Blackwood Crossing is a tale of two siblings, Finn and Scarlett, whose journey as two orphans on a train to an unknown destination borders on the fantastical and surreal. More than that, it is a game whose core message revolves around family, memories, and how our lives affect those around us both positively and negatively, and it explores those themes in a rather unique way.
To talk about the story in depth would be to give away the very essence of Blackwood Crossing, but even its set up of the two main characters being orphans brings about moments of personal reflection for those who are no longer with us. As I type this, memories of my own father dance around my mind, having lost him a little under two years ago. Blackwood Crossing pulls on those emotional strings throughout much of it narrative, but in a way that is quite comforting more than feeling forced.
Blackwood Crossing excels more in its storytelling and journey than the actual gameplay. It is quite a short experience with my playthrough clocking in at around two hours, and those hours rare filled with rather simple puzzles to solve in order to continue. The best parts of the game are when Scarlett and Finn are talking to each other, showcasing a sibling relationship that comes across as genuine and is easy to relate to if you have siblings yourself. This relationship remains strong throughout the game’s story.
Blackwood Crossing’s setting is very unique as it takes place on a train. However this train isn’t a normal one, and the carriages can transform to hold scenes like a garden with a tree in it or a greenhouse. Yet the way these transformations happen make it seem almost normal that a tree has sprouted right in the middle of a carriage, or that the flooring is now grass. These environments look fantastic, as do the character models and animations, with everything having a pop of colour too.
It’s really in the gameplay portion where Blackwood Crossing struggles, feeling like a bit of a slog at times. You control Scarlett all the way through Blackwood Crossing and her movement speed becomes quite annoying. She isn’t the fastest character in the world and the way the camera moves up and down as she walks almost makes it seem like Scarlett is walking with a limp. It’s incredibly distracting and I feel it would have been better to settle for a smoother animation to move forwards.
There are times when you need to interact or inspect parts of the environment or a character in front of you, but on console the aiming reticule is quite fussy in where it allows you to actually bring the prompt up to perform an action. You could be staring almost directly at something, but if the reticle isn’t in the exact right place you’ll have to fiddle with the camera a bit until it is. This issue was distracting enough, a bit like the walking, to take me out of the experience at times.
The voice acting is superb however, and does draw you right into the way Finn and Scarlett are feeling, and how their relationship is. As Scarlett, you occasionally have choices regarding how you’ll respond to Finn, where you can be gentle, sarcastic, bossy, or angry depending on the situation. Blackwood Crossing’s atmosphere has also been crafted well with scenes going from playful to times of wariness and unease. The surrealist nature of the game allows it to switch the way it makes you feel almost in an instance.
Blackwood Crossing does a great job with telling a story, but it’s lacking in lustre as a game. The surreal setting, the believable characters, and the plot are all highlights of Blackwood Crossing, and if that is what you’re looking for to wile away a couple of hours, then I recommend it. If you’re focus is purely more on the gameplay side of things, it may be worth waiting for updates to roll out to address issues like movement and fiddly interaction. PaperSeven’s first release shows a studio that has promise in storytelling, but it just needs to fine tune the gaming side a little bit more.
Version tested: PS4