I’ve been playing Blacktail, ostensibly for review, but with all the seasonal nonsense going on I haven’t played enough to give you a big wot I think. It’s worth writing about though, so here I am, doing that. It’s a weirdo little first-person action-adventure game where you play as the 16-year-old Yaga, who has been running into the forest because the local villagers think she’s in league with the witch Baba. If you know any European folklore you may have reason to suspect they’re right.
Yaga’s childhood friends have all vanished, along with her sister, and the game sends you off to breadcrumb trails around a bright, unreal forest, to find the memories of what happened to the unfortunate kiddies. Along the way you grow in power and skill, using different types of arrows with your bow, as well as lures and spells. I like Blacktail because it’s a little bit janky in ways that don’t break the game, and it’s absolutely committed to its own particular flavor of odd. It’s the kind of game you used to see a lot in the early-mid 00s, and just don’t get much anymore.
At preview I complained about first-person archery in games, and I still hate it, but I hate it less in Blacktail now. I don’t know if the devs have been more forgiving with the aiming, or if I’m just better at strafing and dodging than I was a few weeks ago, but I’ve found more of a groove with the combat. This is also because I have a broom lure, which you can whack into the ground to distract enemies while you pelt them with honey arrows. This is by way of an aside, really, because that’s still my least favorite bit of Blacktail. The good stuff is [waves hands] everything else.
The world of Blacktail is one where magic and monsters are real. Your first task involves killing a dragon at the request of some moral-alignment mushrooms, except whichever mushroom’s advice you take, it turns out that the dragon is in fact an imp who has been force fed extreme amounts of honey by an asshole child mushroom. More mythical things are introduced on the reg. There are roses that contain the eyes of greedy people, and they stare at treasure chests. Your leveling area is Baba’s chicken-legged hut. There are imps and slugs and poisonous mushrooms, and spiders made of eyes. A giant rock with a crude face painted on it teaches you to fish. It’s great stuff.
Everything in the game, even the monsters, is in primary, high-saturation colours, so it lends the whole forest a dreamy, storybook quality. The place is littered with huge rock formations that look like skeletal rabbits, and you sort of wonder why anyone built a village in the area because it’s clearly eldritch as hell. Each time you turn a new corner you find a new weird kind of landscape in front of you. There are snowy forests, weird swamps, a boss fight with a tree, fields full of exploding bees, an abandoned windmill full of cobwebs. It’s sort of a survival game, with specific save points, and you have to constantly forage for the things you need – even saving requires a red daisy, and they’re also used to make other things like antidotes. There’s a morality system. Once, so far, a flashback has transported me into a 2D side-scrolling section. There’s a lot going on in this game, is what I’m saying.
Sometimes the enemy pathing goes on the wonk, and sometimes you can’t double-save at a shrine. Just little things like that. But Blacktail is also delightful and strange, and I started reading about Baba Yaga and realized how smart a lot of it is. It’s so specific that it reminds me of stuff like Giants: Citizen Kabuto or Sacrifice. It’s not like them, but that’s why it reminds me of them. I’m currently chasing a weird zombie-ish deer towards a lair, because the knight mushroom with a horse growing out of it has turned the deer into a bomb. If that doesn’t sell a game, I don’t know what it does.