Blackwood & Bell's storyline is more coherent and a few shades darker than Gardens of Time, which seems to be a standard for a modern-day HOG. In between hunting for clues (like knives! and chloroform!) around an opera singer's untimely death, the two investigators pop up on screen with occasionally clever dialog that keeps the game moving. The quips aren't laugh-out-loud funny, but more like jokes you might hear from a relative in the senior citizen demographic. One of these moments is when one investigator tows the line of Victorian decency and talks about how the word 'pants' translates to 'underwear' in the UK. *Gasp* So this isn't exactly edgy stuff, but this game clearly caters to a more gentile crowd than, say, Mafia Wars. At least the story seems to makes sense so far, and it's compelling enough to keep me playing.
The actual puzzles seem on par with the hundreds of other HOGs out there, which generally deliver high caliber graphics and a musical accompaniment. The scenes look nice and are backed with relaxing orchestral score, and offer a variety of objects to find. Like most HOGS, the more times you play a puzzle, the higher your score -- since by then you've memorized the location of most items. A combo of number score, four-star rating system and leaderboard ensures that after you stumble through a puzzle the first few times, you'll keep going back more to improve your standing among your friends. The in-game collections comprised of items earned while solving puzzles (and can be traded in for rewards), also provide motivation for multiple playthroughs.
Advanced players might find scenes too easy after a few repeat visits, though, and it would be nice to see a larger variety of puzzles in Blackwood & Bell, perhaps a mix of find-its and other logic puzzles, to keep things fresh (maybe that's something this game will see in future releases). The ability to challenge friends on how many items they can find in 60 seconds is one of the more interesting parts of this game, and adds a nice social element that's not begging friends for more energy, which is required to play puzzles, and virtual items required to construct and upgrade buildings in your Yard (that's in the game too, however).
Speaking of the Yard, it's the customizable area that you decorate with buildings, trees, shrubbery purchased with virtual coins, which can then be upgraded by collecting building materials from friends, a la all the other Ville games on Facebook. This is my least favorite part of the game, and the idea that you have to decorate your yard to advance is, well, meh. I'm more inclined play through puzzles in order to watch the plot unfold and issue challenges to friends than play around with a virtual yard. I realize, however, that I may be in the minority on this one.
Blackwood & Bell isn't terribly different than Gardens of Time, but that's not a reason not to log in and expect to enjoy an entertaining hidden object game, especially one that you can pay for free. And, consider the fact that Gardens of Time has roughly 6.9 million monthly players, is another check-mark in this game's 'yes' box.
At least, that's what I would say if the powers that be can sort out the lag time in the game (at the time of this writing) that shows up about 50% of the time. All of the puzzles in this game reward players with extra points for speed, and dealing with any slow-down can be downright irksome. After playing through the same puzzle more than three times, there is sometimes a slow response after clicking on an object in a scene. There's the option of patiently reloading the game to try again, but it's only a matter of time that a problem like that will turn off all but the most dedicated fans. This game, like all online games, will be subjected to many updates during its lifetime; let's hope one of those will include a timing tuneup.
The Good: Coherent murder mystery storyline, ability to challenge friends and, hey, it's a free hidden object game. Stop complaining.
The Bad: Stuttery interaction/slow response time (which may or may not be temporary), feeling forced to decorate the yard to advance is offputting
We Say: Proceed with Caution
Looking for new friends to play this game with? Head to our Blackwood & Bell ADD ME page and follow the directions.