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Blacksad: Under the Skin

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Microids
Developer: Pendulo Studio
Release Date: Sept. 26, 2019

About Andreas Salmen

I'm sure this is all just a misunderstanding.


Switch/PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Blacksad: Under the Skin'

by Andreas Salmen on Sept. 13, 2018 @ 2:30 a.m. PDT

Based on the award-winning graphic novel, Blacksad: Under the Skin is a new, fully-3D, adventure-mystery game.

Adventure games have had something of a renaissance in recent years, with narrative-focused games cropping up everywhere. Experiences like Life is Strange and The Walking Dead have made quite a splash and have a decent fan following. Those experiences focused on telling a story rather than being a conventional adventure with puzzle design firmly rooted within their formula. Games like Yesterday and Yesterday Origins by developer Pendulo Studios have taken a different approach by telling a gripping story with decent amounts of puzzle elements at their core. Pendulo's new game, Blacksad: Under the Skin, promises another exciting story experience that is even more akin to aforementioned Telltale titles. It offers detective-style puzzle gameplay in its core DNA while it tackles a remarkable crime noir comic property revolving around anthropomorphic animals in a bustling U.S. city during the 1950s.

If you're familiar with Blacksad, the announcement of an adventure game featuring an entirely new story will be exciting enough on its own. Thus far, the series only consists of five short volumes of high-quality sketches and a crime noir atmosphere. It revolves around Blacksad, a black cat private detective with wits and a loose mouth. Animals in this series are reflective of their assumed character traits, with lizards and amphibious characters often portrayed in a shady light while dogs and cats are presumed to be policemen or similarly honorable or "good" characters. In our gameplay demo at Gamescom 2018, we were thrown head-first into the case at hand: the murder of the owner of a local boxing club and a superstar fighter who's gone missing. We have been hired by the owner's daughter to find out what may have happened. At this point, we attempt to search the fighter's apartment for clues and try together a theory about what may have gone down.

Before we can move on with our investigation, however, a rhino and a buffalo storm the apartment and aren't delighted to find someone else here. Beaten up and tied to a chair, we have to endure some questioning from the goons of a local crime boss who's also trying to find out about the murder and the missing boxer.

Dialogue options in Blacksad are the usual choose-your-own-adventure style found in many other games, but there's a slight twist. We are a cat, so we possess special feline senses that we can use to observe a scene and find clues. We can take a closer look at the goons to find a four-leaf clover pin on one of their suits, which unlocks an additional dialogue option:  asking whether our interrogator is of Irish decent. Earlier choices and discoveries within the game may unlock other dialogue choices. In this particular case, Blacksad was previously employed by the Rhino's wife due to suspected cheating. It's a circumstance that you're free to bring up if you dare; we did, and we almost paid for it.

Eventually, we dodge a bullet as the crime boss, a bookie and major criminal, decides to spare us and get us to solve the case for him. We're back to square one: alone in the boxer's apartment looking for clues while a horde of gangsters waits outside the front door.

We continue searching every nook and cranny for clues. This plays out as expected, with us walking around freely and inspecting areas with the touch of a button. Evidence we find will be added to a deduction screen, where we can combine and test theories to find new angles to our case. In this instance, we found a scarf with perfume and a picture of the fighter with the club owner's daughter — the same daughter who had previously hired us and said she didn't know the missing fighter very well. With a few combinations, we arrive at a conclusion: They're not only acquainted, but she was in this flat recently. This is the scarf she used to wear all the time up until recently, indicating she might have forgotten it in this flat. They may even be a couple.

Everything we find will be automatically added to our notebook in the form of notes. The notes won't stay static but evolve with every piece of evidence, deduction, and dialogue option we take, and the notes shape how we perceive certain characters. We are also changing based on the decisions we make. I know we've heard it all before — our choices matter, etc. What makes us feel that this may be deeper than the average adventure game is that Blacksad actually lets you view the variables behind the scenes. There are approximately 10 traits that change throughout the game and define how your character evolves through the story. We haven't been able to see it properly in action or how deep it goes, but it's great to be able to see changes when they occur.

It was a short gameplay demo, but it was a good one. As someone who's both a fan of the style and execution of the comics, I think Blacksad is coming along quite well in capturing the atmosphere and essence of the comic. Even for people who haven't been exposed to it yet, the world in Blacksad is intriguing and inviting. We'll see how well the story turns out and how much branching will be possible in the finished product. In any case, the tone and visuals are captivating enough to appeal to friends of adventure and noir stories.

Blacksad: Under the Skin will be released on all major platforms in 2019.

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