Wales Interactive are back with another interactive FMV experience, this time from Ghost Dog Films, which I believe is their first outing in the video game/choose your own adventure format. However, unlike recent FMV titles released by the publisher, I Saw Black Clouds is by far the darkest and spookiest, it’s a psychological thriller based around suicide, abduction, murder, and the supernatural. The brilliant thing is, the experience contains multiple unique pathways that change the narrative, plot, and events based upon what you choose to say and do – making a change from the minor alterations we usually see in FMV games.
This may be Ghost Dog Films‘ first interactive movie, but it’s not their first film – they’ve previously released Crucible of the Vampire and The Singing Bird Will Come. Although I can’t seem to find the latter online, the former can be bought on Bluray and stars Neil Morrissey – so I’ll be checking that out! In terms of Wales Interactive, they are the masters of FMV on the console scene at the moment, almost every game in that format seems to be published by them.
So, with a studio that is primarily known for making films, and a publisher who are well-versed in turning filmed footage into an interactive game, was this a match made in heaven? Let’s find out…
I Saw Black Clouds begins with a death, the suicide of your friend. This event brought you, Kristina, back to your home town as you attend her funeral and meet up with your childhood friend, Charlotte. However, things aren’t as they seem, there’s something dark going on in the town and you find it hard to ignore, taking it upon yourself to uncover the truth behind what happened to your friend, why she decided this world was too much to take, and what’s been happening to the other girls within the town.
Depending on the choices you make and the personality you mould, the narrative shifts in various directions. If you believe that there’s a supernatural aspect to your friend’s death, believing the stories told to you by the priest and the resident psychiatrist, then you’ll find yourself face-to-face with a ghost who may or may not be your friend. Otherwise, should you keep your feet on the ground and opt to see things as they are, you could end up working with a friend of the deceased as you look into the disappearances as abductions rather than ghostly encounters.
That’s all I’m going to say about the plot, as going into detail will ruin the surprises. What I will say though is that this is one of the few FMV experiences I’ve played where the entire narrative can be changed based on the way you play the game. Usually, you’ll have the odd response change, or you may not see a certain scene if you’ve not picked the right dialogue option, but this literally shifts the narrative down a whole new pathway. It’s also done seamlessly and without continuity issues (well, there are a few).
If you’ve not picked up on it by now, I Saw Black Clouds is an FMV adventure – you’re basically watching a movie play out and you step in to make choices at certain points, which changes your stats and the direction of the narrative. That’s right, just as we saw in The Complex, pushing the TouchPad brings up your personality, relationship, and character stats. This monitors whether you feel denial, acceptance, or guilt, how strong your relationships with Charlotte and Jack are, and just how high your honesty, strength, morality, tact, and introspection have reached.
As you’d expect, these are the key factors that determine how the story goes – if you accept that Emily killed herself and it was due to a curse on the town, then you’ll see ghosts and follow that path. However, if you’re in denial and think she was murdered or drove to kill herself by a human, then you’ll find yourself investigating that instead, with no ghosts.
The entire ‘film’ takes around an hour to play through, longer if you unlock the extended footage and delve into a secondary story after the main one (which I was pleasantly surprised to see). I’ve personally played the game four times and only found two of the four endings – just like everyone else who has played the game so far according to PSN – meaning there is a lot of replayability if you’re looking at unlocking everything the game has to offer.
Upon completion, you’re presented with a breakdown of your stats as well as how many decisions you’ve made and scenes you’ve viewed so far – my latest stats were 616 decisions (which isn’t choices, it’s the outcomes, I think) and I’ve seen 438/579 scenes.
So, there are over 150 scenes I’ve yet to see in my four hours playing the game so far. Once this review is done, I’m jumping back in to see if I can uncover more before the guides are published and ruins all the fun!
Continuity and harsh cuts
The main thing which makes a great FMV adventure game is continuity, you shouldn’t really be able to tell when scenes are being stitched together as the game loads in the new scenes for the pathway you’re moving to. For the most part, I Saw Black Clouds worked great, there are some harsh cuts when picking an option, making it obvious where the new scene has been slotted in, but that’s what you’d expect seeing as it’s piecing together the narrative based on what you pick – but there are no long pauses or black screens.
However, there were two scenes that I felt took me out of the immersion that I was watching a seamless narrative. The first was in a nightclub, having a drink with Charlotte. There’s a lady singing in the background and every time you made a choice, her voice would stop and start at a slightly different part of the song.
I know lining up the song would be very difficult but it made me wonder why they didn’t do what they do in films and within YouTube videos and just have no music then simply play it as a separate audio track in the background, allowing it to seamlessly flow without stopping and starting each time?
The second one occurred when you’re helping your friend towards the end of one of the pathways. I think I know why this occurs, after seeing multiple outcomes, but initially, I thought the producer had sliced in a scene from one pathway into another, giving the main character a cut on her face which shouldn’t be there. However, looking back at it, I think it was intentional…
Do Choices matter?
Yes, as stated above, your personal stats will change depending on what choices you pick, moving the story in a different direction. However, the delivery of the choices could have been done a little better, in my opinion.
When a choice appears on the screen, you have a few seconds to pick an option. If you don’t pick, the timer will run out and the game will simply presume whatever option was highlighted is the one you want. However, if you pick an option as soon as they appear, the game still plays out until that timer has finished, resulting in the actors looking around or staring at the protagonist in silence.
