Black Sails – The Ghost Ship – Review

Title   Black Sails – The Ghost Ship
Developer  Deck 13
Publisher  Deck 13
Platform  Windows PC
Genre  Point and Click Adventure
Release Date  September 17th, 2015

blacksailsrev1To say that I’ve been waiting a long time for Deck 13’s ghostly adventure game Black Sails is an understatement. It may have only just recently hit Steam, but it has been out in Germany for nearly six years. With adventure games being big business on the continent, our German friends have the pleasure of all kinds of adventures that we never see. Thankfully, now, with Steam throwing open its doors and buggering off for a drink, we are seeing more and more gradually localised and set free. Black Sails – The Ghost Ship (otherwise known as Black Sails: Das Geisterschiff) is one of them.

A classic point and click adventure, the game is set aboard a mysterious ship in which you, a young woman called Anna find yourself after your own vessel sinks. Your only companion is a surly bastard by the name of Lex, who spends his time being as obtuse and rude as possible. With your ship gone and the cabin in which you find yourself empty, you decide to search the seemingly deserted ship for help. It isn’t long, however, before you get the sense that the ship and perhaps the crew – wherever they are – are not all they seem.


While you are pretty capable, your dickish companion is next to useless and intent on looting and snarking, with a typical stab at lechery thrown into the mix. After managing to injure himself almost immediately he lounges around, as useful as a punctured testicle, necessitating a search for medical supplies while you simultaneously try and unravel the ship’s mystery. Given his attitude, I was tempted to see if I could just let him die, but I decided to press on in the hope that some nautical phantom would do it for me. You are told early on that your dialogue choices have consequences, but given his grotesque hostility, there seems little choice but to respond in kind, with murder, rather shamefully, not being an option.

blacksailsrev3Gameplay is typical of a point and click adventure, with an inventory and array of items to examine, combine and figure out how to use. Thankfully it has a show-all-hotspots feature and diary to help you keep track, although there are issues with both. In some cases not all hotspots show up when you hit the spacebar, leading to a few surprises and some random pixel-hunting discoveries. The diary is also next to useless as it is in the same near-indecipherable handwritten typeface as the other documentation you stumble upon.

The puzzles are what you would expect, with the ever-expanding inventory in place and working well, but they rarely move outwith the realms of straightforward inventory/environment puzzling, with no mini puzzles, long treks for inventory chaining, or similar (not an issue for me, personally, but some folk may miss them). They range from the simple, such as find X to do Y, or use X on Y and then do Z, to the faintly obscure and questionable, such as rebuilding a staircase. But hey, we’ve all likely seen worse, and there was nothing really outlandish that made me want to destroy my screen.


The environment is small, with only a limited number of locations (many of which are corridors), but what there are, are well detailed and interesting. The problem, however, is not how few screens there are but how you move around. The movement coupled with the stubborn way the camera sometimes decides to kick into gear and shift to where you need it can be a pain. Navigating the captain’s cabin or the mess hall, for example, could be annoying as you click around, trying to get Anna into the right spot for the camera to fall into the correct place for you to see a part of the room.

Aesthetically, despite the game being nearly six years old (counting its original German release) it has fared reasonably well, barring a few issues, one of which, as mentioned previously, being that all of the written material you come across (including the game’s menus) is presented in such an elaborate, scripty typeface that, while looking very much in keeping with the theme and setting, is practically illegible. This left me having to piece together sentences from various letters and diary fragments in order to get backstory – not ideal in a genre that lives and dies by story and immersion.

blacksailsrev5Atmosphere is, sadly, another place in which the game stumbles, and the place you really want it to soar. For a game set aboard a mysterious and possibly-haunted ship (and with the title Black Sails) you expect tension and a gripping atmosphere. Here, there is little to none, bar a few moments, and it isn’t helped by the bare minimum of background music. I expected it to be foreboding, even sinister, as you’d expect in a game of this nature, but was left disappointed. It felt as though a great opportunity had been squandered. It isn’t often that we get a gem of a scenario like this – a game set in a perfect contained environment (which can automatically ratchet up pressure and tension if utilised well), but little seemed to have been done with it.

While spoilers naturally prohibit much exploration of the story and the all-important ending, I will say that it changes depending on choices you make in the closing moments. With everything you have seen and been a part of, it boils down to what you believe, and what you choose as to how things end. While it is an interesting touch, it means that we don’t get a definitive story but, rather, you being handed some metaphorical cards and essentially told to pick your ending, and despite some interesting turns in gameplay and story, overall it feels like the story – and, therefore, the game – hasn’t quite lived up to its potential. While the basics of inventory, character, and puzzling were pretty decent, the lack of atmosphere and tension let it down and overall left a feeling of disappointment after such a long wait.

  • Great setting
  • Intriguing concept
  • Some nice touches helped pull it up a notch, but it wasn’t enough
  • Interesting story spin(s) in the closing moments…
  • But ultimately unsatisfying
  • Lacked tension
  • No atmosphere
  • Faffy camera/angles make things tricky
  • Near-illegible text meant that background story was hard to put together
  • Wasted opportunity

This could have been a great adventure game. It had the perfect setting, an intriguing and familiar concept, and a great deal of potential. Sadly, it didn’t live up to any of it. The lack of tension and atmosphere hampered it greatly, and while it had some interesting gameplay and story elements they weren’t enough to really make it the game it could have been, and the game I wish it had been.

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