoves them into the thick of the story for one last, twisting ride, snatching up the torch – quite literally – where the second game left off.  We burst onto the scene in Darren/Adrian’s shoes once more, mere minutes after the closing events of the second game.  Adrian stumbles from the woods to find Black Mirror Castle in flames and, as the only discombobulated person brandishing a burning torch to be found in the immediate vicinity, is promptly arrested and jailed for arson and murder.  Weeks pass, and Adrian is suddenly bailed out by a mysterious benefactor, but it isn’t uphill from there.  Coping with an evil family spirit riding shotgun in his head and being plagued by nightmares and terrible visions, Adrian also has to prove his innocence to the suitably unpleasant Chief Inspector Spooner.  Not only that, but the townsfolk are terrified of Adrian, scurrying out of his path and eying him with all the trust of Freddy Kruger in an orphanage.

For those not up on recent events, Black Mirror 3 begins with a deft re-cap which is handled smoothly – exposition is disguised in a montage of imaginative scenes, psychiatrist sessions, and dialogue, making it easy to absorb and ideal for anyone who skipped the first two games.  The story is, as ever, where it’s all at with the Black Mirror games and they have never shied away from weaving a fine mesh of plot threads and, while it isn’t quite as dense and layered here, it is satisfying from what I experienced.  Now that Adrian knows who he is, we begin to mine the richly detailed Gordon family history, which means plenty of backstory, stretching back to the very foundations of the clan and its legendary curse.

Perhaps it was just me, but, as I’ve mentioned,  things appear to take a less packed approach to the story this time; while the second game stuffed as many twists and turns as it could into its sack and bound it up with a few familiar plot devices, things are a little more ordered and sedate here, at least… so far.  Then again, we all know what tends to happen in Black Mirror games towards the end, so I’m more than prepared for this to change.

I found the unwinding family history fascinating, and anyone who has poured over screen of the Gordon family tree in the second game and been curious to know more about them, the curse, and its origins, will be more than well served.  The only sticking point I’ve found thus far, story wise, are some of the religious overtones – they were unexpected and struck me as a little… mainstream is the best way I can describe it.  While Adrian is kept carefully ambiguous on this front, it may well irk some who could find it cliché or intrusive.  It isn’t really something that has been hinted at previously, and, as such, an eyebrow hikes at the Vatican’s revealed involvement with proceedings, past and present.  While it makes sense in the context of the story, and is perfectly reasonable – it is only in diluted form – it just felt unnecessary.

While the game is accessible to new players, fans of the previous two games and the mythology will undoubtedly get so much more out of it, just as it should be.  As we know, it is set once more in the familiar town of Willow Creek, tucked in the sleepy English countryside, and there are many familiar locations – indeed, half the fun will likely be comparing them to what players remember from past games, albeit with smart new twists, fresh angles, and additions, which fuel the sense of both familiarity and nostalgia while offering a new eye.  Some places have broken down or fallen into disrepair, while others have seen their purpose alter… from the first game you can expect the morgue to make an appearance, along with the stone circle, while the museum, lighthouse, and ruins from the second game – to name but a few – will also make themselves known, in addition to the, now, forlorn castle.

To add to the finger jabbing nostalgia, there are a number of faces that players will (perhaps) be pleased to see again.  Yes, the disgustingly opportunistic Murray makes a return, eager to pump more tourist cash out of the recent tragic events, not to mention the cash-cow of the original murders.  The schlocky museum has undergone another re-fit and the results are pretty unpleasant, but also twisted enough to offer humorous sideswipe at the human compulsion to capitalise on tragedy, often in the most crass manner possible.  Murray fans will be pleased to know that he is on a roll this time out, with a new line in exhibits and merchandise that would make even the London Dungeon cry foul.  It is also, oddly enough, this which injects some welcome touches of humour into the otherwise sinister proceedings.

Not only has the pace calmed a little – no scenes thus far have had us puzzle solving on the fly as in the bunker chase in in BM2 – but, surprisingly, so have the puzzles.  I was actually a significant way into the game before I realised how few there had actually been.  There are many of the regular inventory based problems, but few big ones and, personally… I was more than happy.  I recognise, however, that opinion tends to be divided on this issue.  Some gamers live for their puzzles and the harder the better, however, others (such as myself), put the story above all else and difficult puzzles can be a pace killer.  The second game had a very healthy dose of them, and even started with one of the most loathed puzzles in many quarters – the sliding piece puzzle – along with numerous safes, locks, and mechanical devices.  These are largely absent here – whether this was just in the case of the preview build I have no idea, but I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t miss them one iota.  No sliding piece puzzle?  Thank you.  Just… thank you.  Whether this will all change in the final few acts, I can’t say, however, after a story-rich game, which has the duty of not only introducing fresh stories, but also tying up everything that has come before, it would be jarring to be slapped in the face by an obtuse mega-puzzle right before the end, in much the same manner as Black Mirror 2, which was pretty unforgiveable in terms of pacing.

