The mid-'90s endured a glut of Myst-like point-and-click adventure games, and not many received fewer accolades than Take-Two's maligned Black Dahlia. The film-noir whodunit's big selling point was not its unique storyline or compelling gameplay, but a brief cameo appearance by Dennis Hopper.
The game was lambasted by reviewers, who said gameplay took a backseat to bad storytelling rife with wooden acting and cheesy dialogue.
And yet, there was something magical about Black Dahlia that kept me awake night after night. The game employed a Hitchcockian use of "slow-burn suspense." You spend most of your time investigating crime scenes, sleuthing for clues and interrogating suspects. No blood, no gore, no classic "zombie dog jumping through a window" moments. The game's scare technique is similar to the classic Rosemary's Baby. And therein lie Black Dahlia's charm.
Loosely based on the real-life butchering of aspiring Hollywood starlet Elizabeth Short, Black Dahlia connects her murder to a more sinister story. Adolph Hitler's loveable sidekick, Heinrich Himmler, was known to be obsessed with uncovering ancient religious artifacts and icons believed to hold supernatural power. During the war, Himmler dabbled in occult mysticism in his effort to achieve global hegemony. In the game, Elizabeth Short was murdered by Himmler's underlings as a human sacrifice to ancient Teutonic gods. Like Wolfenstein before it, Black Dahlia utilized the scariest combo in the history of humankind: Nazis and demons.
Additionally, Black Dahlia's cinematic restraint sets it apart from other schlock-horror games populating shelves. The lack of high-octane action makes for simmering tension and growing fear. As Alfred Hitchcock would say, "There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it."
Zombie dogs won't keep us awake at night. The precious few Black Dahlias, however, will keep our minds racing and our palms sweating.
When not pointing and clicking, Cole Stryker writes about music that no one likes at www.screamingmeemies.wordpress.com.