This game is a unique take on the Black Dahlia case. For those unaware, the nickname "Black Dahlia" was given to Elizabeth Short, a young woman murdered in 1947. To date, the case remains an unsolved mystery.
More interestingly, however, is the fact that the first half of the game features an alternative take on the notorious Torso murders from Cleveland, Ohio in the 1930s.
The player takes on the role of Jim Pearson, an agent working for the COI, a Federal government agency created just before America entered World War II. The remit of the COI (in the game at least) is to investigate Americans who the Federal government suspects may be spies working for the Nazis.
As anyone will expect, a simple plot soon develops rapidly and the player becomes an investigator rather than a mere "Fed" agent. The investigations take the player right into the heart of World War II and witness some alternative (albeit fictional) insights into the events and motivations behind this disturbing chapter in world history.
Gameplay consists mainly of solving puzzles and interacting with other characters in the game. Whilst it is evident that puzzles have been designed carefully to fit neatly and logically into the storyline there are some that seemingly defy logic. It is recommended that those playing the game for the first time have a walkthrough, strategy guide or at least a hint sheet handy just in case they reach a point where further progression seems too difficult. Those familiar with the developer's previous venture, RIPPER, will understand what to expect as far as the gameplay goes.
Most of the game is rendered in Full Motion Video (FMV), with some computer rendered images for background. Video cut scenes are played when the player interacts with another character. Again, those familiar with the developer's previous venture, RIPPER, will know what to expect.
Just as RIPPER did an excellent job of creating a view of the future (2040s), so too BLACK DAHLIA does an equally excellent job in re-creating the 1940s setting. The gameplay begins in 1941 and runs through 1947.
First-rate talent in the form of Dennis Hopper and Teri Garr make the gameplay experience even more enjoyable, despite their characters being not quite as memorable as supporting characters in RIPPER. But it is the superb leading performance by Darren Eliker as the main character, Jim Pearson, that really carries BLACK DAHLIA. Unlike Jake Quinlan in RIPPER, Jim Pearson has a much more overt sense of humour and delivers many great lines with sarcastic wit. As such, his character is easier to connect with.
Special mention should be given to David Whalen, who gives a superb performance as Dick Winslow, a very smarmy FBI agent. He steals every scene he's in and makes those scenes compelling viewing (even for those who do not like the game as a whole).
The game was originally released on 8 CDs and is now long out of print. Fortunately, it can easily be purchased from online auctions and trading websites without paying too much. Hopefully, some company will take advantage of the DVD medium to re-release this game on a single disc.
The game maintains a very good balance of mystery, suspense, tension, action, drama, intrigue and comedy to ensure it obtains a status as a classic of video gaming.
I highly recommend this game to anyone interested in murder mysteries, the developer's previous games, the Indiana Jones franchise or FMV gaming.
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