Tuesday, 12 December 2017

BLACK DAHLIA


The infamous unsolved murder of the aspiring actress Elizabeth Short, dubbed the Black Dahlia, has become one of Hollywood's biggest true-life stories. Over forty years after the tragic death, Take 2 has taken the mystery and mixed it with mythology to create an epic FMV adventure.

Made by the same team as Ripper, Black Dahlia was released at the tail end of the FMV craze in 1998. People were beginning to get savvy to their apparent lack of quality in both the film production and gameplay. Black Dahlia is one of the better efforts, but after a strong start, it quickly lapses into laziness in both its story and puzzles.

You play as Jim Pearson, a new recruit to the Office of the Coordinator of Information (the COI) in Cleveland. It's 1941 and, with the world at war, paranoia surrounding the Nazi spy next door is high. It's your job to root them out. But this is also the time when the real-life Cleveland Torso Killer was terrorising the city. The two cases intertwine with the Thule Society, a German occult group founded after World War I, and events quickly escalate into fantastical Indiana Jones territory.

The puzzles often devolve into the jigsaw variety. Don't complete the diamond puzzle (right) until you 
need it. There's a bug that will render the game unwinnable if you do.

The gameplay is traditional for a first-person point-and-click adventure. Locations can be searched in full 360 degrees with hotpots zooming you in on points of interest. There isn't much in the way of exploration beyond individual rooms, so in that respect, the game feels quite claustrophobic and contained. It's a testament to the storytelling that the game still feels epic and on a grand scale.

You do have some familiar tools to aid you through the adventure which are accessed by right-clicking or pressing ESC. First, there's your inventory which allows you to look at items in finer detail. You may find additional clues or items if you inspect them more closely, but to use them you simply need to click on the icon while in the correct location. The map is your quick travel and is necessary to get out of some areas where the door is inaccessible. Photos of the locations will be added or removed depending on what you've accomplished. The last tool - outside of the standard game functions - is a notepad which is completely controlled by the user. Only certain clues will automatically show up and it's not entirely clear which ones won't. In any case, you'll need to pay attention no matter what. Or you can jot down any kind of vulgarity you want.

The puzzles are often well designed, at least to begin with. They are completely diegetic to the plot in the first half too, with items hidden in other items and passwords trapped behind codes. You'll need some basic cryptology skills too, making the in-game free-typed notepad - or a basic paper one on standby - a must. These can be incredibly fun to figure out, even if scrolling through phonebooks and Nazi watch lists seem daunting. Remember, if you have heard of a name within the game before, chances are it's important.

Unfortunately, these clever puzzles devolve into the standard sliding puzzles and jigsaws with more frequency as the game goes on. It gets to the point where it's no longer amusing. It's as if the designer's creativity ran out halfway through. The same could be said for the story too. Those with any knowledge of the Black Dahlia case will know that Elizabeth Short was murdered in 1947, six years after the events of the beginning of the game. This is because the Black Dahlia of the title is not about the tragic death of an actress, but a mystical gemstone used in occult rituals. There is a time jump later and we do have a role in the famous case, but much like the Cleveland Torso Murders, it's little more than window dressing.

Some puzzles will ask you to call on your maths skills or decode hidden messages. Some will even 
require a bit of research making you a true investigator.

The game spans eight CDs - to my knowledge, the single largest game at that time - and each CD is packed full of video. Considering the reputation for FMV games, the acting and production quality is pretty damn good, though the declaration that it stars Dennis Hopper is a bit misleading. His role is that of your disgraced predecessor and has a very minor impact on the overall story. It will be several CDs before you get to meet him too no doubt disappointing several gamers at the time. That being said, the unknowns we'll be seeing more of do a great job.

I was incredibly engrossed with the first half of Black Dahlia, making a mental note that this could be a forgotten masterpiece of interactive fiction, but as I kept playing, that line of thinking gradually disappeared. Instead, we have a decent adventure with top-notch production values and an entertaining B-Movie plot. The moniker of Forgotten Masterpiece may be out, but Hidden Gem is certainly applicable. Well worth your time.


To download the game, follow the link below. This exclusive installer uses the DOSBox Daum build of DOSBox 0.74 running Windows '95. Manual included. Tested on Windows 10.

IMPORTANT - Remember to shut down the emulated version of Windows before exiting DOSBox. This could potentially result in errors, lost saves and corrupt data. Press Ctrl-F9 when it is safe to do so.

