With relatively little publicity, Focus Entertainment launched Blacktail this month. Developed by The Parasight, we thought it was one of the pleasant surprises of this season. Our review, based on the PS5 version.
In the last couple of years, the name Baba Yaga has popped up regularly in videogames. It first appeared in a DLC for one of the recent Tomb Raider games, and it was also a VR experience for the Quest. Blacktail takes the same story, which has its roots in Slavic folklore, and finally gives us a full-length experience that lets us explore the story over the course of a longer campaign.
What’s striking about Blacktail is that it’s a gorgeously realized game world, with great creature design and lush environments that encourage exploration. The music and sound (which features full voice acting) complements all this, for a world that’s vibrant and alive with living creatures and magic even before you delve into its story elements.
In that story, you are Yaga, a young woman who’s looking for her sister Zara. She’s a bit of an outcast as well, as her ways around magic make her fellow villagers look at her weirdly. Before long, you come across the mythical hut attributed to Baba Yaga, where you start to hear voices about light and dark, setting you off on a journey of your own.
What follows is an almost Lewis Carroll-like journey through a strange and fantastical world full of bizarre creatures and twists. And although you’d expect something like that to play out from a third person perspective, especially because some jumping and climbing is included, Blacktail is a first person action adventure. Where that makes most sense is in the combat, which is mostly handled through a bow and arrow – another element that makes it feel different than your average first person shooter. This sense is further enhanced through your opponents, who aren’t soldiers but magical creatures that lurk in the fairytale-like environments of Blacktail.
The game is more challenging than its fairytale-like exterior suggests though, especially during the early game where you’re still quite vulnerable. You’ll become more resilient through a skill tree and a few small crafting elements, both of which aren’t afraid to lean into the natural world connection that witches have with their magic – but which also make you more proficient in combat.
The biggest highlight here is the audiovisual storytelling, which helps carry Blacktail through its 14 to 18 hour runtime. It’s a challenging game, but it has a world that’s inviting to get lost in, and despite a steep initial learning curve this is an unexpected delight at the end of the year.