Black Dahlia, video game, screenshot, featured, detectives, murder, Jim, Merylo

Black Dahlia: returning to my point-and-click past

I’ve always been fond of detective storylines in video games.

This attraction has been going on for over a 25-years now and started when I first played Black Dahlia. This ‘interactive movie’ adventure was released by Take-Two Interactive in February 1998, and featured full-motion video (FMV) along with an appearance by Dennis Hopper.

I can’t really remember where I got this game from or if I had any prior knowledge of it before making the purchase. My best guess would be that, seeing as it came out in the late 1990s, I probably came across it on the shelves of a GAME store while browsing one weekend. There’s no way I’d have been able to resist considering its setting and genre.

The story centres on Agent Jim Pearson, played by Darren Eliker, the newest member of the Coordinator of Information (COI) unit assigned to investigate potential Nazi threats to the United States. His first mission is to look into a complaint from a prominent businessman, who claims an employee brought someone into the factory who left subversive material there.

It soon becomes clear there’s more to this case and it may have links to the gruesome murders of the Cleveland Torso Killer, who’s currently at large. Jim also discovers information on the Black Dahlia, a mysterious artefact which is said to grant its owner the power to rule the world. Then there are the disturbing visions featuring a grey-haired man with a strange cane and sinister glare, which begin to haunt our protagonist. What has he managed to get himself wrapped up in?

I can’t tell you how it ends though because I didn’t manage to finish Black Dahlia back in 1998. I vaguely recall reaching the section where you must go down into the sewers to chase after Dr Eisenstadt, but not much beyond that as a bug kept causing the game to crash. My dad tried to help but ended up changing so many settings on my PC that nothing would run at all. I eventually managed to fix it so I could get back to pointing-and-clicking, but my journey with Jim had come to an end.

That was until April 2021. After watching friend-of-the-blog Darkshoxx play Ripley’s Believe It or Not!: The Riddle of Master Lu on his Twitch channel, I was inspired to revisit the adventure releases from my childhood. He kindly pointed me in the direction of several archive websites when I asked him if he’d ever heard of Take-Two Interactive’s project. But although I made it through Toonstruck and Grim Fandango, I never did quite get around to downloading Black Dahlia.

A year later, Pete managed to find a physical copy of the game on eBay and arranged for it to be delivered shortly before my birthday in April 2022. This lovely surprise spurred me back into action and we set about coming up with a plan to get it running. But unfortunately, adult responsibilities and a new Data Fellowship apprenticeship soon got in the way. It meant we never found the time to get organised and the box has been waiting for me on our bookcase since.

My apprenticeship is now drawing to a close though. There are only a couple of months to go before my final assessments and, while I wouldn’t necessarily say the pressure is off just yet, there are no more formal training sessions to attend or pre-work assignments to complete. I have slightly more available time on my hands nowadays as a result. So after completing our ten days of streaming for GameBlast23 in February, it felt like a good time to pick up my journey with Jim.

Digging out the links to the archive websites previously suggested by Darkshoxx allowed me to find a downloadable version of Black Dahlia which actually worked. At the time of writing, I’ve been playing for just over 11 hours and am pleased to report I’ve only experienced one crash so far. As mentioned in my post about point-and-click pet peeves last week, this has served as a great reminder to save frequently and not have to repeat hours of lost progress.

Black Dahlia, video game, physical, disc, instruction manual, guide

I’ve just gone past the sewer section mentioned above so I’m now in uncharted territory. What has surprised me so far is just how much I’ve been able to remember from playing 25 years ago. For example, certain puzzle solutions have come to mind almost immediately such as the one which uses blood-splattered newspapers. I’ve also remembered certain twists in the story before they’re shown on screen, like the picking someone out of a photograph album before Jim knowing who they were.

This has made me realise that I want to experience this game rather than play it now. Perhaps it’s to do with how my first attempt in 1998 ended and the nostalgia I feel for Agent Pearson’s adventure. I remember it being quite tough originally and I don’t have the same level of patience or time now I’m so much older. I’ve therefore decided that if I reach a section where I’m not sure what to do, I’m going to feel no guilt at reaching for a walkthrough rather than struggling for hours.

I’ve been uploading my playthrough to YouTube for anyone who’s interested in seeing how I’m getting on. Returning to Black Dahlia again has reignited that familiar desire to experience older point-and-clicks from my childhood again so I can get lost in a good story. In fact, it has inspired a potential collaborative project with Darkshoxx – hopefully there’ll be more news about that soon.

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