STAFF REVIEW of I Saw Black Clouds (Xbox One)

Wednesday, March 31, 2021.
by Peggy Doyle

I Saw Black Clouds Box art I Saw Black Clouds, by Wales Interactive, is an interactive psychological thriller with supernatural elements and branching storylines. It is essentially a movie in which you choose how you connect and interact with the characters. The choices you make determine what you discover in the game, the paths you take and the conclusion. Think of it as a choose your own adventure style of movie.

During the game you play as Kristina. After the unexpected death of her close friend (Emily), Kristina returns to her hometown looking for answers as to what happened and why. Throughout her search she unearths a string of dark secrets, leading her to more and more discoveries.

Every choice you make in the game, normally between two options but sometimes three, every decision you make and every interaction with another character is tracked with an unseen system that will eventually determine which of the four endings you will get in the game. At the end of your playthrough you are given an evaluation showing five dimensions of your personality; honesty, strength, morality, tact and introspection. Your choices also determine how Kristina faces her challenges by showing you your levels of denial, acceptance, and guilt.

The run time is under two hours, meaning you can attempt additional playthroughs and see how different decisions affect the story. You have the ability to skip scenes you have already seen by using the 'RB' button. This can drastically reduce your subsequent playthrough time, especially if only changing a few choices.

As mentioned earlier, there are four distinct endings in I Saw Black Clouds, but I wont talk about them as to avoid spoilers for the story lines leading up to them. I will say though, that because I am a bit of a completionist in games, I like to see all my options. Unfortunately, even after 10 play throughs (yes, 10!), I still only managed to unlock 1 of the 4 endings. As a reviewer I had access to some hints as to the other three endings and purposely tried to trigger them, but with no success. I am questioning which of your decisions really do affect the outcome, or if this was a bug. I look forward to hearing about others experiences with the game and finding out how they unlocked the other endings.

An interactive story doesn’t have much for the player to do with regards to gameplay, so the story is paramount. The writing seemed forced at times, appeared to take itself too seriously and sometimes it jumped in a direction that didn’t make sense, but you can tell the actors did their best with what they were given. Characters are there simply to move the story forward, but some of them were very odd choices. We had a Reverend very preoccupied with talking about ghosts, although his life is based on Christian beliefs. A therapist with an intimidating bedside manner, and a retired doctor with little sense of patient confidentiality.

Story aside, there were some issues with the game play. At times, your choices appear and the countdown starts before you know what the question is. The timer ran out just as the question was posed to me. FMV games need to feel as fluid as possible so the seams aren't obvious, but I Saw Black Clouds stutters often. There were some awkward visual transitions or odd musical changes. This can be very distracting, especially with some poor camerawork at times. Scenes/story didn’t always flow into one another at some points either. At one point Kristina had a head injury with no explanation as to how she got it.

An interesting note to the gameplay is that I Saw Black Clouds features a Streamer Mode that pauses the choices for audience participation during live streams.

I Saw Black Clouds is a FMV (Full motion video) meaning it is essentially a movie. There is no computer-generated graphics. It feels like you are watching a TV show or movie on the screen throughout.

Music and sound effects are consistent of TV and film of the same caliber. Music was used to create suspense and drama as well as evoke calm and harmony. The choice of music was appropriate, but nothing stood out as exceptional. Seeing as the focus of the game was the dialogue, it was a good choice. Nature and industrial sounds are clear and the balance between dialogue and ambient noise was well done. As mentioned earlier, some of music transitions were not done well, creating some moments of distraction and affecting the smooth flow between scenes.

There were some issues with audio/video sync when I first had access to the game, but it was patched quickly and was better after the patch. I did find some of the music a bit too loud and periodically distorted in the game though. I don’t believe this was intentional and I was able to make some adjustments in my settings to help with that.

This was the first FMV style game I have played, and I was intrigued by what I experienced. I was interested enough to attempt 10 playthroughs to see if I could unlock everything, sadly though it wasn’t the case. I will likely keep attempting to at least unlock one additional story ending. I will also be looking at other offerings by Wales Interactive.

I Saw Black Clouds was just enough supernatural to keep it interesting, if you took that branch of the story, and enough character development for each person I met to see that everyone had a role to play in the outcomes. If you are the type or person who likes drama and suspense type of movies/TV, or campy psychological thrillers, you’ll likely find something here to entertain you.

**I Saw Black Clouds was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.1 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 6.5 / 10


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