The Black Phone

by Oreolek profile

Mystery
2016

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A choice-based mystery in an apartment setting, September 13, 2022

This is a short mystery game where you search someone’s apartment in their absence for a black phone.

Gameplay
There is a brief intro that is a bit confusing. I will summarize it here to provide some context. It is the dead of night in the apartment. Peter, a possibly a doorman or attendant, hears a stranger loudly ringing at the entrance. This stranger is named Ronald and is the PC for the gameplay. Ronald manages to sneak into the apartment of Anastasia Kozlowa who happens to be away on a trip. By the time the door to the apartment closes, Ronald is already inside. Peter decides to wait in the hallway. That is the intro.

The story is in omniscient third person because it covers the thoughts of both Peter and Ronald. However, Ronald is the only playable character. The gameplay begins in the living room. From there, the player has free range of movement to visit each room and search the items within. Most choice-based games with free range of movement tend to be Twine games (I have a recommended list about it if you want to know more), so it was nice to see this implemented in a different format.

Ultimately there is only one puzzle which is to (Spoiler - click to show) unlock the box containing the phone. The significance of the phone is unclear. It seems to have something to do with Leonard Yakovlev, a painter whose name crops up throughout the game. Everything else is either atmosphere or hints on the (Spoiler - click to show) box’s combination.

Story + Characters
Ronald somehow already knows that (Spoiler - click to show) the phone will be in a box in the bedroom. Some parts of his thoughts and mannerisms suggest that he is an acquaintance of Anastasia, or even a friend. But at other times he feels more like a stalker or someone who only knows her at a distance. She is an exotic dancer and the game hints that she is big enough of a celebrity to be covered in the tabloids. This provides some explanation as to how he knows about mundane things like the clothes that she often wears, but something tells me that he knows her through more than just following the tabloids. Ronald absolutely refuses to search through Anastasia’s lingerie or bathroom out of respect for her privacy. Would a stalker do this? It is hard to say. Ronald remains a mystery throughout the game.

The only criticism I have about this game is the ending comes out of nowhere and makes little sense. When you (Spoiler - click to show) leave the apartment, Ronald turns on the phone. Immediately the phone starts emitting the sound of screeching monkeys. He then spots a body on the ground (Peter, perhaps?). Then the game says, "A QUANTUM MAGICAL SMART PHONE FIESTA." Ronald leaves, and the game ends. This confusion is why I am giving this game four stars rather than five. The gameplay is excellent, and the story is intriguing, but the ending leaves you blinking at the screen in confusion. The only correlations that I can think of is the (Spoiler - click to show) letter on the kitchen table that mentions something about “Quantum audio,” and the bedroom wardrobe is filled with portable audio players. But I do not get the connection. If anyone else does, I would like to know.

Visuals
It plays and looks like an Ink game. If I did not know otherwise, I would have thought it was made with Ink. Instead, it is a combination between Undum and Raconteur, both of which are formats that I am less familiar with, especially Raconteur.

The screen is a dark navy blue that runs a bit lighter at the bottom of the screen. This small contrast adds some depth to the background. The title of a room's location is listed in large text in the lower left hand of the screen. Beneath it are listed the other locations you can visit in the apartment. The text is clean and crisp, and I did not find any spelling errors.

Final thoughts
This was a short and refreshing game. It felt like a gem when I stumbled across it on IFDB, and it did not disappoint. The confusing ending knocked it down a few points but everything else was consistent. It does not take long to play and is a good choice if you are looking for a mystery game.