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February 2023


Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: The Parasight
Release Date: Dec. 15, 2022


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PS5/XSX/PC Preview - 'Blacktail'

by Cody Medellin on Nov. 7, 2022 @ 3:00 a.m. PST

In Blacktail, guide Yaga along the path to become a fearsome guardian of the forest or the dark legend that haunts children's nightmares.

The Baba Yaga is perhaps one of the more famous figures of Eastern European mythology, as she has been mentioned in stories from several Slavic countries. As such, her personality and purpose have varied between stories, ranging from a mere trickster with a purpose to the terror of the woods. She's also the focus of Blacktail, the first game from developer The Parasight. We sampled the latest build a few months before the game's official release and came away quite impressed.

The narrative plays out as an alternate origin story for Baba Yaga. There were once two sisters living in a Slavic village, Zora and Yaga. With Zora gone missing, Yaga was expelled to the nearby forest, as she was accused of performing witchcraft that resulted in her sister's disappearance. During the quest to find her sister, Yaga hears an antagonizing voice from her dreams that turns out to be real. She is given new abilities because of this, but she is also forced to confront her own fears to gain the strength to complete her quest.

Shown from a first-person perspective, Blacktail can be best described as an adventure game that isn't always focused on killing. In the preview build, you have two weapons at your disposal; the bow is used for a variety of things, while the gauntlet is for breaking weak barriers and pushing away enemies. It doesn't take long before you can also summon a broom, which may seem odd at first but has the uncanny power of distracting enemies while you attack or sneak away.

Crafting is a huge element of Blacktail, as you're making everything from antidotes for spider poison to arrows for your bow, while you're also collecting everything from eyeballs to crystals. You don't necessarily level up, but you can collect items to carve out a skill tree full of elixirs to create. It feels like a survival game in a way, as you have to worry about having room for new material. You can cook to replenish your health, but you don't have to worry about constant hunger, thirst or temperature. Part of the crafting process requires you to return to the hut to use the cauldron to make new things, but the game provides a means of fast travel should you find a black cat in the woods. Some of the things you can create on the field, like arrows, can be done in batches instead of one at a time; it's a handy feature since time only slows when crafting, but it doesn't stop.

Considering the potential size of the game, we didn't get to spend a ton of time with it, especially since the preview build prevented us from progressing to the first major quest. A few things made an immediate good impression, and one of the most obvious is the forest itself. The abundance of trees and tall grasses and flowers never fails to impress, while the abundance of wildlife compared to enemies makes it feel very alive. The different biomes in each section prevent the game from feeling monotonous, and while the title doesn't put out large markers to funnel you toward the next major goal, you won't mind since the environment has a ton of side-quests and areas that feel worthy of exploration, even if it leads to more materials to gather. We'd want to spend more time seeing what the world has to offer before thinking about quest progression.

The second source of the immediate good impression is the presence of a morality system, which isn't necessarily new in games but plays well here. You're judged by a familiar system where your choices determine how good or bad you are, and the game takes just about everything into account. Helping to feed innocent animals counts as good, while killing anything that isn't food or tricking otherwise innocent creatures counts as bad. You'll occasionally get warnings about how the hut will remember your status, giving you access to certain recipes and barring you from others as a result, but there are enough shades of good and bad that you have some wiggle room. You have to commit to one choice over another; you can't accidentally do things like kill innocent insects, for example, unless you were heading down that path to begin with.

The presentation in Blacktail is stunning. For the graphics, that is all thanks to the forest, whose density makes everything look lush and provides tons of interesting things to look at (even when you get lost). The character designs border on interesting and grotesque. There's not much here in terms of particle effects, but the overall look isn't out of place when put up against most of the year's lineup. Sound-wise, the music is excellent; the soundtrack stirs up just the right mood while still feeling authentic to the region. Most of the voices are pleasant to listen to, but the one used for the taunting spirit taunting might throw you off with modern sayings that feel out of place in the game's time period.

For those with a Steam Deck, you'll be happy to know that Blacktail runs exceptionally well on the portable device. Set to a native 1280x800 with a low preset on, the game runs at 60fps most of the time without taking much of a graphical hit compared to playing it on a more powerful machine. Controls feel snappy, and there's no stuttering. The only drawback thus far is that the game manages to drain a full battery in under two hours, so save often if you plan to be away from an outlet or battery pack.

At the moment, Blacktail has plenty going for it. The game world is fascinating to explore thanks to its expansiveness and creatures. The morality system is handled naturally so far, and while the combat is basic, the crafting has potential to expand things significantly. Blacktail could be a sleeper of a game, and we don't have to wait too long to discover whether that comes to pass.

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