(Reviewed on Xbox Series X by Games of DAYNE)
I Saw Black Clouds is an interactive full motion video (FMV) experience, putting players in control of Kristina’s actions and dialogues as they essentially watch and shape a movie. Opening with a monologue that precedes the suicide of a girl named Emily, the deeply emotional narrative tone is set and what follows is a tale of mystery, revelations and supernatural happenings.
As there are hundreds of decisions for the player, as Kristina, to make it is difficult to describe the story as it veers in several alternate directions based on the decisions made. To paint a picture of I Saw Black Clouds it is safe to say that Emily’s death has shaken Kristina and their mutual friend Charlotte. The majority of this interactive experience digs into the circumstances of Emily’s death via her diary and the subsequent quest for answers. How the story evolves from there is up to the player with decisions that have either minor or major implications in the direction it takes.
The inclusion of supernatural elements is interesting and the relevance to how this relates to Emily’s death is effective and fitting. The overall mood and tone is solemn, desperate and emotional, particularly in regards to how Kristina’s quest for answers evolves alongside the narrative.
Several moments are unsettling, tense and executed well though there are more than a few scenes that feel like filler, padding the story and length out for no particular reason. Narration from Emily over the top of Kristina’s exploration add to the weight of Emily’s death and the impact it has had on Kristina. Emily’s emotional descent is revealed through her journal and therapy sessions that are tragic and disturbing to witness unfold. I Saw Black Clouds is undeniably Emily’s story told through the lens of Kristina and effectively so.
This form of interactive experience, essentially a playable movie, is likely to either satisfy or frustrate its players as the gameplay is literally just choosing between one to three actions or lines of dialogue, alternatively doing nothing at all is a viable option too. Genre fans will be prepared for this type of experience and will enjoy exploring alternate decisions in future playthroughs.
The only other gameplay feature is viewing a character card type screen which displays Kristina’s current emotional state, relationship with other characters and her own character stats, all based on the decisions made.
The live action scenes are well shot and I Saw Black Clouds genuinely feels like a legitimate cinematic experience. The acting from the handful of characters is respectable and for the most part translates well into this film/video game hybrid.
The sound design is effective, with creepy sound effects, an ominous score and unsettling jump scares. It’s difficult to fault the cinematic presentation with the singular exception of the sudden sound jumps between scenes that follow a decision. The sound can suddenly cut out and shift with the new scene in a disconnecting manner that dampens the immersion of the experience.
I Saw Black Clouds comes in at around an hour and a half, the average length of an actual film but the play time is significantly more for those who want to replay it and make alternate decisions to experience different versions of it and see the various endings. Previously observed scenes can be skipped in subsequent playthroughs for those only interested in seeing what they missed the last time too.
While it may be unusual for players unfamiliar with genre to kick back and essentially let the game play itself, those who have played other titles published by Wales Interactive will know what to expect. This type of experience interestingly gives the player ultimate control of how the story plays out while kind of removing the player from the game at the same time. Ultimately, how people perceive I Saw Black Clouds will depend greatly on their experience and enthusiasm for the genre. Regardless of player preference, an interesting and emotional story is told with endings that payoff various clues and revelations dependent on the choices made.
+ Interesting supernatural elements
+ Replayability with alternate story direction and endings
+ Choices that matter
+ Legitimate cinematic presentation
– Audio transitions between scenes breaks immersion
– Story occasionally bogged down by filler
Developed by: Ghost Dog Films
Published by: Wales Interactive
Release Date: March 30 2021
Platforms: Xbox One/Series X|S, PlayStation 4/5, Nintendo Switch and PC
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