File Size: 5.18 Gb.  Install Size: 5.67 Gb.  Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ

Download


Black Dahlia is © Take 2 Interactive
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me


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8 comments:

  1. Personally, I think that even such a pompous adjective like "amazing" falls short when bearing in mind the tech-historical significance of your heroic deed, making the long derelict Black Dahlia executable on billions and billons of halfway modern PCs outside a pre-Year-2000 Windows OS environment for the first time ever! Daredevil Biff, this more than incredible achievement must have stretched your mental robustness up to the max, hasn't it? Well, I, for one, I still can't believe what my very own eyes are catching sight of here, thanks to all the sweat and tears you've suspectedly shed to get that somehow FMV swan song running finally! WOW!!!

    In regard to Black Dahlia's controversial quality of its story, it would also be interesting to hear how exactly you would rate the first half, second half and its overall composition in percent and/or stars, since your views on games mean a lot to me in general.

    Bye for now,
    Thomas

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    1. Thank you Thomas. I made the decision not to give a game a number in my reviews, mainly because it will show my bias towards the adventure genre and doesn't express the critical nuances of the text. I can give a pint-n-clicker top marks while still noting its flaws (even major ones). If it has a great animation style and/or strong story elements even more so.

      Just for you though, I'd give Black Dahlia 4/5 with a point either side for the 1st and 2nd half (though keep in mind my genre bias). The first half is all set up and intrigue with very little in the way of set pieces, but the second half is the opposite. It becomes very violent and gory and a bit over the top. It almost feels like a different game to be honest, although I wouldn't classify it as a bad one. That being said, I can understand why some won't like those early code-breaking puzzles which I really enjoyed.

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    2. I agree with your decision that you don't want to provide your game reviews with particular ratings in numbers, as I think as well that they wouldn't do sufficiently justice to your extensive treatises. Besides, it is obvious to me, too, that many of those products, which always carry a certain amount of fun value for fans, are a little bit hard to rate from an objective point of view these days (not to mention they were oftenly tough to grade in the past already).

      Thank you, anyways, Biff, for the exception you made with the herein featured Black Dahlia, because I was surprised to hear that you explicitedly described the 2nd half as a bit disappointing in comparison to its great beginning. So I wanted to know about that issue as precisely as possible, without taking too much of your time. :-)

      I just hope I still possess the needed patience for solving all those infamous code-breaking puzzles, which always felt to me like cracking hard nuts without having a nutcracker at hand, haha.

      Bye for now,
      Thomas

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  2. Very impressive that you got this working! I think your version will be making the rounds in the retro PC gaming community! Maybe GoG will look at your accomplishments and try to do the same things! Thank you!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks! I think the Microsoft/Win95 issue is problem for them though.

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  3. There are two issues that I noticed along the way and of which I think are worth to discuss.

    First of all, by editing the "bd.ini" file within your installation while having the goal in mind to activate English subtitles (entry is "Subtitles = 1"), nothing happened at all. So, my vague assumption would be that this is a Black Dahlia version from where the subs had been completely removed. Any objections, Biff? ;-)

    Second, there's a patch available to get rid of the video sequences' scanlines. So if you think that this patch could be something to make the FMV look more pretty, I guess it would be a fine reason for an update at a later moment in time.

    Bye for now,
    Thomas

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    Replies
    1. I'll keep that in mind for a future update. I know there was an official patch whichI didn't use either. The installer was kinda rushed (there's no game-specific Win95 wallpaper or autorun) so I didn't research much beyond what I had. My main focus was for it to play and that CD swapping wasn't an issue (it's been eliminated). IIRC there was a full HD installation patch for WinXP which I looked into many years ago. Something put me off it which I think may have been a video program that conflicted with what was already installed.

      The game uses an ISO rip from my own original copy so I'm unsure about subtitles. As far as I'm aware the option doesn't exist (perhaps it's only in non-English versions?)

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    2. Thanks for the detailed answer(s), Biff! These scanlines I mentioned are actually something that isn't too hard to live with. Despite the fact of their existence, the videos still look good enough to enjoy them. Prove me wrong, but I think they're more subtle than those of an unpatched Gabriel Knight 2, the holy grail of FMV gaming.

      In regard to the Black Dahlia subtitle issue, there's a Youtube Longplay available with activated in-game subs, presented in all their shining glory. But yeah, it really seems to depend on the territory where the particular game version was released back in its heyday. Well, as a non-native English speaker and "German Kraut", my head will surley smolder like a chimney here and there, haha, but I guess I'll be able to compensate it. :-)

      Apart from that, thank you again so much for making this release possible, one that is probably among the most difficult candidates you ever had to face for getting them to work properly!

      Bye for now,
      Thomas

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