John Saul, the popular horror writer upon whose serial novel The Blackstone Chronicles is based, has stated that the idea for the story originated as an adventure game. Centered around the shell of a former asylum, both the books and the game deal with the ghosts of said sanitarium, the former figuratively, the latter literally. But while both mediums deal with the same issues and characters, it's hard not to wonder if Saul took most of the good ideas for the books. They were effectively creepy, while the game seems hollow and halfhearted.
The story is somewhat promising, especially for those familiar with the books. Oliver Metcalf, a central character of the books, has returned once again to Blackstone, his home for years and the location of the asylum his father, Malcolm Metcalf, ran. The ghost of his father has lured him back by kidnapping his young son, Josh. Now Oliver must find his son in the asylum, currently in renovation to be opened as a museum. Assuming the role of Oliver, you wander around the asylum, speaking to the ghosts of patients, solving puzzles, and searching for your son.
Mental institutions and the treatments that occur therein are great material for horror. But at no point does The Blackstone Chronicles really grab hold of you and make you feel suspense or terror. The situation is right - anguished souls, a child in danger - but the game fails to make much use of them. The ghosts aren't particularly engaging, and you only really learn about their problems through text kiosks located in their former rooms. Making matters worse is the fact that the game is only populated by disembodied voices, and the voice acting is competent but not particularly impressive. The situation with your son never seems pressing, and the fact that he occasionally inexplicably talks to you (accompanied by a still photo of the tyke in a dirt cell) only serves to make matters seem that much less believable.
The asylum looks great. The graphics are detailed and realistic. Movement through the asylum follows the "node" formula: You move from spot to spot, at which point you can look in predetermined locations. It harkens back to Myst, lacking the more free-form movement found in recent games following a similar formula. The movement feels constricting, and you'll often only be able to access one or two spots in huge rooms.
The puzzles are equally constricting. For the most part, they are quite simple and straightforward inventory-based puzzles. Clues are abundant (perhaps too abundant - you'll often feel like the continual prodding toward a solution is bordering on the condescending). The only thing making puzzles difficult is that logical solutions will be hampered by little more than chastising from a ghost, and you often can't pick up objects until you perform some deed for a particular spirit. I don't know about you, but if a child of mine were in mortal danger, I don't think I'd put down that crowbar I needed just because some disembodied voice told me to.
The Blackstone Chronicles isn't a bad game. It's just average to a fault. The premise is great, the art is good, and the puzzles are well integrated. But some more detail in the story and the spectral characters would have given the game a bit more emotional background to draw you in. As it stands, it's a little too short, a little too easy, and a little too uninteresting to recommend.