Note: Review was originally posted July 10, 2003
Release Date: November 13, 1998
Hi. Come on in! I am the only one left, you know. Well, except for my little friend mousey. Come closer and I'll tell you a secret. Don't be afraid. I didn't want the game to end so I hid in this little room. Some nice men gave me a warm white jacket to wear and a gave me a shot with a needle that made me feel tingly all over. But they found me and said that I could stay here as long as I like! How nice. What game was I playing? Why, John Saul's Blackstone Chronicles: An Adventure in Terror. Just attempting to pronounce that tongue twister of a title would be enough to drive a normal man insane! But not me. It would take a lot more than a game to put me over the edge. Oh, here's mousey again. I can control mousey with my left foot and toes, you know. Here mousey, mousey.
Since the very first day that I read the Blackstone Chronicles serialization, I knew that I must one day visit the asylum. Now, thanks to the imagination of John Saul and Bob Bates, my fondest dream has come true. Mindscape did its part to make my visit affable by including two different CDs with the game: one for low-end machines (the majority of adventure gamers) and one for high-end machines (those damnable Quakepeople). But they also made a huge mistake! For at the beginning of the game newspaper articles flash across the screen and if you have not read the books then the endings of the different serializations have just been ruined! Ha!--as if there is not enough in this game to drive you crazy. For the game begins five years after the conclusion of the book. Blackstone Asylum has been designated a landmark and will soon be reopened as a museum dedicated to the history of mental illness and its cures. Days before the grand opening, the late Malcolm Metcalf, the last director of the asylum, pays his son Oliver a visit and informs him that he has kidnaped his grandson Josh. Oliver must find his son and make peace with his father's spirit before the night is ended. Some may think Malcolm a loathsome, despicable figure. I find him to be a role model. A glowing tribute to stern but caring fathers of the past.
Small touch screens have been placed in every room along with personal belongings from the tenant of the room. The game centers around conversations that you have with the past occupants of the Asylum. All of my old friends are here--Delusional Vi, Paranoid Lorena, Pregnant Marilyn. Though you can't see them, they will help you by providing clues for accessing other areas of the Asylum. Mousey will help maneuver you around the screen and let you speak with their pictures and portraits. As the plot unravels and you delve deeper into the lunacy of the Asylum, you will discover for yourself that these people are as normal as me. Malcolm spotted this and had them locked up to protect them from the evils of the world. If I were Queen Elizabeth (which I will be tomorrow), I would give the plot an A+. They don't get better than this.
The puzzles in The Blackstone Chronicles run the gamut from inventory-based to timed. If you don't complete the timed sequences within the allotted time frame, then you die. Slowly. Excruciatingly. Exquisitely. My favorite was when I was locked in a dark box and ... well, I don't want to give away the good parts! I did play this segment over and over again just for the experience. Many of the puzzles are simply a matter of convincing the tortured spirits of the Asylum to divulge information that only they know. The best part of the puzzles and the game though are without a doubt the various instruments of torture, er, therapy that wait in the basement for their next unsuspecting guest. Electroshock, hydrotherapy, and all of the other familiar favorites await the curious and the machinery used for the therapy is often part of a devious timed puzzle. There is, though, a downside to all of these brainteasers. If you solve them all correctly and follow the linear path the game presents, then the boy does not die--and the game is over. I do not want the boy to live! The game must go on. If I were Einstein (which I was yesterday), then I would give the puzzles in this game an A-.
24-bit graphics bring the visual terror of the Blackstone Asylum into a fearsome focus. Water stains on the ceiling, the antisepticness of the kitchen area and the gloom of the basement are as clear as a mime on Prozac. It is truly chilling to walk through the dank basement corridor realizing that behind every door is a room full of tortured spirits and the instruments that "cured" them. Your heart leaps to your throat in anticipation of the sights you are about to encounter. Age-old blood stains in the woodwork are a jarring contrast to the cleanliness of the restored therapeutic instruments and are a jolting reminder of their sadistic history. Crisp clear colors contrast with faded black and white photographs. The brightness of the Asylum corridors is offset by the muted lighting in the patients' rooms. The ancient elevator that delivers you to the stygian depths of the basement is an iron-gated monstrosity direct from every nightmare you have had about being trapped alone in an elevator with a stranger. Every inanimate object in the Asylum seems to take on life through the succinctness of the graphics. If I were Picasso (which I am), I would grade the graphics an A.
Like Peter and the Wolf, every room, every character in The Blackstone Chronicles has its own music. Organ music reverberates from the chapel; frightening music that sounds as if it could have come from a 1960s horror classic like The Haunting greets you in the basement. The overall atmosphere created by the music (attributed to Presto Studios) is extremely reminiscent of the original Dark Shadows television series. It sets the tone and the mood for what or who you are about to encounter as it subconsciously guides your emotions. Not one small detail has been overlooked in this game. Sound effects are used judiciously yet effectively in conjunction with the music. The echo of your footsteps reverberating down the great hall is a reminder that you are alone with only spirits as your guide. The dripping of the water in the kitchen is damned annoying and I found it to be a form of torture in itself. Mousey thinks that the voice acting is a little cheesy, but I think that is just a private little mousey joke. I think the voice acting is great, and Bob Supan who plays Nick and the organist manages to stand out from a great cast with his superior performance. The cast seems to be comprised of seasoned performers who know when to elicit pity (Angela Calo as Marilyn) and when to take a character to the edge without going over (Bob Supan as Nick). If I were Joan of Arc (which I was in a past life), I would give the music, voice acting and sound effects an A+.
Am I insane? For this game, yes. As concerns other matters ... you be the judge. Enter, if you dare, the horrific world of The Blackstone Chronicles. But beware, for if you run into me, I may then be the one trying to save you. What is that clicking noise? you ask. Oh, that is John Saul. I kidnaped him and put him in the little room that Josh was in so that he could work on the add-ons and sequels for The Blackstone Chronicles. Type faster, John. Come, mousey, we must go now.
Final Grade: A
180 MB free HD space
8X CD-ROM Drive
24-bit PCI Video Card with 2MB RAM
DirectX 6 compatible sound card
DirectX 6 compatible mouse and keyboard