A new game studio known as The Parasight. has established itself as a studio to watch with the release of their gritty standalone first-person action/exploration game, Blacktail. A retelling of the Slavic tale of the Baba Yaga, Blacktail examines the adventures of a girl named Yaga as she crafts and explores a toxic and menacing world to save her sister from a witch. Though visually stunning and remarkable in its presentation and atmosphere, Blacktail will leave players with mixed feelings about its gameplay and narrative.
Blacktail works incredibly hard to ease the player into the game by slowly teaching all its mechanics. Players will take approximately half an hour to learn how to craft arrows, hunt, cook, craft potions, use their magic abilities, and expand their inventory. After a while, some mechanics, such as combat, become second nature, but overall, the crafting, cooking, and magic systems feel convoluted and challenging to navigate. Despite the game’s inclusion of a skill tree and the ability to upgrade weapons, I consistently found myself sticking to basic mechanics and keeping old weapons to avoid the clunky interfaces and menus.
Combat in Blacktail is relentlessly challenging and verges on discouraging. Because Yaga is only allowed to hold nine arrows at a time, players will find themselves constantly crafting ammunition in the middle of a fight. Blacktail refuses to give the player a break if they need to take a moment to equip something else from the inventory or craft potions and ammo, much like some FromSoftware games that it takes inspiration from. Boss fights are punishing and require an immense amount of preparation and skill. Because the combat system is difficult to manage and bosses are overpowered, I found it helpful that the game has accessibility options. If the game becomes too challenging at any point, the player can switch back and forth between normal and easy difficulties.
In addition to an array of overly-convoluted mechanics and an unforgiving difficulty, Blacktail fails to keep the player engaged with any sense of progression through its story. I often found myself referencing the map and trying to piece together the bits of story that made sense so that I could create some semblance of continuity. It is tough to keep characters straight, understand whether Yaga is making positive or negative decisions throughout the game, and where to go next. Despite offering a map and compass, Blacktail’s world is exceptionally nebulous, and it is almost always unclear how to make progress.
Some characters will provide Yaga with tasks or ask for specific items that impact whether Yaga is on a path toward good or evil. For example, there is a queen ant that frequently speaks with Yaga about her plans for world domination. Yaga has the option to provide her with materials to help build up her army or destroy her colonies anytime they appear. Killing innocent wild animals puts Yaga on a path toward evil while enabling shrines help push Yaga back toward good. Although some choices make it clear whether Yaga will become good or evil, there are often scenarios where Yaga becomes evil without any justification. For example, while exploring early in the game, most players will come across a seemingly innocent house; after entering the house, Yaga becomes evil without any indication that she was making a negative decision. I found this mechanic highly derivative of story-based games such as Red Dead Redemption 2 and Infamous, where choices heavily influenced the story’s outcome. However, in Blacktail, this mechanic feels largely pointless because Yaga’s decision to be good or evil never seems to make a meaningful impact on the story.
Where Blacktail really shines is its art direction. The gray and dilapidated architecture contrasts with the punchy and colorful landscapes, achieving an atmosphere reminiscent of famous fairy tales. The character design is creepy and compliments the environment well. Some characters have gigantic glowing eyes, toothy grins, and gangly arms, drawing inspiration from many of Tim Burton’s animated films. Interestingly, Yaga interacts with the environment by monologuing about her past whenever she comes across something distinct, such as a gigantic wall of crystals or a destroyed brick building. Unfortunately, though the voice acting is believable, the dialogue never helps pull together the game’s narrative.
Players familiar with fast-paced combat and dark depictions of fairy tales will find that Blacktail has a lot to offer. Unfortunately, however, Blacktail often trips over its own feet by trying too hard to create a large variety of gameplay mechanics and easily losing track of the goals of its narrative. Overall, it is safe to say that Blacktail is a visually pleasing but generally forgettable experience.
Blacktail releases December 15 on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S.
- Rating - 7/107/10
Players familiar with fast-paced combat and dark depictions of fairy tales will find that Blacktail has a lot to offer. Unfortunately, however, Blacktail often trips over its own feet by trying too hard to create a large variety of gameplay mechanics and easily losing track of the goals of its narrative.