I think it’s fair to say that stories based on mythology are a bit of a trend in gaming right now. Whether it’s Hades (2018), God of War: Ragnarok (2022), or the more recent Assassin’s Creed games, mythology seems to be all the rage right now. But let’s face it, it’s usually the same couple of mythologies that developers seem to get their inspiration from. Most of the time it’s Greek, or Nordic, and once in a while we get Japanese, or Egyptian, but that’s pretty much it. But not the developers at The Parasight, who are instead taking inspiration from the Slavic myths for their first game, the action-adventure Blacktail, brought to us by publisher Focus Entertainment.
Because of how rarely Slavic folklore is used in video games, I didn’t know much about it going into Blacktail; I had heard of Baba Yaga before, but that’s pretty much it. Accordingly, it was very exciting to get to learn about these stories through Blacktail, especially being a massive fan of mythology, folklore, fairy tales and the like that I am. Although, naturally, this also means that I have no idea how close Blacktail’s story is to the original tales, and can only imagine how much creative liberty was at play here. I imagine it was quite a bit, not that this has to be a bad thing.
Blacktail aims to tell the origin story of Baba Yaga. You play a 16-year-old Yaga who’s been banished from her village because the villagers claim she’s a witch. Now she has to face her memories that roam the world in the form of mischievous spirits, and by doing so she can hopefully find out who her true self is. There’s also a mysterious female voice guiding you on your adventure, whose identity is another secret that needs solving. The voice acting for both the main character and the female companion are very good, but I can’t say the same about the supporting cast, and in some cases I’m not sure if that’s the fault of the voice actors or the directions they were given.
Blacktail’s story is a dark fairy tale about what it means to be an outsider, being true to yourself and coming into your own, and what it means to be a monster/who the real monsters are. Essentially, it’s the kind of story that would fit perfectly into Guillermo del Toro’s body of work. While it is a classic fairy tale, it has elements of more modern storytelling methods. This can be seen particularly in the dialogue, which has characters talking in a very modern, colloquial form of speech. The kind of comedy is also very akin to the self-referential, ironic humor we see a lot of these days.
Structurally, the story is split into four parts, each representing a season of the year. This makes for some interesting variety in the world, as certain areas change accordingly. The world is one of Blacktail’s strongest aspects. It really feels like you’re inside a fairy tale, with stunningly rendered forests, swamps, and castles. Whether it’s the luscious greenery in summer, or the white snow in winter, it all looks fantastic.
Sadly, I think the gameplay is sometimes a bit lacking. The combat, which is a fairly big part of Blacktail, is serviceable but nothing outstanding. You primarily fight enemies with your bow and a couple of abilities you unlock throughout. There’s also a dash, but it honestly feels useless most of the time. The enemies lack variety, and there’s a serious problem with the difficulty towards the end, because the game simply throws more enemies at you, without really giving you anything that could fight a big group of enemies, resulting in some frustrating deaths. The combat works, but I wouldn’t play Blacktail for the combat.
Blacktail has a lot of ideas in addition to the basic action adventure formula of combat and exploration. There are 2D platforming sections, some puzzles, a morality system, and a couple other things. All of them are, once again, serviceable but nothing incredible. And yet, somehow, when you put them all together there’s something here that becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
If I had to guess, I’d say that’s in big part due to the charm of the game. It’s hard to get mad at it, and you can’t help but feel at least a little admiration for what they’re doing here. And especially given the world around it, it feels good to be there even if what you’re doing might not feel amazing at that moment.
The world of Blacktail is something special and exploring it is a pleasure. Not every aspect of the gameplay is as good as you’d want it to be, but it’s also not so bad that you’d get mad at it. At the end of the day, this is an enjoyable adventure and I can imagine a future where Parasight does something truly great as their follow-up title after this.
Nairon played Blacktail on PC with his own copy. Blacktail is also available on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X.