This process was used in The Shapeshifting Detective, where you’d see the camera move around the character whilst you make a choice, but in I Saw Black Clouds, it feels a little awkward and unnecessary. If the characters have finished talking and you’ve made a choice, it should just play the next scene, in my opinion.
Also, some answers you pick are pointless as the protagonist will do the other anyway, she’ll not reply with the option you tell her to say, and in some instances, the game will rewind and/or not progress until you pick the one the game wants you to choose. This made certain scenes feel forced and the choices a mere illusion, which was a shame as due to the branching pathways, the rest of the game does actually feel open and like you’re making an important choice.
This brings me nicely to what I thought about the story in general. After playing through I Saw Black Clouds a few times, I like the narrative, it’s spookier than I thought it would be yet also dark and gruesome based on the choices you make. I wasn’t expecting there to be a few unique pathways and branches that completely changed the narrative and the underlying plot of the film, offering a new experience each time I started a new game. However, not everything was as good as I’d hoped.
When I first played the game, I made my character an emotionless and blunt protagonist, ignoring people talking to her and accepting everything she was told about ghosts. This first playthrough left me with a lot of questions as one minute she was in one location, then she was in another without any explanation or setup. It could have been me, and I may have missed her talking about these places, but it felt like I hadn’t seen or talked about certain things before we went to these places
At one point, I only realised we were in an old psychiatric hospital because a guy questioned us as we left.
When I played it a second time, I discovered more and the story started to make a little more sense, giving me an extended ending with a totally new story and events. But then, that left me with even more questions – which narrative was true? Was it the first one which I’ve just played or this second one which is very different? Then, on my third playthrough, I went down another pathway that had some aspects similar to both of the previous ones – so is that the true story or is it combining them into one because I’ve discovered the others?
Maybe if I unlock the third ending, a new fourth pathway will unlock that further combines them all into one? I don’t know. Overall, although I like the story, I have to say that it’s a bit confusing and I’m finding it hard to put my finger on what narrative is correct and which events are real. But, that could be the whole point as it is a choose-your-own-adventure format, leaving the outcome down to your choices and imagination.
Post-game and Streaming
Does I Saw Black Clouds unlock any form of easy replayability options? Kind of. The functions you get are, once again, just as we saw in The Complex – there’s no chapter select or easily navigatable flowchart, but you can skip entire scenes up until the point of picking a dialogue option (as long as you’ve seen that scene prior). So, if you’re looking to pick other options, you can tap R1, make a choice, watch it, then press R1 if the video returns to a scene you’ve watched. But, if it’s a scene you’ve not watched, it won’t let you skip it as it may offer new information or show you something you’ve not seen before.
Yet another feature from The Complex is the option to enable ‘Streamer Mode’. By default, each choice gives you a few seconds to pick one before the game automatically selects the one the cursor is on. With Streaming Mode enabled, the timer is removed so you can sit there and talk to your audience about which option they feel you should select. It’s a nice simple option but one which will benefit those who are looking to play this on their channel at some point.
The video quality in I Saw Black Clouds is great, everything is shot in HD with some really good cinematography – which you’d expect from a studio that has made films previously. There were a few questionable scenes, such as why is the psychiatrist recording on VHS (as indicated by the SP on the screen) when it’s 2021, why was it recording before she hit record, and why is the video from that tape now on an SD card? But, other than that, everything else felt realistic and immersive.
In terms of the actors, I Saw Black Clouds utilises actors that have been in other shows and films, such as Penny Dreadful, The Terror, and Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. As such, the performances are perfect, delivering their lines and emotions in a way that pulls you into the story. My only issue, which isn’t the fault of the actors, is the nonchalant attitude in certain situations. Whenever the protagonist sees the ghost, wobbling around and holding her blood-stained dress, she just acts like it’s a non-threatening person, never scared or shocked by its presence.
There’s also a scene where you go and talk to the father of a girl who’s gone missing and he is very casual and not emotional about it. The game does give a reason for this, but it still felt odd as you would have thought he’d have a bit of a reaction when strangers are asking him questions about her.
Again though, it could be intentional that there is no emotion and shock in certain scenes – I’ve only seen two endings so I’m not sure if there’s only one true outcome or if Kristina is simply a badass who isn’t scared of anything!
For the developer’s first dabble into the interactive FMV adventure genre, I Saw Black Clouds delivered a dark, spooky, and immersive experience, enhanced by the interesting narrative and multiple diverse story pathways. The acting and cinematography were great, pulling you into the story as it puts you in the seat of the director, choosing what to say and how to react to certain situations. There were a few continuity issues and missing emotions, but they may have been intentional due to the multi-pathway aspect of the game.
If you like psychological thriller movies and FMV interactive experiences, you’ll love trying to discover all the secrets within I Saw Black Clouds.
I Saw Black Clouds£9.99
- - Interesting story with multiple ways to progress, changing the entire narrative of the film
- - Well shot and contains good actors who play their parts well
- - Contains a few jump scares and shock-horror moments
- - If streaming, there's an option to pause the choices
- - Discovering how to unlock the various trophies is fun as it forces you to experiment with your answers
- - There are issues when music is playing, making it feel jarring as you pick an option
- - Some answers you pick results in you saying nothing, doing the other option anyway, or the game forcing you to pick the other option before progressing
- - The emotions in some scenes feel 'off'. But, this could be intentional
- - The flow isn't as seamless as you'd hope, having you wait until the timer would have counted down until the next video plays out