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The Black Death is a survival game set during the great plague that hit Europe, particularly London, in the medieval era. It's inception was first announced in 2016, January, and the first "early access" was April of the same year. I am unsure as to what happened between then and now (June 2018) but the game's developers, Small Impact Games, (a group of programmers etc known for games such as Codemasters and Rocksteady) appear to have shelved its release pending further play-testing, at least up to now. It looks very much like The Black Death is on the verge of a full release, the current play-testing early-access is very close to becoming the real deal.

I have vague memories of playing this in beta (I guess) a few years ago, if not it is all very familiar to me, so I am a little surprised for it to be in "early access" now in 2018. It is dark and eerie, misty and cold, the atmosphere is terrifyingly real (and surreal at the same time) especially if you take note of what was suggested to me before I started - wear headphones, play at night, with no lights on, only the glow from your monitor.

Despite the Plague taking hold of the village you live in, people are still going about their daily affairs, from the merchants on the muddy streets to the overseer who sits on a wooden platform in apparent comfort threatening anyone not of stature with immediate death. You are a scruffy, sadly emaciated man with no money, job or tools; whether you have a skill or craft is unclear but you are forced to steal food whenever and from where-ever you can. Market stalls are often easy pickings as long as you are quick and don't get greedy, but food rots quickly so you need to eat it as soon as you start to lose strength/life.

Developed by just three people, the Black Death, is an open-ended game in the style of a point and click adventure but having freedom of movement (by Arrows or WASD) instead of cursor and freedom of movement (within reason) within the parametres of the game world, which is fairly large with edges unlikely to cause you any problems.

 

Using the mouse you can see a full 360 degree panorama of superb 3D graphics and you can travel quite well around the village and to its outer reaches, but you need to ensure you have food and water if you are to keep living. There are buildings you can search - most are empty, many have a red cross on them to denote the plague. Others glow to show they are a hot spot and as you approach them and move your cursor onto the glow the message appears "Breakable Barrier E" also the hand symbol is shown giving the impression that you should Press the "E" key and maybe the left-mouse button, possibly at the same time. However, doing this nothing happens and you get no inkling of why the door doesn't open. I eventually went to Google and found a forum where I learned that you need to have a weapon of some kind to hit the door with; haven't found anything I can use (at time of writing) - I am going right back in after posting this.

   

Based on television and movies I have seen that have a 15+ certificate I don't think this is quite bad enough visually to be certified as 18+ even though there are depictions of a hanged man and some strong violence, though some folk may disagree and that's why I put the screen in place. This is a slow, creepy creeper of a game, rather like the Black Death itself, slow and creepy. There are also depictions of plague victims in various stages of the disease, all of which are brilliantly created but also quite gruesome.

Things to do:

1.  Hunt to Survive. But first learn to steal and then harvest (mainly from someone else's harvest fields, so basically steal) for if the plague doesn't get you the lack of food and fresh water will.
2. When you get the choice: Militia, Farmer, ex-Com Priest etc are your choices. The Medieval world is a terrifying place and gives not one iota about you.
3. Take to your feet and explore the lands. Ensure you have enough food and water and never let it run out - there's always some available if you know where to look or from whom to steal it. 8 square kilometres of world to explore so get walking.
4. Earn or steal coin and spend it wisely. You won't get a lot of money so your life depends on you not wasting it.
5. There are times when you must fight but without a weapon or two it will be a short kill by your opponent. Pick your fights well and run away if you can from others and danger of any kind.

 

From what I read online there are several character types you can play but when I opened it on Steam the game began immediately after the titles and I discovered I was playing an ex-Doctor, not that it mattered because I was still a scrounging bum trying to survive and capable of just about anything, no scratch that, I mean absolutely anything. Attacking folk and robbing them may get you some food or money to buy food but you have to be very careful who you you attack for anyone stronger than you or with a weapon of any kind will do for you.

This is not a pacey game. If you want speed and action you must look elsewhere. If you want a story that builds slowly with you driving it this might be for you. If you are a moralist and can't abide with stealing, killing or breaking the law under any circumstances, not even in a game, then this isn't for you. Looking for a game where your actions actually count and where AI characters do not just fall over or hand over all they have when you approach them? This isn't it!  Everyone is out to survive and thus everyone is out for themselves only. You must get into that mindset, no one is truly your friend, if you wish to get through this tough, but challenging adventure of a lifetime.

                               

 

 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015