Added to the lair: 10/29/20
A tale of adventure and dark mystery
Black Dahlia follows in the footsteps of Take Two's previous game Ripper and playing it gave me a certain sense of deja vu because many of the points of praise and criticism I had for that game are here once again. It has a number of things going for it, but ultimately I found myself feeling like I would rather be playing Ripper instead.
Like that game, the production value is actually quite high. You can tell that serious money was spent here - the costumes, the sizable cast of characters, the animations... it's definitely a well-produced game. I'm actually kindof amazed by the very idea of a period of time in which millions of dollars were spent on an FMV puzzle/adventure game... The 90's - what a time to be alive!
The acting is also very good. There are of course a few characters that really ham it up (which has its own charm), but by and large this is noticeably better than what you'd expect from an FMV game. I mentioned in the review for Mummy: Tomb of the Pharaoh that it was pretty common for FMV games to pull a bit of a bait and switch by announcing front and center that so-and-so famous actor was in the game, only to feature them for a total of about 30 seconds in reality. Mummy is an exception to that rule but Black Dahlia, unfortunately, is not. Dennis Hopper takes the top billing here, but his role in the game is actually quite minor; not that you'd know that by looking at the box. With that said, the rest of the cast, famous or not, are actually surprisingly good for this type of thing.
Unfortunately, the puzzles - one of the most important elements in, you know, a puzzle game - really do not do it for me at all in Black Dahlia. They vacillate between things like cryptography which I do not enjoy at all (and am frankly terrible at) and jigsaw puzzles which are tedious beyond all belief. Some games have left me feeling completely ambivalent about the story to the point that I basically wanted to just get through it in order to get on with the gameplay - Black Dahlia has the opposite problem. I literally just wanted to get through the puzzles as quickly as possible in order to continue with the story and see where it was going to go. Ripper had this same problem at times too, but less so to my mind.
The story itself is actually pretty interesting. I will say that the title of the game is a bit misleading - I won't say much more for fear of spoiling it, but if you're going in expecting the famous murder mystery to play a major role you're likely to be disappointed. It's generally well done though - it kindof flips around between film noir and Indiana Jones and I'm okay with that. That said, the subject matter itself generally isn't as interesting to me as Ripper's; but take that with a grain of salt because I am a cyberpunk junkie, including (maybe especially?) the cheeseball 90s variety. It's definitely one of the game's strong suits though; certainly by comparison to other FMV titles of the time. It does go a bit off the deep end in the last half or so though - not to a point that it really ruins it, but it's a bit at odds with the relatively grounded earlier sections of the game.
In the end I found myself wanting to like Black Dahlia more than it allowed me to, with constant interruptions by annoying, frustrating, tedious puzzles. There's just no getting around that. There's an interesting story with good acting and high production value underneath that, but they're a nuisance to such a degree that I came away feeling really mixed about it. Oh well...