Mystery Case Files: The Black Veil (Collector's Edition)
Year Published: 2017
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Developer: Eipix Entertainment
If you've read any of my other reviews of games developed by Eipix, you likely know that they are a company at the top of their craft for HOG art, storytelling, and design. Much of that skill is present in The Black Veil, but not to the exent that I would strongly recommend this game as I do some of their other titles.
My only previous experience with the Mystery Case Files series was 2009's Dire Grove (by a different developer). The Black Veil features the return of Alison Sterling from that game and makes various references to it, and to a few other previous games in the series but not as much as Dire Grove, so it was good that I had played it and knew what they were talking about. If you haven't played Dire Grove (and it's not on Steam), you won't be completely lost for that reason, but that's an odd situation: The Black Veil's own story is lacking, and I'll confess I don't know if I completely understand what the villain was trying to do and why your character continues playing right into his hands.
The purpling of Dreadmond begins.
As the "Master Detective" from the previous games, you travel to the fictional town of Dreadmond in Scotland where your friend from Dire Grove, Alison Sterling, is reporting on a strange illness, the titular "Black Veil", that is causing the residents to rapidly age. The source of this odd plague may be related to the town's local wealthy benefactor, Richard Galloway, who was struck by a bullet and nearly killed during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. As Galloway was about to perish, he was approached by an "angel of death", Ankou, presumably to take his soul to the afterlife. However, Galloway grabbed a feather from her wings, which healed his wounds and granted him immortality, explaining how he looks as young in present day Scotland as he did in 1916.
While this set-up is interesting, the progression of the story from here feels like watching a ballgame when you don't know what the rules are. Along with immortality, the feather has apparently given him control over Ankou,
allowing him to summon her and use her powers to transform ordinary statues into magical devices that cause mass destruction. For some reason that I don't totally understand, Galloway, after having set up most of these contraptions, manipulates your character into obtaining the quill and using it to activate them. He mentions something about needing a person who is capable of forgiveness to do it. I don't get it. His motivations are unclear.
I guess Richard wants the whole world to look like his dreary mansion.
Then there is the matter of the Black Veil: Neither Alison Sterling, nor your character, nor a little boy who doesn't speak named Henry Sharpe are affected by it when you first enter town. After being manipulated into activating one of Galloway's machines, Sterling ages, but you don't because of the feather's protection. However, Henry also does not age, and I cannot figure out a reason for it other than the "Neurodiversity is Supernatural" trope. Further confusing matters is that there's a quirk in the dialogue in which your character mentions seeing Henry and wondering where he ran off to before he actually appears. I was very confused as to what she was referring to. I'm also uncertain as to how the pandemic spread previously if the statue was only activated by you just now.
Beyond this point the story becomes a series of finding and activating statues while enduring Galloway's taunts both in-person and over loudspeakers. It reminded me of MagicIndie's title, Brink of Consciousness: Dorian Gray Syndrome, a HOG I didn't care much for, and that was one of the reasons why. The bonus chapter, in which you play as Richard Galloway, is just plain weird.
Creepy graveyard complete with bed-shaped pet cemetery.
Graphically, the game is on par with Eipix's standards, which are amazingly high. The intro cutscene depicting Richard Galloway on the battlefield and another where the camera pans up to show a view of the entire city of Paris are breathtaking to behold. However, some might bemoan a lack of diversity in the actual game environments. Many screens are nighttime or cave settings saturated in purple and gray hues. Perhaps that is to be expected from a game whose main theme is about death, and even within those confines are scenes that exude an eerie beauty as can be seen in my screenshots.
I was particularly unnerved by a gravesite for Galloway's deceased pets that includes actual photographs of the animals that must be swapped to the proper headstones to solve a puzzle. Galloway's giant statues and intricately-carved rotating stone towers are gorgeous, but require suspension of disbelief I just don't have: It's unlikely one man alone was capable of making them.
Richard has coffins with decorated skeletons lining a wall of his mansion. Certainly no cause for alarm.
Much like Eipix's other titles, there is also a great amount of variety in the hidden object scenes, a fact I've mentioned so often in my other reviews of their games that it doesn't need elaboration here.
The puzzles are also varied and often comprised of multiple mini-puzzles, but true to Eipix's style they tend to be very easy. Good for anyone who gets frustrated and reaches for the skip button quickly, but I've also seen fans of the series disappointed that the puzzles aren't as difficult as in the earlier titles developed by Big Fish Studios and Elephant Games.
Richard's pick-up lines are as creepy as his taste in decor.
So, where does all this leave us? I have loved Eipix from my first experiences with their Hidden Expedition titles, but The Black Veil is not amongst their best efforts. As a link in the chain of the Mystery Case Files series, you are most likely to play it if you are already playing through the rest of the games anyway. Whether you think it's a strong or weak link may depend on how much you would agree with my assessment of the story, or perhaps you would just be happy seeing Alison Sterling from Dire Grove again. But considering Black Veil's shortcomings, I'm not surprised it hasn't gained the notoriety of that title, which is one of the most-often recommended entries in the series, even to those who never played one before.