Crime noir is a genre often overlooked by gaming. Not really sure why, maybe it’s hard to get right (which I can understand), but once you’ve played LA Noire and Max Payne, you’re left without many options. That’s why I was intrigued when Blues and Bullets popped onto my radar.
A true to form crime noir story with horror elements spread across five episodes? A cool black and white filter with only specific colors? Yes, yes, and more yes! While the game isn’t finished just yet, read on to see my impressions of the episodes that are currently out!
Episode Two: Shaking the Hive Review - Questions and Answers
Spoilers for episode one follow! Scroll down to see the first episode’s review
For PS4 owners, the wait between episode one and two was non-existent, but PC players waited an agonizing eight months for the second episode. A Crowd of Monsters is a small studio, but I’m hoping that they are able to speed things up with the additional revenue from consoles.
After a detailed recap, we’re back with episode 2: Shaking the Hive. This episode looks, feels, and plays a lot like the first one. The main difference is that this episode answers a lot of the questions about Elliot’s past that were inexplicably left out of the first episode.
While it’s nice to get some answers, I feel like some of these things should have been addressed in the first episode as it would have given Elliot’s encounter with Docker’s wife more meaning and context.
A Primary focus of episode 2 lays on answering some of these lingering questions, but its biggest sin is not pushing the story forward as much as it should or could. It’s a slow build, and while the finale is impressive, I was hoping that the second episode would use the first as a jumping point for more development.
Same Mechanics, Different Mix
Episode two uses the on-rails combat from the first episode to a greater extent. Personally, I thought it’s a good way to add combat to an adventure game like this one. There’s some variety to the weapons, but otherwise it’s largely the same.
As with the first episode, there’s also a cool intro moment where the game introduces some insane visuals. I like these kinds of introductions because they add a visual flare to an otherwise standard game (barring the cool black and white approach).
As decisions come and go in the second episode, I’m noticing that the choices you have for decisions and complications are fairly vague. Typically you’re only given a word or two to show what you’re going to say and there’s plenty of times where I feel like that description wasn’t enough to inform my decision.
It’s a delicate balance between information and being too wordy. I know it won’t change drastically in upcoming episodes, but a little more description for the decisions would make it easier and more reliable when choosing.
Jump in or Wait?
When Blues and Bullets first came out on the PS4, I got a bundle price of $7.49 for both currently released episodes. For that price, I feel like I got my money’s worth, even if the second episode is essentially more of the same.
The long wait between episodes has me worried about when episode 3 will be here, and if that worries you too, then you should probably wait. On the other hand, there’s no season pass option, so you’re only paying for what’s out. In that regard you’re not losing anything. I like the game so far, but I’m hoping they double-down on the story in future episodes.
Episode One: The End of Peace Review - The Devil’s Work
Blues and Bullets is made by a relatively small studio called A Crowd of Monsters. This studio is something I would classify as “indie” and after playing episodic titles from companies like Telltale and DONTNOD, I was a little offput by the budget of the game out of the gate.
Let’s be clear, though, I’m not someone who judges a game based on graphics alone. That being said, Blues and Bullets is rough around the edges. The animation can be stiff, the lip sync wavers between fine and relatively off-sync, and the overall textures aren’t extremely detailed.
That being said, the game’s black and white style with slight colors like red and orange jumping out was an excellent decision. Fans of Sin City will feel right at home with this style of graphics. They manage to hide much of the graphical and animated shortcomings and give the game its own unique look.
I mention graphics first only because I felt that the screenshots and trailers made them look better is all. It was a first impression to say the least. After an opening that I would classify as horror any day of the week, we’re introduced to Elliot Ness, an ex-cop who now owns a dinner aptly named Blues and Bullets.
It’s worth noting that he’s voiced by Doug Cockle who is best known for his terrific performance as Geralt of Rivia in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Doug brings another standout performance here as the voice acting can be hit or miss. Main characters are good for the most part, but some side character overdo it a bit.
Now, let’s dive into the particulars, shall we?
Setting the Stage
The story is Blues and Bullets is that Elliot Ness has been pulled out of his retirement by an old adversary; the infamous Al Capone. The two have history, and in this game that history is altered from the standard events.
Don’t expect a historically accurate look at this time, A Crowd of Monsters decided to go with an alternate version of Al Capone’s rise and subsequent fall, but I thought it was a wise choice. It allows them to add in surprising elements and twists to that time period, so I’m all for it.
In the game, Elliot is looking for children who have gone missing, one of which is Al Capone’s granddaughter. It’s clear from the opening that there’s some kind of cult or supernatural element pulling the strings, which gives the game a decidedly horror flavor that I particularly enjoyed.
As this game is driven forward by its narrative, I won’t say any more on this note. Suffice to say, Episode 1 spends much of its time building backstory and introducing characters. There’s action to be had, but its clear the developers wanted to lay the ground here in the opening act.
The Gold Standard for Detective Games
Every noire game or detective title tries to do investigating in a different way. Almost always you’ll collect clues, but rarely does the game ask you put them together. This is where Blues and Bullets shines.
While you’ll have to wait a while in the first episode before you reach a crime scene, the first one is a doozy. It is here that we’re introduced to a clear cultist/supernatural element behind the game’s premise on finding children who have disappeared.
When it comes to action scenes, Blues and Bullets channels you through sections where Elliot runs to cover on a set path. Meanwhile, you have control of an aiming reticle and his gun of choice at the time. It’s nothing special, but it does break up the gameplay from the slow pace of making choices and choosing dialogue options.
When you finally reach your first crime scene, you’re going to smile and grimace all at once. It’s fairly gory, but Blues and Bullets implements a mechanic where you must seek out clues across the admittedly large scene.
These clues are then applied to a virtual bulletin board of sorts that you can access at your leisure. Once you have enough clues within a given set, you have to help Elliot piece everything together by choosing which clues fit into each category.
As you do this, Elliot explains his reasoning and how he reached the deduction you’re putting together. It feels like you’re working with him to solve the crime, as opposed to sitting by while he does the talking.
It’s refreshing, and the first crime scene is shocking and unique enough to pique your interest. Once you’ve done this, the game whisks you away to the finale.
Rough edges aside, Blues and Bullets is unlike any other episodic game out on the PS4. It brings a unique and haunting supernatural crime noir that had me begging for more. Luckily episode 2 was released the same day on PS4, but PC players had to wait eight months!
Here’s hoping the wait will be less drastic now that the game has found its way to consoles for the first time. Stay tuned to this page for reviews on each episode as they release, and let us know how you like the series thus far in the comments!
Note: A final score will be assigned when all five episodes have been reviewed. Enjoy!
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert Date - 5/9/16