The gameplay mechanics and interactions are as smooth as ever and remain noticeably unchanged from the second game, but since it works, that’s only a good thing.  Once again, the graphics are one half the star here and are as beautiful as we’ve come to expect from Cranberry’s high-end adventure series.  The rich 2D environments allow the 3D characters to move an interact against stunning, highly detailed backdrops. From the devastated ruin of Black Mirror Castle, with its charred timbers and sad façade of scaffolding, to the storm-swept cliffs near the lighthouse, every screen has something impressive to offer.  Graphical touches are also prevalent, with smoke curling from chimneys, and clouds scudding across slate skies, echoing the grim mood of our reluctant protagonist.

The audio, again, goes hand in hand with the top graphics, however because we sampled the preview build, we only had the benefit of subtitles for the character dialogue, so whether the hit and miss voice acting of the second game has been cleaned up, we don’t know – we can but hope.  A few odd issues aside, the sound and background effects were spot on,  as was the music: piano and strings delivering punctuation, tension, and melancholy with seamless ease.

Reluctantly sitting back from the keyboard made me more curious to see how it all ends but, at the same time, sad.  It is the measure of a good story and engaging characters that once the tale is spun, you are left wanting more, and it is genuinely sad to see this series nearing its closing chapter.  The Black Mirror series can pride itself on being a shining example of its genre and the final part, thus far, is no different, offering a wealth of arresting visuals, a haunting score, and an engaging story, which fills in some absorbing history for the tragic Gordon family.  With this in mind, it would seem that the third game, from what I’ve experienced, is certainly shaping up to be a worthy denouement to a classic series, and I expect the final act to offer some surprises or I’ll be disappointed.

Easing off on the puzzles may bother some, but will undoubtedly please others who want to focus on the last chapters of this tale in peace.  And we’ll need to pay attention because  with a history of twists and endgame shockers, the final acts could well see the story writhe once more and the puzzles, as well as the plot, thicken before dovetailing to a close.  Personally, I can’t wait to see the last skeletons tumble from the Gordon family armoire and our grumpy protagonist get put to the final test, but I also hope he gets a good ending… one of them has to, after all.

The first game, while delivering a huge twist, also ended in such a way that left fans both angry and disappointed and the second one, which delivered equal shocks, ended abruptly enough to leave players annoyed and impatient.  Will the developers have the same in store for us this time?  Will the curse of the Gordons be broken?  Can the evil veil that has suffocated Willow Creek be lifted?  Will Adrian join the series’ notorious body count or will he survive to find the ‘living’ kind of peace?  Perhaps most importantly of all, will Murray get his comeuppance or will he be free to open up a Gordon Towers amusement park, with blood river-rides and severed head ice creams?  This is the last shot at the end of a fascinating series and all I can hope is that Cranberry don’t fumble it.  I can’t be the only one crossing my fingers for a worthy, if not satisfying conclusion to a strong series.

Last five articles by Lorna



  1. Tania Tania says:

    My fingers are firmly crossed in hope of a great ending too! I can’t wait for this game to finally be released, I just hope they do a nice trilogy boxset with a re-vamped Black Mirror 1 that will run on today’s systems.
    Fab preview :D

  2. Lee says:

    A guy called Murray providing some comic relief? Wonder if that’s a nod to Monkey Island.

    I’ll be honest I’d never heard of Black Mirror before your point and click preview at the start of the year but i think I’ll be adding it to my list now to get me through the summer games drought.

  3. Ben Ben says:

    Having stolen myself a Laptop I think it’s about time I got some games on there and have a feeling that point and click genre would be perfect for those nights when I’m slouched on sofa while “she” takes over my TV with CSI :P

  4. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    As you know, I haven’t played either the first or second in the Black Mirror series but reluctantly added them to my “to play” list… reluctance only because the length of the list is rivalled only by my longing for the time to actually PLAY the damned things. This one intrigues me more though, probably because it’s less about puzzle solving and more about back story and progressing things to a natural end. I love piecing together rich stories from clues here and there, but find puzzles a tad off putting as I rarely get the time to play, let alone spend ten or twenty minutes on one particular scene because I’m perplexed.

    If this can be played as a standalone, which I think may be the case… even if it means being a bit of a charlatan, then I may give this one a go before I move on to my next game. Really enjoyed this!

  5. Edward Edward says:

    An amazing preview, Lorna :)
    Makes me want to invest in the first one so I can start playing through the series from the beginning, but not for the sliding puzzle. Ew, sliding puzzles. Worst part of Professor Layton.

    Sounds pretty good though, hopefully they can provide an adequate end to the story!

  6. [...] We recently previewed Black Mirror III, and were impressed with not only the story and back history of the tragic Gordon family, but the stunning graphics and effects that we’ve come to expect from high-end adventures.  Anyone interested in tasting the first 45 minutes of Black Mirror 3, should download the demo now. [...]

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