Black Geyser: Couriers of Darkness Early Access Review – A shallow imitation

Gare – Thursday, September 16, 2021 2:00 PM
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Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and games that evoke the spirit of much-revered classics are often met with unfettered optimism – and so it happened that I took one quick look at Black Geyser: Couriers of Darkness, a game heavily inspired by CRPG darling (and personal favorite) Baldur’s Gate, and decided I would have to try it. And I did. But here’s the thing about Baldur’s Gate: it didn’t become one of most acclaimed western RPGs of the last 20 years solely for its combat system and visual presentation. Indeed, while Black Geyser does, at least visually, look like a modern version of Baldur’s Gate, it lacks the beating heart that made BioWare’s epic truly special – the memorable characters, the intriguing quests, and an engaging main storyline.

Ho there, wanderer…

Black Geyser’s issues become glaringly apparent within the first hour. The narrative attempts to paint the picture of a politically-charged conflict between various factions, but the dry, lifeless writing and the subpar voice acting fail in conveying this in a way that doesn’t make the player fall asleep. First impressions are important, and when a game can’t get its own player invested in the plot, you’ve got problems. Aggressive mediocrity continues to be on the menu for the remainder of the experience as the game does what I can only refer to as “hey, let’s do Baldur’s Gate, but let’s also make it extremely boring”; it tries its hardest to live up to the classic it desperately mimics, only to fail at each and every step. During the Early Access version of the game, the plot does not evolve into anything meaningful, and your most important tasks will involve running around doing absolutely mundane, soul-crushing busywork that would be relegated to nameless NPCs in any other game. Even when the story starts showing signs of maybe picking up, the game somehow still manages to make it as dull and tedious as humanly possible.

I really cannot stress enough just how disinterested I was in everything going on during the main quest, and how little the writing helped in terms of establishing the world or the characters – to say nothing of the immature, outright cringeworthy attempts at humor peppered throughout certain dialogue choices. The partial voice acting present during conversation scenes is similarly dismal: it ranges from slightly grating to straight up insufferable, with certain actors going so far as to deliver their lines in all kinds of bafflingly laughable ways that completely take you out of the experience. If, by some miracle, the writing and storytelling alone don’t make you doze off, the soundtrack most certainly will – it features tunes so offensively generic and monotonous that I honestly wouldn’t blame anyone for muting the whole game and listening to something else instead.

Heya, it’s me… whatever-my-name-is!

Don’t expect much in terms of unique and memorable characters, either. The game hastily hands you a full party within the first couple of hours, with every single character deciding to immediately join the protagonist upon meeting them. They’re about as dry and unremarkable as you’d expect, and despite having spent a good dozen or so hours in their company, I still can’t even remember any of their names, which should be pretty telling. In a similar fashion, the various other NPCs inhabiting the towns and villages you’ll travel to act as little more than hollow decoration – some give you braindead “go here, kill/retrieve this” type of side quests, while others regurgitate the same old dialogue choices you see everywhere else. I’ve lost count of how many times I talked to a person, hoping to stumble upon an amusing little episode or piece of dialogue, only to be met with the same generic questions over and over again. This completely robs the game’s locations of any charm or atmosphere they might’ve otherwise had, and you’ll soon find yourself not wanting to explore at all, because there’s simply no point. Everything feels artificial and inorganic – not once did Black Geyser succeed in creating the illusion of a living-breathing universe, and at every point, I was made painfully aware that I was playing a video game.

Go for the eyes

Combat utilizes the same old “real time with pause” system as the classics, though once again, it’s not without its issues. The default (Classic/Normal) difficulty is woefully lacking in terms of challenge, to the point where I was pretty much clicking on stuff to make them instantly die, and only rarely did I have to actually use some of the tools (skills, heals, spells) at my disposal. Following the game’s established trend of forgettable mediocrity, there are also no intricate dungeons or memorable boss fights (at least during the main storyline of the Early Access build), so if you’re clamoring for epic encounters that will test your party’s capabilities to the limit, you won’t find them here.

A shallow imitation

As a huge fan of the original Baldur’s Gate titles, I found Black Geyser to be a staggering disappointment; it’s a game that aspires for greatness but doesn’t quite seem to understand what made its primary inspiration an enduring classic all those years ago. Granted, some of the project’s issues can be attributed to the usual growing pains of Early Access releases: the fact that characters won’t even bat an eye as you break into their homes and rob them blind is something that I’m sure can be ironed out later down the line, and the various technical problems, including the preposterously long loading times and the nigh-constant micro-stuttering, will no doubt be improved upon as well. However, Black Geyser’s issues run far deeper than a handful of minor annoyances – the sleep-inducing storyline and quests, the forgettable characters, and the amateurish, hopelessly dry writing (coupled with questionable voice acting) would need much, much more than a couple of metaphorical band-aids to fix.

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