Legend Entertainment's admiral mission statement to create excellent games based on literary works continued with their last dedicated adventure game; Blackstone Chronicles. Published by Mindscape and released in the latter half of 1998 at the tail end of the genre's golden age, the revered developers managed to weave a ghostly tale worthy of the series of novels by John Saul.
The game continues the story of Oliver Metcalf, the son of Dr Malcolm Metcalf who was Blackstone Asylum's last superintendent with one heck of an evil streak. Many rumours sprang up when the facility was fully functional in the 1950s, including a series of deaths and a 'dark figure' that apparently linked them. None, however, were substantiated. Following its closure after the death of Malcolm, the asylum fell into disrepair, that is until 1994 when the local Historical Society has decided to renovate and repurpose it into the Museum of Psychiatric History. The influx of activity has awakened the spirits of those who died there at the hands of Malcolm. In a bid to pass on his life's work from beyond the grave, the late Dr Metcalf has somehow mustered the strength to kidnap your young son, Joshua. It is the eve of the museum's grand opening and time is ticking for you to find your son before dawn; before the 'dark figure' takes another life.
Playing as a sequel to the books, the game does a good job of still being a standalone experience. The basic plot of the episodic paperbacks is hastily told in the intro sequence in a very spoiler-free fashion. As such, the rich and terrible history of Oliver and his father is not told in much detail, although choice nuggets do crop up throughout the playthrough. I have not read the books, but I can imagine the revelations in the game are less of a surprise if you've read them - I know I was taken aback by what's revealed in the finale.
Information podiums are found in each room ready for the museum's opening.
They often host important items and useful information.
You play in the first person and travel around the gothic mental hospital in a way that reminded me of The 7th Guest quite a bit. Transitions are nicely animated with the disembodied voice of Malcolm taunting you as you explore, but the tone here is far less tongue-in-cheek. The game itself is much more focused on story than puzzles, which makes for a more linear experience too. Once you've discovered the room for the first inmate and solved their puzzle, the next corridor becomes available with the next patient's room. You do this four times and each spirit you help acts like its own chapter. I can imagine each of their stories were told in more detail in the books.
You do not actually see the spirits, except in paintings and photographs. These static representations act as a conduit for you to converse with them, though most will talk to you unprompted if they have something to say. By virtue of a nutcracker, a conversation with Malcolm is only an inventory click away saving you the trip to the main hall if you fancy asking him something.
The four patients that take up the bulk of the puzzle-solving in the game are locked behind some heavy-duty hospital doors. Funnily enough, you'll get the means to open them almost straight away by finding a key-chain in the office. It's heaving with such a huge number of keys that Oliver won't use them unless he knows for sure which one is correct. You will get the answers through conversations but they missed an opportunity here by having you decipher which is the correct key yourself using logic. Instead, once the conversation has taken place, the door will be unlocked. I found them to be more of a literary device to separate distinct chapters rather than a task to overcome.
Generally, these conversations about keys won't take place until you've done something for the spirit in question. There are four inmates in the female ward and each has lost an item of great importance to them whether it be a cigarette lighter, a handkerchief or a creepy doll. These knick-knacks are cursed, however, and as soon as you've picked one up you become possessed briefly and forced into great danger such as exposing yourself to a deadly disease or locking yourself in a hydrotherapy chamber with a temperature rapidly reaching boiling point. You're not immediately dead, though, as the game is designed in such a way that you'll have access to the means to get out of these sticky situations. If you take too long, however, you will die but the game generously takes you back to just before you picked up the cursed item. Not only that, but it will also offer you the option to look at a clue or even solve the deadly puzzle for you.
If you know the password, you can look up the records of any patient on
the computer that was archaic even when the game was released in 1998.
I found the game to be relatively easy if you pay attention. The puzzles are entirely in keeping with the setting and the surrounding meaning that they logically fit in context with the story - no sliding puzzles here. The downside is that they are incredibly easy for the most part. The developers spent time making sure that even the most average of gamers will reach the end. Unlike most horror games, there are no jumps scares or out-there movie sequences and any gory scenes are saved towards the end, yet the game keeps you on edge throughout by atmosphere alone.
Legend Entertainment's strong suit was always their skilful storytelling and John Saul's Blackstone Chronicles is on par with their best in this regard. The ease of the game and relatively short length does it no favours but it doesn't reduce any enjoyment you'll get. I'd perhaps like some actual full motion video beyond transitions between points too, but again, pining for such things does little to dampen the overall experience. To me, such criticisms are so minor here that I wouldn't hesitate to urge any adventure gamer to visit Blackstone Asylum as soon as you can.
To download the game, follow the link below. This exclusive installer uses PCem running Windows '95. Press Ctrl-Alt-PgDown to toggle fullscreen. Press Ctrl-End or middle mouse button to release mouse. Manual included. Installation makes use of the high resolution videos. Tested on Windows 10.
IMPORTANT - Remember to shut down the emulated version of Windows before exiting PCem. This could potentially result in errors, lost saves and corrupt data. Close the program only when it is safe to do so.
File Size: 894 Mb. Install Size: 1.17 Gb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
John Sauls' Blackstone Chronicles is © Mindscape, Inc
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me