See here, boys and girls! If you haven’t guessed from my reviews of Life is Strange, I’m a big fan of episodic adventure games. For years, there’s been a distinct lack of importance for a games story, and it makes me incredibly happy to see so many games coming out to focus almost entirely on that aspect of what is my favourite form of entertainment. So you can imagine that when I managed to get my hands on a brand new film noir thriller called Blues and Bullets by A Crowd of Monsters, I immediately donned my trenchcoat and fedora ready to get on the case.
Blues and Bullets follows the story of Elliot Ness (voiced by Doug Cockle (Geralt of Rivia)) the detective who managed to put away Al Capone. Ness has since retired from the force after failing to solve a case involving missing children, and now runs a diner named Blues and Bullets as a hangout for the local police force. However, it seems Ness’ past is catching up to him, as one day a man comes into the diner holding a token from Capone, and Ness gets dragged back into a mystery that will either end in redemption or his death.
First off, let me say that the art style in Blues and Bullets is beautiful. There’s one scene in particular, where Ness is being taken by cable car to see Capone, and the camera shows us the outside of the car during a rain storm. The rain starts trickling down the camera, distorting the scene and making it look just like ink running down the page of a comic book. There’s many such scenes in the game that not only make you stop and think “Wow, they really paid attention to the details in this game”, but also give the impression that you’re walking through a comic book not unlike Frank Miller’s Sin City. The fact that the only 3 colours used in the entire game are black, white and red only serve to further the point when something exciting happens, and draws your attention straight to where it should be in any given scene. So all around, my kudos goes to the art team! Though seriously, you guys are sick when it comes to the murder scenes!
As for the story, it does exactly what a film noir thriller should, in that it kept me guessing the whole way through. It was engaging, thrilling and kept just enough mystery in the scenes that I didn’t know where my next footfall would land me. However, there is one thing I will say in that Blues and Bullets falls into the same pitfall that the original Mass Effect did and at times I’d pick a dialogue option thinking “A-ha! Yes! Perfect!” only to find that what came out of Ness’ mouth was the exact opposite of what I thought it’d be.
There’s a fine art to making an episodic game, in my opinion. There’s an old saying by Shakespeare that “All the worlds a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” and nothing sums up what an episodic game should feel like more than this. We, the players, should feel as if a stage has been set before us, and everyone we interact with are merely actors playing their parts as opposed to a pile of pixels used for the singular purpose of telling the story. In that respect, I felt Blues and Bullets was kind of let down, as some of the animations, and the pacing on one or two of the lines made the actors feel very wooden, and killed my immersion for a few minutes when it reminded me that I am indeed interacting with a program instead of a person. However, the voice acting did make up for it the majority of the time, so there wasn’t enough to make me feel completely removed from the story unfolding around me.
Lastly, I would urge the developers to take a second look at their control system. The game switches a lot between WASD for movement, the mouse to aim a gun, the d-keys to select dialogue options and then either the mouse or the d-keys depending on the situation in investigations. It gets a little bit awkward on the PC version, where you’d either have to keep switching or grow a third hand in order to comfortably sit back and follow the flow of the game. To be fair, this is probably an issue of “It’s better with a controller” but either way, I feel that a lot of the functions, such as dialogue choices, could have been doubled up onto the mouse which is pretty much useless outside of combat. It also would have been nice to look around at the beautiful world around me, but the camera is a set position. A creative choice, I’m sure, but you’ve gone to so much work to make this beautiful noir comic world around me, I’d love to get to see what was hidden away just out of frame.
So, the final question remains, will I be playing this one out through the episodes? Well it’s got a mystery to be solved, a grizzled detective and just enough creep and gore to make me wish I’d not eaten before playing. So, the answer is, of course!
A great little indie gem for a night in with a cup of tea (or glass of scotch!)
Blues and Bullets’ first episode is available now on Steam and Xbox One, with 4 more episodes set to release in the unforeseen future. If you’re hungry for a little bit more, you can also purchase the games OST and comic with all 5 episodes on Steam.