Sometimes you play a game that defies all expectations. When you go in expecting roses, sometimes you get daisies and sometimes you get smacked in the face with a rotten tuna fish. Blackbay Asylum is like having both of those things at once.
First, let me explain what Blackbay Asylum isn’t. By traditional standards, Blackbay Asylum is not a “good” game. It has a top down adventure style of gameplay, and no single part of it feels particularly great. In spite of this, I have to admit that I did enjoy SOME of my time with the game.
The theme of Blackbay Asylum is my favorite part. If the gameplay is bland, unsalted potatoes, the theme and story is the weirdest meat you’ve ever tasted. It’s not boring, but it is a little bit funky; you’re not sure why, but you almost need to take another bite. It’s compelling, but in a way that is almost indescribable. I quickly found myself question my own sanity as the rather amateurish writing style pulled me in deeper.
Allow me to set the scene: Blackbay Asylum is set at the eponymous Blackbay Asylum, which is located off the coast of Innsmouth, Massachusetts. For those who are unfamiliar, Innsmouth is a fictional city known for it’s relation to the HP Lovecraft mythos. This conveys the instant feeling that you will be dealing with sanity and other horrific things. 30 seconds into the game, you realize that it is not quite as grim as anticipated.
The first glimpse of the player character, “Doug” shows a very large, heavily muscled man strapped to a chair with a facemask, ala Hannibal. This man is also wearing a t-shirt with a spiky-toothed grin that says “Have a smiley day!” and a teddy bear tied to his waist. At this moment, all expectations flew out the window.
The game starts with Doug writing a letter to his stuffed Teddy, explaining that he will soon be experimented on and killed, among other things. It’s a rather heavy-handed way of setting the stage, but it didn’t bother me too much. After this, Doug realizes that his cell door is open, and he begins his journey to figure out why everyone is dead, and to hopefully escape.
Blackbay Asylum is an adventure game, controlled mostly from a top down perspective. The movement is very floaty, and the way you interact with the environment is clumsy. Using WASD controls, you walk your character up to things in the environment and press the spacebar to interact. The problem is that it can be difficult to intuit which part of the object you need to be touching to get the interaction you want, leading to instances of bumping up against stuff and moving around trying to find the sweet spot. It can be frustrating, and multiple times early in the game I had to backtrack because I had apparently missed something when I didn’t interact with it properly. Eventually, I figured out that I had to scour every room in a grid pattern in order to prevent that, and it just isn’t fun and felt like unnecessary work.
There are puzzles in the environment that vary wildly in difficulty. I’m not necessarily the best at solving adventure game style puzzles, but there was an early door that I spent 20 minutes trying to figure out how to open. I searched up and down the entire level trying to find a passcode to an electronic lock. It turns out the answer was the order of which people were murdered, and the way their trays were arranged in the cafeteria. What? I’m fine with silly solutions to puzzles, but having the answer be the most insane coincidence is not fun at all. There was no sense of “Aha, so THAT’S the answer!” Instead, my reaction t was “You have GOT to be kidding me.” On the flip side, there are some puzzles more my difficulty level, and a few of them caused a chuckle.
It’s worth reminding you that Blackbay is indeed a horror game. While the dialogue and descriptions are exceedingly silly, every aspect of the game is eerie. As a murdering psychopath, Doug’s inner monologue and view of the world is unsettling, to say the least. The music and sound effects keep you on edge, and the world is completely covered in blood and gore — keeping you from getting too comfortable. It’s slightly diminished by the graphics, which can be hard to take seriously and at times made me laugh out loud. The art style attempts to emulate realism but fails, and ends up in sort of an uncanny valley that actually contributes to it’s uncomfortable nature.
Whether you should play this game is determined by your tastes as a gamer. If you don’t like puzzles, horror games, or horror games that don’t take themselves seriously, Blackbay Asylum is not for you. If you like your adventure games silly and scary–and Blackbay is scary, then it’s definitely worth a look.
[+Pretty funny][+Hella eerie][-A few puzzles are super abstract][Hunting for the right object to interact with sucks][-The graphics can make you laugh]