Blackbar is a game about censorship. Except it's not really a game. It's a story about censorship that you can poke and prod. Get something right and the story moves on, but get it wrong and it sits and waits for your next guess.
It's an affecting and sometimes difficult story about loss and language, and while it features nothing you might describe as gameplay, it is without a doubt one of the most important App Store titles of the last few years.
The game tells its story in snatches of communication between two young women. Parts of their letters have been blanked out by The Department, an authoritarian regime that controls the neighbourhood they both grew up in.
It's up to you to fill in the words that have been covered over. Some of them just require common sense and a decent grasp of the English language. Others need you to solve word puzzles, or remember things from earlier in the conversation.
Some of the puzzles veer towards the esoteric, but there's a solid enough logic behind them all that, when you do figure out a tough one, you feel proud rather than cheated.
The real heart of the experience lies in the narrative, though. It's a touching and relevant critique of state power and the importance of language, as much about the human cost of censorship as how a willingness to let the little things slip can lead to greater subjugation.
You don't change the direction the story is heading, but you're still swept along by it. The personal nature of the communiqués you're reading get you to the heart of the characters, and makes the ending all the more powerful.
_______ - ________
It's almost impossible to give Blackbar a numerical score. It's not a game in the strictest of senses, but it is an experience that everyone should have. It does more to educate and enthral in its brief span than the vast majority of video games have managed this generation.
If you want mature, measured, intelligent interactive entertainment, then Blackbar is a must buy. Few games make you look at the world in a different way when you lay down your tablet, but this might just be one of them.
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