Blackwell Unbound
Gameplay 6
Graphics 6
Sound 9

Blackwell Unbound is the second title in the Blackwell series, but it is a prequel instead of a sequel to The Blackwell Legacy. Instead of Roseangela, players take control of her aunt, Lauren Blackwell. Along with her spirit guide, Joey, Lauren must track down two ghosts and help them move on to the afterlife. However, to do so, she must first figure out what is keeping them from doing so themselves. Blackwell Unbound is short but entertaining, and despite some flaws, it will appeal to fans of classic point-and-click adventures. 

Gameplay: Players must talk to various NPCs and gather clues to piece together the mysteries of Blackwell Unbound.

Graphics: The visuals are designed to look like low-res titles from the DOS era and succeed in this regard.

Sound: The quality of the soundtrack and the voice acting are good.      

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Blackwell Unbound

Developer: Wadjet Eye Games | Publisher: Wadjet Eye Games | Release Date: 2012 | Genre: Adventure / Indie | Website: Official Website | Purchase: Steam

The Blackwell Legacy introduced players to Roseangela Blackwell and her unenviable new job as a savior of lost souls. It also explains how Rose ends up stuck with a ghost named Joey, who follows her everywhere. One of the most tragic things in The Blackwell Legacy was learning about the fate of Rose’s aunt, Lauren, who ended up in a psychiatric hospital for several years before her tragic death. According to Joey, Lauren sealed her own fate by ignoring her duty as a spirit medium, which is what compels Rose to reluctantly take on the family responsibility. However, Blackwell Unbound, the second game in the series of retro-style point-and-click adventures, does not continue the story of Roseangela. Instead, it takes players back to 1973, when a world-weary Lauren Blackwell was still dutifully helping restless ghosts to move on.

While it is unusual for a prequel to appear this early on in a series where players are barely acquainted with the primary protagonist, Blackwell Unbound was initially conceived as flashback scenes in the real sequel. However, the creator, Dave Gilbert, cut out these flashbacks only to realize that turning them into a full game could serve as a good stopgap until the next release. Thus, players are cast into the role of a chain-smoking Lauren for one night of ghostly mystery-solving with the aid of her spirit guide, Joey Mallone. Since The Blackwell Legacy already explains what the deal is with Joey, Unbound wastes no time to get straight to the point. After a long day, two cases are left to investigate, and Lauren is eager to get them over with. One involves a ghostly saxophone player haunting the Promenade, and the other is a possible haunting at a construction site. Players can choose which case to take on first and can even try and solve both in tandem. 

Like its predecessor, Blackwell Unbound is a point-and-click adventure created with the Adventure Game Studio engine. The game’s goal is to find out what is preventing two ghosts from moving on to the afterlife and then assisting them with leaving. Unlike The Blackwell Legacy, where Joey mainly was a snarky sidekick, players can take direct control of the spirit guide in Unbound. Joey can still not interact with things or pick up items, but he can access areas Lauren can’t and see things she can’t. This is important in a game where progress depends on looking at absolutely everything to find clues. 

Since Blackwell Unbound was created to keep players interested in the series between the development of The Blackwell Legacy and The Blackwell Convergence, it’s not a very lengthy title. All the action takes place throughout a single evening, and in addition to Lauren’s apartment, there are only a handful of locations to visit. These include Roosevelt Island Promenade, a club called Johnny Ivory’s, a record store, a construction site, and a newspaper office. These locations look good for the most part, and Unbound also features larger character sprites than Legacy. The game still has large black borders to retain the correct dimensions for the retro-style pixel art visuals and, unfortunately, also lacks the character portraits from the original. According to the developer, this was a cost-cutting measure, but their absence definitely detracts from the experience. Fortunately, the game does feature some neat animations, such as Joey taking a ghostly saxophone to the chin and Lauren lighting up a cigarette every time she’s left to her own devices. 

