"Black Mirror 2" is the second game in the eponymous trilogy. It was released six years after the first game, and was not created by the Czech developers of the original, but by a German team that did "Mata Hari" before (and "Black Mirror 3" afterwards).
It is a point-and-click adventure - the player moves between fixed static screens and interacts with NPCs, with hotspots in the environment, or with his inventory, in order to solve puzzles and advance the plot. In case of "Black Mirror 2", the plot revolves around young physics student Darren, who seems his former life fall apart, falls in love with a stranger, gets involved in some gruesome murders and an alleged conspiracy, and eventually visits the area of Black Mirror castle to save his love interest. Once there, he gradually gets drawn into deeper into the mystery of the Gordon family.
The game presents itself as a sequence of puzzles in high-resolution surroundings. Most of the puzzles are based on the player's inventory and on the manipulation of objects, but there are also a couple of special puzzles, like reassembling a torn letter, or solving a puzzle of moving tiles. While many of the puzzle solutions are realistic and well-designed, many others are contrived, especially the various means of distracting or manipulating other people. If logical thinking doesn't help, then experimenting with the inventory and the hotspots will sooner or later lead to progress. The game is rather linear and removes inventory items and hotspots once they have fulfilled their purpose, so there aren't too many possibilities to try out when you're stuck. One problem with this design is that you have to revisit already explored screens, because as the game progresses, you may be able to activate something there that wasn't available before - however, there are usually less than 10 screens accessible at any point in the game, so checking those for changes is not too tedious.
There is also a large amount of dialogue, but it just furthers the plot, and does not contain puzzles in itself. The player just clicks on all available topics until they are exhausted. Most of the dialog is decently written - there are occasional highlights, but there's also a considerable amount of plain boring exchanges. Many NPCs are outright obnoxious, and it doesn't help that the main character is a rather unlikeable brat who often makes rude or cynical remarks. Such a character can be fun if his remarks are somewhat witty or clever, but in case of this game's main character, they just made me dislike him and wish that he'd stop.
The story doesn't start very promising - with a rather boring setting, mostly uninteresting NPCs, banal tasks, an unlikeable main character, and a campy love story that never feels believable. However, it continually gets better, and by the end you have a gripping mystery. Some intended twists are fairly obvious, and Darren seems painfully stupid in not realizing them earlier, but several others are genuinely surprising, and there is a good sense of mystery in the game from the middle part onwards. Towards the end, the game makes a very good effort in picking up any loose ends, and even addresses several questions left open by the first game (though it can't really offer solutions to those). Considering that the game was developed by a completely different team, it meshes remarkably well with the story of the first part - from chapter 3 onwards, there are lots of references to it, some obvious, some hidden. The village of Willow Creek, the manor in Wales, and Black Mirror castle itself, all look and feel like in the first game, with believable developments for the 12 years that have passed in the games' stories.
The design of the characters, their personalities, motivations, and relations to each other, all get much better towards the end of the end of the game. The story also picks up pace and becomes more interesting, and there is a gripping, suspenseful finale. There is a cliffhanger at the end (so playing this game without also playing the third one may feel incomplete), but apart from this very last scene, the story of Black Mirror 2 in itself does receive closure.
The game's art style is realistic and very detailed. The resolution is much higher than in the previous game, but the scenes aren't quite as atmospheric. The screens are mostly fixed, but some apply simple horizontal scrolling. Many screens are enhanced by a bit of animation - moving clouds, a blinking light, etc.
The character animations are mostly well done, though some look unnatural. Unfortunately, all characters walk with completely stiff backs and necks, and some have the habit of turning on the spot before they move.
The game has a fairly large amount of cutscenes (which are rendered in the in-game engine) as well as 6 video clips. The latter tend to show only still pictures (often scenes from the game) in a greenish mist, but the composition and presentation is quite good and creates an eerie atmosphere. The in-game cutscenes had showed some flashing screen artifacts on my machine, but nothing serious.
The sound effects are fairly standard. The music is okay, but sometimes too repetitive and too noticeable.
All dialog in the game, as well as all texts from books or letters, is voiced. The acting is generally very good - some characters, especially in the beginning, are still quite boring or cliché, but that's a problem of the character design and not of the voice acting.
An annoyance is the variance in volume in both the music and the voice acting, which often causes the voices to be drowned out by background noise or music.
The game uses a standard point-and-click interface. Hotspots turn your mouse pointer red and can therefore be identified easily. Pressing the space key shows available exits and hotspots.
A diary keeps track of all tasks and puzzles and often contains hints. It gets updated automatically. In some parts of the game, a map provides fast travel between the screens, but it isn't really needed.
The game supports task switching without issues.
EASE OF USE:
The game installs easily, is easy to learn, and easy to get back to after a break. A 50-page manual is hidden in the "docs" folder, but it only explains the interface and doesn't contribute to the story.
All spoken dialog in the game is subtitled.
The game can be saved everywhere and has a sufficient number of available savegames. There are a few places in the game where Darren can die, but the game always makes an autosave before he does, so you never lose your progress.
OTHER THINGS OF NOTE:
The game is of decent length, and separated into chapters. Many locations are only available in some of the chapters. As typical for the genre, replay value is low.
The puzzles are mostly easy, perhaps with the exception of the last one. The game can optionally be played in "easy" mode with additional hints. It's possible to switch those on or off through the options screen at any points.
If you ever plan to play the original "Black Mirror", do so before playing the sequel. This sequel makes a lot of references to the previous game, and contains contains several massive spoilers.
The game is DRM-free, which is always nice.
A fairly good adventure game (though not a great one). It takes a while to get into gear, but was increasingly engaging from chapter 3 onwards.
Review Date: 2013/03/30
Progress: one complete playthrough