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Blackbar: A fascinating word/puzzle game and cautionary tale

Ad for Blackbar iOS game

The first thing that caught my attention about Blackbar (US$2.99) was the icon, showing a black-and-white photo of a woman with a black censor bar across her eyes. After that, it was finding out that developers Neven Mrgan and James Moore were involved in the project. Mrgan was formerly a designer and developer with Panic, and then worked on the popular retro game The Incident.

If you're basing your thoughts about Blackbar on The Incident, don't. This is a totally different and unique genre. Rather than an arcade game, this is a thoughtful and thought-provoking word and puzzle game. I love word games, which immediately attracted me to Blackbar.

The game is deceptively easy at the beginning. It revolves around letters that are being sent between two characters, Vi and Kenty, who live in an undefined place and time where all communications are monitored and censored. The first time you launch Blackbar, you're thrust right into the first letter between the two, but there's one word with a black bar through it. It's your job to tap on the black bar and type in the word.

Blackbar starts innocuously enough, but then the words get tougher to guess and in some cases you'll find that you need to solve a puzzle to move forward to the conclusion. It's guessing the words from the context of the messages and the story, as well as solving the puzzles, that makes Blackbar so intriguing.

It took me about four hours to complete the game and get to the chilling end, and I was thoroughly engrossed in the story the entire time. In the end, the game is a cautionary tale about the perils of censorship and is quite timely considering the recent revelations about NSA monitoring of the conversations of private citizens. Blackbar is a sobering reminder of the ever-present possibility of a police state, and it's also great entertainment. Here's hoping that Mrgan and Moore collaborate soon on another "chapter" of this fascinating tale.

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