One of the highlights of The Blackwell Legacy was the full voice acting for the whole cast of characters, and this tradition continues in Unbound. Abe Goldfarb is back as the voice of Joey and still does a great job with the character, but Dani Marco steals the show as the voice of Lauren. Her character is much more confident and assertive than Rosa’s, and she’s not afraid to antagonize people to get the information she needs. Since the game takes place during a time when Lauren and Joey have been working together for a long time already, the banter between them also flows better. It is also clear that Joey has feelings for Lauren, which is especially evident when she flirts with someone else during the investigation. The voice-acting performances for the other characters are decent, too, apart from a few occasions where they sounded more like cartoon villains than real people. The sound effects are pretty sparse, but the soundtrack makes up for this with some incredible jazz blues tunes. The soundtrack and the knowledge of what happens to Lauren years later give Unbound a much more melancholy feel than Legacy. 

Blackwell Unbound can be played entirely with a mouse, although there are hotkeys for switching between Lauren and Joey. Once again, players can left-click on objects to interact with them or right-click to examine them. Since the game now features two playable characters, there are two sets of flavor texts for each object, which is a nice touch. Moving the cursor to the top of the screen opens the inventory and case notes. These case notes serve as topics that can be used during conversations with NPCs to gather more clues. As in the previous game, clues can be combined to form new ones, but this feature is used less than in Legacy. It is also up to players to jot down clues like the names of people or places, as Lauren does not do so in-game. This can be a problem when players realize that to open up new locations, they must search for the address in Lauren’s phone book. Doing so involves typing in the relevant name, which must be done without any mistakes or errors. It makes sense, as Lauren couldn’t just hop on the internet to do a search in 1973, but it caught us off guard when we couldn’t remember the exact name of “Johnny Ivory’s,” which is a club mentioned by an NPC.  

Blackwell Unbound is not a particularly difficult game, as most puzzles can be solved by simply exhausting all the dialogue options with characters. Unfortunately, this also means hearing a lot of repeat dialogue to ensure nothing is missed, as characters can be asked repeatedly about the same topic for new responses. Failing to do so might mean missing something and having to perform even more backtracking than what is already present in the game. Players must also be very thorough when examining things up close. For example, a piece of paper might have two separate paragraphs that can be examined along with a date at the top and a name at the bottom. 

Overall, Blackwell Unbound is a brief but entertaining game that accomplishes what the developer set out to do. Getting to know Lauren better makes her story even more tragic, especially as it is clear that she is willing to put her own life on the line to solve the cases. Unfortunately, apart from showing that Joey is infatuated with Lauren, the game doesn’t reveal any more new information about the ghostly spirit guide. Players who complete the game after taking photos of the correct characters with Lauren’s camera also unlock some bonus materials. These include voice-acting bloopers, concept art, and even music tracks cut from the game. For further replay value, players can toggle the commentary mode, where a pixelated portrait of Dave Gilbert pops up to provide some insights about what went into the game’s making.  He is also sometimes joined by Erin Robinson, the artist, to discuss the look and feel of certain scenes. 

In terms of look and feel, The Blackwell Legacy still captures the spirit of old DOS games better, but Unbound is worth playing for the story and characters. It has been updated to run on the newest version of AGS for better compatibility with modern hardware, but it will still not persuade players who are not fans of retro-looking titles. The game is cheap enough that players won’t feel shortchanged by the short length, and there’s a decent amount of bonus content to round out the package. However, we recommend playing The Blackwell Legacy first to get the most out of this game. 

System Requirements

  • OS:Windows ME or higher
  • Processor:Pentium or higher
  • Memory:64 MB RAM
  • Graphics:640×400, 32-bit colour: 700 Mhz system minimum
  • DirectX®:5.0
  • Hard Drive:200 MB HD space
  • Sound:All DirectX-compatible sound cards
  • OS Version: 10.11
  • Architecture: 64bit
  • Memory: 2 GB
  • Storage: 1.5 GB
  • OS Version: Ubuntu, Debian, Arch – (64 bit)
  • Processor: Pentium or higher processor
  • Memory: 2 GB
  • Graphics: OpenGL
  • Storage: 1.5 GB
  • Sound Card: Alsa/PulseAudio/DSP

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