I Saw Black Clouds by Ghost Dog Films
I Saw Black Clouds, produced by Ghost Dogs Films and published by indie game studio Wales Interactive, is more a film than it is a game with FMV elements – think Black Mirror: Bandersnatch rather than Sam Barlow’s Her Story – and should probably be judged as such.
Plot Twists, Conspiracies, and Shouting at the Screen
It’s also very much an indie horror film, with everything that entails; it feels very much like a mid-budget, made-for-cable-or-streaming movie, complete with small cast, limited special effects, and plenty of single-camera scenes shot on location. There are even some creepy found-footage sequences.
Whether this will be up your alley really depends on whether you like indie horror. I do, and I found I Saw Black Clouds engaging, even charming, even right down to the occasional jump scares and horror film cliches, going so far as to yell at the screen when our protagonist, having uncovered a sinister conspiracy, immediately went to inform a newfound acquaintance who is obviously – at least to the viewer – in on it.
Without giving too much away, it’s the story of a plucky protagonist investigating the mysterious death of a friend and uncovering the sort of conspiracy that would feel right at home in an early Eli Roth movie (albeit without the torture and excessive gore). There’s also a final act psychological twist (because of course there is).
Scream Queens and Keen Scenes
While I Saw Black Clouds features some occasional plot points that seem unlikely or unbelievable, especially initially, the quality acting and directing really help sell things.
Nicole O’Neill, who has previously appeared on Penny Dreadful, is especially good as lead character Kristina, imbuing her with equal amounts of uncertainty and rebellious anger when necessary. Similarly, Aaron Jeffcoate, whom I remember seeing on The Terror, is memorable as Kristina’s earnest and slightly dimwitted investigative partner.
Iain Ross-McNamee’s direction and the film’s camera work are both similarly solid, making best use of a limited number of locations – there are two, count ‘em TWO separate nerve-wracking scenes set within the same abandoned mental hospital – while also squeezing in some bleak but beautiful long shots of western England’s lonely roads, foggy forests, and fancy brick manor houses.
The sound and music design, while making use of some fairly typical violin screech to ratchet up the tension, is nonetheless effective, as are some dreamy, bass-heavy trip-hop songs.
Occasional interactive moments and four possible endings set I Saw Black Clouds apart from “regular” independent film and are not consistently effective or engaging.
On the one hand, the various investigations definitely provide the viewer with opportunities to affect plot and character development. Like many horror movies and most adventure games, a lot of the “action,” so to speak, involves asking someone questions, finding a new lead from the answers, tracking them down to ask more questions, and so on.
You can choose between being friendly or aggressive in these scenes, and after reaching an ending, the game provides you with a final score based on your relationships with supporting characters, your psychological reactions to the plot, and various character traits such as loyalty and honesty.
On the other hand, some of the choices offered during chase sequences – like left hallway or right hallway – are basically random, with some leading to an unavoidable death. Thankfully, save points in these sequences are frequent enough that it isn’t frustrating, but other than forcing you to keep your hand on the mouse, this sort of “decision-making” doesn’t provide much of an impact.
Again this feels more like a movie than a game, and judging it solely on its “video game” qualities feels cheap and stingy. Personally, I’d have enjoyed watching it as a conventional film as much as I enjoyed playing it.
Your mileage may vary, depending on how much you like budget horror, but if you don’t come into this expecting the production quality of a Marvel movie (let alone the Paranormal Activity franchise), I Saw Black Clouds is definitely worth a watch or a play-through – whatever you want to call it – or two.
I Saw Black Clouds is available via the Nintendo Online Store, Sony PlayStation Store, and Steam.
Check out the official I Saw Black Clouds trailer below: