Trains carry with them a hefty amount of symbolism in the right context. Being on a train is progress. It’s moving forward. It’s an escape from the past with the comfort of knowing you’re on the tracks of consistent headway. At the same time, trains act as a mobile limbo. Train passengers exist somewhere between where they left and where they’re heading–the veritable present. Blackwood Crossing takes place here. I think.
You play as Scarlet, sister of Finn. He’s the little dude down below. You wake up in a moving train and exit your small, ordinary cabin to find your brother yelling your name from the bathroom down the hall.
Doesn’t look much like a train, I know. But that’s just the thing about Blackwood Crossing. There’s a lot of curiosity coursing through the veins of this game. Its story is weird and wonderful, and every element of gameplay reiterates the narrative focal point.
Walking through the train is a simple, yet daunting task. Movement speed is slow, which makes each and every step an investment of time. Walking can be frustrating when backtracking to get to an undisclosed location required to advance the story, but there’s no rush here. You’re just walking through this train with your brother; you can’t wander too far.
Everything’s relatively normal until the masked people start appearing. These appearances mark the beginning of a steep decline from normalcy to the macabre, but it also sparks the development of the relationship between Scarlet and Finn.
Most of the game’s story is told through flickers of conversation between these personalities as they vaguely blend into nonexistence. In a colorful world (read: train) that ends up containing a variety of lush locations, these people are as black and white as they are statuesque and somber. But those paper mache animal masks sure do look crisp and grounded in reality along with everything else. Strange, right?
I still don’t know if I fully comprehend the story, and I’m not sure if that’s a bad thing. Blackwood Crossing uses a cryptic communication of its narrative to keep players chugging along the patient nature of the game. The variety of puzzles you’ll encounter is underwhelming, but it’s a sacrifice the game makes to reinforce the story. Paying attention to the dialogue is a requirement for many puzzles as you’ll have to interact with different animal-faced, existential nightmares in the right order—revealing two sides of a conversation and further piecing together a bigger picture. Advancing through the train is the only option; there’s no going back. It’s moving forward or nothing.
Developing your relationship with Finn has a substance entirely of its own. There’s quite a few moments where you get to respond to Finn in one of three ways: Sarcastic, Gentle, and Bossy. None of these seem to have a direct on the story, but it will skew the way you feel towards Finn. This connection correlates to how you’ll respond to each narrative milestone, and ultimately how you’ll view the game as a whole. If you’re not into the story, you won’t find an inkling of redemption from its gameplay. Blackwood Crossing is gripping in its storytelling, though, and while your constricted interactions with this world feel oversimplified, it also emphasizes the lack of control you, both as the player and Scarlet, inherently possess.
Along the way, you’ll develop a few magical abilities that underline the entire atmosphere of the game; otherwise, they offer nothing that requires more than a minimum level of problem-solving. Unpacking the story behind Blackwood Crossing is easily more complicated than any of its gameplay elements.
If you’re interested enough in discovering the past, exploring the present, and accepting the future of Scarlet and Finn, Blackwood Crossing may just be worth unmasking.
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