The adventure games of yesteryear were harsh, unforgiving beasts that demanded insane levels of patience and more brainpower than the bastard child of Einstein and Descartes. Monkey Island; Sam and Max; Discworld; all of these delivered an almighty kick to the crotch of fairness and logic, and all the while pointed and laughed at the unfortunate victims left in their wake. To make matters worse, this was the pre-Internet era, when walkthroughs were only to be found in games magazines, and usually spread over at least two issues to provoke further anxiety.
Adventure gamers have things a lot easier these days, with complete step-by-step guides a mere web search away. Of course, a walkthrough is the last thing you'll need when playing Black Circle: A Carol Reed Mystery, which is possibly the easiest adventure game ever created. Veteran puzzlers will breeze through the story, which concerns a missing miscreant and a mysterious cult, in a few short hours, and rarely if ever need more than a half minute's thinking time to get past even the most taxing obstacles.
The bulk of the game simply involves exploring various environments and speaking to a host of ‘interesting' characters. Conversations are extremely limiting, and conducted simply by clicking on the next available question, but it's the exploration that is most flawed. Almost every location you visit, regardless of size, tends to contain just one or two hotspots that need to be clicked in order to progress. This is particularly galling when exploring a huge foundry, littered with tons of mysterious nooks and crannies, none of which can actually be clicked on for a closer look.
This lack of interaction makes Black Circle: A Carol Reed Mystery little more than a slideshow at times. The game is played entirely from a fixed first-person perspective, so you click in a direction and Carol suddenly jumps to a new spot, which is a little confusing in some of the darkened interiors as well as the open outdoors areas. Even conversations with characters are presented as a series of still shots, which makes Black Circle feel a little cheap. Still, Black Circle should run on anything more advanced than a pocket calculator as a result, so the system requirements are as light as a feather.
That cheapness is further smashed home by the poor voice acting, which suggests that the programmers got their family around a microphone and did the whole lot in a single take. Even when things get really sinister, Carol sounds about as alarmed as someone who just realised she forgot to record Emmerdale. Still, at least the game's many conversations provide some unintentionally funny moments - just witness creepy neighbour Oscar, who made me laugh so hard I spit up soup through my nose.
As if the game wasn't easy enough, the developers also included a hint system which can be accessed at any time, which essentially leads the gamer by the hand through every action needed to complete the game. This is the main reason I'd only (half-heartedly) recommend Black Circle: A Carol Reed Mystery to adventure game virgins who want to ease themselves in gently. The lack of frustrating pixel-hunting and complex puzzles will definitely be seen as a plus for more casual gamers, but hardcore adventurers should steer clear.