This fourth instalment of the well-known indie adventure series doesn't explain the previous Blackwell games, but that's okay. Here's all you need to know to start enjoying Blackwell Deception: New York City-based Rosa Blackwell is a psychic, able to communicate with ghosts otherwise unseen by the living. Joey is her spectral “spiritual guide”. The subject matter sounds a little airy-fairy, but the plot's grounded by the two characters' believable and well-imagined working relationship; like anyone dogged by ghosts, Rosa is a little world-weary, but Joey's sarcasm keeps her feet planted firmly on the ground. Together, the two help restless spirits of the deceased move on.
As far as point-and-clicks go, Blackwell Deception is fairly typical – though the ability to flip between the two main characters at will is a nice addition, especially given their different properties and skills. Rosa can interact verbally with people and, you know, hold stuff; the ephemeral Joey can pass through walls to enter places off-limits to Rosa. The two-button gameplay is easy enough to pick up, and more impatient players can skip dialogue (which can get pretty lengthy), though there's no way of cancelling an action once selected.
...the strongest of the Blackwell series so far, offering the most comprehensive puzzle design...
Rosa's equipped with the MyPhone, a cute integration of modern technology into the puzzle-solving formula (but don't expect her limited “Oogle” app to turn up any nyan cat videos). Puzzling is a blend of classic item manipulation and dialogue clues. Some of the puzzles are obscure enough to invite a little arbitrary combine-X-with-Y action, but generally, all obstacles are sensible, and solvable with a little thought. If you're stuck, you can turn to the other character, who'll deliver subtle clues in a well-disguised hint system.
The voice acting is excellent, particularly from Joey's actor, who affects the 1940s cynical detective feel perfectly; Rosa is suitably constantly exasperated by her wisecracking partner. On the other hand, the sound engineering could've used a bit of polish, with noticeable jumps in volume during the occasional spoken line. It's not a big deal, but it's enough to be jarring.
The visuals are inconsistent, too. Character portraits have a Photoshop-airbrushed kind of quality that's at odds with pixellated, hand-painted backgrounds otherwise reminiscent of adventure gaming's days of yore. This doesn't detract from the story any; the story's the focus here, and it's excellently done.
Deception is certainly the strongest of the Blackwell series so far, offering the most comprehensive puzzle design of the lot. There are more locations to visit than ever before, and the lengthy play time (the game takes a few hours to complete, even with a walkthrough) yields some great twists. In spite of disappointingly underdeveloped subplot, Blackwell Deception will do a decent job of lifting your spirits.