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Blues And Bullets

Platform(s): PC, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: A Crowd of Monsters
Release Date: July 23, 2015

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PC Review - 'Blues and Bullets' Episode 1

by Brian Dumlao on Sept. 16, 2015 @ 12:15 a.m. PDT

Blues & Bullets is an episodic noir story, where the player will need to survive thrilling shootouts, dark investigations, difficult decisions and unexpected story twists in the skin of Patton, a former detective who struggles with his own demons trapped in a decadent city.

Thus far, a majority of the episodic adventure games on the market follow the path laid out by Telltale Games. With an emphasis on story, gameplay is focused on emulating a modern visual novel with key dialogue and moral choices while going very light on everything else, like puzzle-solving and combat (if applicable). The formula works well, so the desire to deviate from it isn't there, but it is nice to see games like Blues and Bullets try something different.

You play as Eliot Ness, the leader of a famed group of federal agents dubbed The Untouchables that were after Al Capone during the Prohibition Era. The famous gangster still went to prison on tax evasion charges, but in this alternate take on history, he doesn't die in jail but is released on parole. Meanwhile, Ness ends up retiring after a failed case and opens up a diner in the fictional town of Santa Esperanza. As fate would have it, the two mortal enemies meet once more as Capone hires Ness to find his missing granddaughter. What follows next is a bigger case involving kidnapped children and a cult that is into mutilation.

As far as the plot goes, it doesn't seem to revel in its alternate history. The role of the Hindenburg in the episode is fascinating since it makes for a great set piece, but other than that, it sticks to being more historically accurate, with things like race relations via dialogue. The actually mystery is rather fascinating, since it starts off as dark and proceeds to get stranger from there. The oddities in some scenes mixed with equal amounts of gore make for a mystery with a hook, and by the end of the episode, you'll be even more intrigued since it ends in a cliffhanger that touches on a few story threads at once.

The pilot episode does a very good job in terms of pacing the big story elements. Every scene feels essential to character development or plot progression, save for an interactive sequence that feels dreamlike in nature. That flow might not make the game feel short, but it doesn't feel like it eats up time unnecessarily, either. Though it may be too early to critique the lack of explanation for some of the actions or inactions of characters in this episode, it is curious that both Ness and Capone are used as the main characters. Neither may be that notorious with modern audiences, and it feels like this was used as a shortcut for quick characterization. In short, if they were replaced with fictional characters, the story wouldn't change at all.

As alluded to earlier, the gameplay borrows from the structure set forth by the Telltale brand of adventure titles. The majority of the scenes have you walking around the environment and hitting a button to have Ness comment on a nearby object or glean information from something. You'll also be able to initiate conversations with others and respond in a variety of ways ¾ all denoted by emotion and response type instead of specific lines of dialogue. There doesn't seem to be any indication that your dialogue choices influence the story, but that could change as the episodes come along. Also, the episode contains one combat sequence that is made up of Quick Time Event button presses, but no cursor aiming is involved.

Though moral dialogue choices and QTE fights are part of the game, the title features other mechanics just as prominently. The middle section involves gathering clues at a crime scene to figure out how the murder was committed. Compared to most adventure games, it is fairly involved because you'll be picking up items and rotating them around to find the right spot to glean a clue. Each of the clue spots has a counter on it, so you know how thorough you need to be to piece together the crime. The mystery isn't too difficult to solve, but it is lengthy and rather satisfying when you piece everything together and get a complete picture on what's going on.

The other big mechanic is the gunplay, which can catch you off guard unless you've seen the trailers before playing. At least two different sections transform the title from an adventure game to a third-person cover shooter. Movement from spot to spot is automatic, so it can't compete with full-blown shooters in that regard, but you need to peek out from cover and aim and fire at enemies or explosive objects before you can move on to the next section. In a way, this is like Time Crisis, minus the addition of a timer as your enemy. You also get the benefit of automatic healing by taking cover instead of aiming, so even those who aren't great at shooting can get through these parts without much difficulty.

Even though it takes on a "one size fits all" approach to the gameplay, Blues and Bullets blends together all of these mechanics rather well in this episode. The adventure sections do well as far as delivering story goes, and just about all of the pieces you get to look at and interact with do a good job at world building if they aren't essential to the tale. The shooting sections feel good once you know the limitations, and you start to wish that they had lasted a bit longer. The investigation part also feels right and makes the title feel more like a traditional adventure game and not a visual novel, like the Telltale games. The question is whether the title can continue the vibe once more episodes come in, but so far, things are fine.

Graphically, the game is initially striking. It looks similar to the movie "Sin City" in that the world is completely done in a black and white movie style, with traces of red and the glow from fire being the only color elements. That aesthetic gets punched up a bit by the addition of effects, like lens dust, sakura petals and other particles in the environment. It is, however, overdone with things like the lens flare on bright objects, requiring some pretty powerful hardware to prevent slowdown on a game that otherwise runs beautifully. Elsewhere, the character models are perfectly done on both primary characters and background ones alike, and the animations are also good. Overall, this is a nice looking title.

Likewise, the sound is well done in almost all respects. The acting is convincing, even if some of the accents and vocal inflections can seem overdone. The effects are also quite solid, but it is the music that really makes the game's audio shine. Period piece vibes mix in well with the whole noir aesthetic, and the soundtrack feels rich.

As a pilot episode, Blues and Bullets gives the series an intriguing start. The occult elements mix in well with the rest of the tale thus far, and even though the presence of Ness and Capone feels like a bit of stunt casting, all of the characters work out well. The different gameplay elements complement each other, and the presentation is brilliant, even if it is overdone in some places. There's no word on when the next episode will hit, but for those willing to take a chance, Blues and Bullets is worth checking out.

Score: 8.0/10

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