Although The Blackwell series seems to be a favourite amongst this genre's fans, I'm going to have to say categorically that point-and-click games are just not for me. I usually find them very frustrating and realize somewhere along the way that I'm just not enjoying them. Occasionally, I try to give them another chance and I bought this series because it had very high ratings, but honestly, I just don't see the attraction. I'm by no means a graphics junky, so it's not that. I think with point-and-click games in general, it's the "make unnecessary work" mindset that seems to be prevalent in this genre. One of their main characteristics is to make you go back and forth a hundred times and make you repeat dialogues over and over to gather one little addition clue. To me this is just mindless filler and grates on my natural inclinations to accomplish as many tasks as possible in one trip.
As to this series, first of all, the games are very short. Secondly, the environments consist of one scene screens that most often have a person or a few people you can talk too and maybe something you can examine or interact with. There are only a handful of locations you can visit and these environments are fairly sparse with very little interactive content. Thirdly, there are no puzzles in the traditional sense. That leaves the story. All of these games in this series rely solely on the strength of the characters and the story. So are they good enough to carry the game? I didn't think so, but that puts me in the minority.
The pattern of all the games is to talk to someone to trigger a note, talk to someone else about the note to trigger another note, talk to someone else to trigger more notes and then try to match up these notes to trigger a clue. The more notes you gather, the more you have to keep going back to the same people to question them further to see if you can get more information. You have to completely exhaust all conversation, even it it means to keep asking about the same notation. Occasionally, there might be something in the environment you can pick up in your inventory that can be used or examined. Some clues might be found in a photograph, for example.
All of the games work exactly the same way. The tools you are provided with consist of notes, examining objects, occasional inventory items, some method of searching for information such as a computer, a telephone book and land phone, and in Deception, a cell phone. And then ...... there is Joey.
The overall story that carries through from game to game is about a medium named Rosangela Blackwell and her spirit guide, Joey Mallone. The characters never veer from their "job" to free troubled spirits by helping them to move on, which usually involves solving murder cases. In other words, there is very little time spent on any side characterization of the main characters or conversation on other matters besides the case. Any interaction between Rosa and Joey is confined to sarcastic one-liners and little attempt is made to explore that relationship. You will discover more personal information about the interviewees than about Rosa or Joey with the caveat that the first game will give you a little of Rosa's back-story just to establish a foundation for future reference.
Joey is a ghost and as such cannot interact with any physical objects. He can do a few things to aid in the investigation. He can interact with other ghosts, examine things, go through locked doors, summon up a slight breeze and interfere with signals when he stands close to things like radios or computers.
The graphical style is pixelated, low-res retro on all of the games. With the exception of Convergence, which used a professional studio, each game used a new set of free-lance artists due to very limited budgets. This translated into some inconsistency between games and drew varying responses from users. For Deception, in my opinion the worst looking game, the developer concluded from fan-feedback that people were not buying them for the graphics and decided to spend less on this in order to spend more on other elements. It very much shows in the visuals, but the game is longer with more content. It was very popular and garnered good sales.
The puzzles are not really puzzles, but clue gathering and matching in order to trigger new clues or locations. Talking to Joey does not make entries in the book, and mostly, nor does he talk of the information he has discovered. However, Rosa somehow seems to know some of it automatically as if it had been conveyed. Often, names are also not recorded when learned and this is a fault of the game that asks for a search mechanic that involves typing in a password or name. If you don't remember it or how to spell it, sometimes you cannot retrieve that information through dialog as that option has disappeared.
In my opinion, the games are artificially lengthened by substituting a blocking of clue triggering dialogue that requires revisiting people often and asking the same questions multiple times before getting a different answer. This requires that you examine everything in all locations through Rosa and then switch to Joey and examine everything in the location through him. You must also try to match every note with every other note.
Of the four games I played, there were no real improvements made from game to game on the mechanics or the style of the gameplay.Blackwell Legacy - 1st of the series initially released in 2006, then in 2011. It introduces the two main protagonists of the series, Rosa and Joey, and establishes the story of Rosa inheriting Joey as a spirit guide. It also establishes how all future game mechanics and clue gathering will work. The game is fairly short.
Although Blackwell is not my cup of tea, many people do like it and I can appreciate the hard work it took for David Gilbert to realize the dream of making his hobby into a successful career. If you're interested, you really need to buy all of them to get the full story.