Blues and Bullets is the latest title to jump onto the episodic bandwagon. The noir adventure would be right at home in a Frank Miller movie with similar overtones of style, colour and characters. The first episode, The End of Peace, introduces you to the world that A Crowd of Monsters has created – a far throw from their last release, A Clash of Titans.
You don the trench coat of hardened policeman Eliot Ness, yes… THE Eliot Ness of Untouchables fame. In this alternate reality of the famous American Prohibition agent, Ness has retired, unable to solve a case about missing children. He now owns the Blues and Bullets, a 24 hour American diner in Santa Esperanza. Before we meet Ness, play is from the perspective of a small girl who is trapped in a cell – it seems her abductor(s) have taken many other children too – and your first task is to escape.
Red circles highlight objects you can interact with, which I found to be rather large and swamped the more subtle touches of red that are splashed throughout the black and white environments. Naturally escape is futile as your captor bursts in wearing a freakish mask and antlers, and soon finds your hiding spot – over to you Mr Ness.
It seems that the little girl is none other than Sofia, the granddaughter of Al Capone, the mob boss that Ness helped put behind bars. It transpires that Sofia has been taken from her boarding school, although the kidnapper did so by presenting himself as her new uncle after producing forged papers that showed that her parents had died. This is where Ness steps in… Al Capone has reached out to him for help in tracking down his granddaughter and finding those responsible for her abduction.
In an attempt to set a back-story, Blues and Bullets starts painfully slowly and even though there’s a shootout with Al Capone’s thugs, the crooked character animations, dodgy lip-sync, vacant character expressions and a painfully slow walking pace left me feeling rather indifferent to the opening scenes of the game.
Thankfully this is short-lived and once the uncomfortable pleasantries of introducing the story and the characters are out of the way, the game begins to gel, leading me deeper down the rabbit hole and intriguing me into its warped world.
The first step down the hole begins while you’re mulling over what Capone has said during your first meeting since his release from prison. While walking down a stormy alleyway, large typographic words of Ness’ thoughts and emotions from the day’s events fill the horizon. Next you’re using the letters as cover and shooting white-silhouetted bad guys. It’s a great scene and shows that there is some brilliant thought behind the game’s art direction, even if it did feel a little ‘Max Payne’.
Unlike other episodic titles, you have some control over the shootouts, able to move into different cover, aim and shoot independently of button prompts – these are saved for close quarter fights – where buttons flash on either side of the screen, which corresponds to the positions of the buttons on your controller.
The punches keep coming and next you’re investigating your first and only murder scene of the episode. It could easily pass for something from the Hannibal TV series, messed up, grotesque and graphic. Similar to the investigation scenes of L.A. Noire, you must explore the area to find items or areas of interest and then study them fully before you can deduce how, why and the motive of the murder via the deduction board.
For the most part the sound is exquisite, with great performances from the voice actors and a terrific soundtrack – although at times the sound balance was a little off with some characters swamped by the volume of the music. I also found that Ness’ voice had far too much bass to it. Really it’s only the dreaded camera that lets the design of the game down. Often it will gently swing in vain, trying to keep up with your movements resulting in Ness appearing off camera. Sometimes it won’t swing at all, and Ness will run on the spot as the game ‘blocks’ you from going in certain areas of the environment.
Episode 1 sets the scene for what I hope will be an enthralling title. Even though the game starts slowly, the main mystery never gets off the ground and I pretty much have no idea what’s going on save a few small facts – the story of Blues and Bullets has me hooked with its art style, messed up crime scenes and a brief look at Sofia’s abductor(s).
It might not have started well, but the ending goes out on a high and I hope A Crowd of Monsters doesn’t leave us hanging too long before they release Episode 2 – Shaking the Hive.
Thanks to Xbox and Plan of Attack Games for their support
[rprogress value=78 text=”TiX Score 78%”]
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