The FMV genre has been a bit of a strange one since its inception. Although it is limited by budget and human capabilities, the chance to have a truly shocking game has always been there. I Saw Black Clouds tries to shock, but its poor production value and jarring design decisions left me feeling hollow as I watched my own reflection in the black of the Nintendo Switch. Spooky.
In I Saw Black Clouds, you play the role of Kristina, who returns home after the suicide of a close friend. After consoling the family and meeting a mutual friend, you opt to head to her home to pick up a valuable where you spot her diary. This diary uncovers something a little more sinister at the bottom of it all that you must uncover.
The story has a very stilted flow to it and, so too, do your choices. You watch a scene, wait for a choice to pop up, and then make it. Unfortunately, the flow of these decisions is cut with jarring snaps and poor audio design. Oftentimes, background noise is filtered differently or changed altogether. This means a decision could have the background noise vary wildly in volume even if Kristina is on the same spot having the same conversation. This is particularly noticeable when there’s music in the background. Making decisions often has the song jump behind ten seconds at a time.
Fundamentally, this shows a flaw in the way the narrative is told. You are often given decisions where the outcome is functionally the same. When you can choose to stay to hear more information, the scene it jumps from is the same either way meaning, whilst your decisions change, the characters stay the exact same. It attempts to foster some semblance of choice through a stats sheet and this actually is quite a good idea. Depending on your choices, your relationships can change, your stats grow and the flow of the story changes. You float in between three central ideas in your story: Denial, Acceptance, and Guilt. These change the narrative in a mostly satisfying way reflecting quite well on how we conceptualize and understand our fate.
What didn’t work too well is the general flow of the story. There are a few central beats you must make your way through but it often didn’t put them together adequately enough. Where it could opt to flow scenes together with some transitionary shot, it chooses to sellotape the two and hope the game doesn’t suffer for it. Unfortunately, it does suffer for it. The same can be said for some of its scariest scenes. It immediately plays with the supernatural, injecting some ghostly atmosphere into scenes, but they rarely equate to anything better than a cheap jump scare. Whilst it does attempt to explain their presence, it doesn’t feel adequate enough to justify their existence. This has the unintended effect of making them feel entirely unnecessary. Oftentimes, jump scares feel like a cheap way of keeping you engaged and work to alienate instead.
Its best horror moments feel a little more grounded and visceral but even this runs into its own unique problems. With the jarring cuts and supernatural intro, I Saw Black Clouds provides just enough B movie appeal to work for some audiences. This is when it flips the script and decides to deal with some very dark and personal topics. It simply doesn’t have the budget or tact to deal with these with real intelligence and comes off as cheap and insincere.
This tone switch shines a lot on I Saw Black Clouds’ worst parts and makes flaws become even more inappropriate. Awkward cuts, poor audio design, and mediocre acting move from, what could be considered charm, to something that takes itself far too seriously. Decision design is widely varied throughout. Where, occasionally, you can choose to investigate or not, it often leaves out fundamental decisions in exchange for ones that mean very little. You can choose whether or not you pick up a necklace but don’t get to decide if you want to explore the hand that just grabbed your leg. The lack of real decision makes the mediocre production shine through harder.
I Saw Black Clouds | Final Thoughts
This being said, I Saw Black Clouds isn’t entirely bad. If you’re a fan of FMV games and can deal with those issues, some of the scares can be quite good and there certainly is a mystery to unravel at its core. Though, if you’re really desperate for a good one, I’d check out Dark Nights with Poe and Munro instead. I Saw Black Clouds has far too many issues to really recommend. The production is jarring, the audio design is poor, the story is filled with cliches and it simply consistently doesn’t hit the mark. As a player, I often felt appeased by the game, like a child pretending to play their older siblings' console. The controller is off and they’re really in charge but I certainly feel like I’ve done something. I Saw Black Clouds isn’t worth perpetuating that facade for. Sometimes, you’re just better off putting the controller down and walking away.
TechRaptor reviewed I Saw Black Clouds on Nintendo Switch using a copy provided by the developer. The game is also available on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.
- Initially Intirguing
- Does Provide Some Scares
- Messy and Fairly Tactless Story
- Jarring Cuts and Sudio Design
- Choices Aren't Very Interesting
- Filled With Cliches