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Blues and Bullets – Episode 2: Shaking the Hive review

Some six months down the line from Episode 1’s release, development team A Crowd of Monsters have released the second instalment to their episodic crime adventure Blues and Bullets. Titled Shaking the Hive, this episode takes you deeper into the story of Eliot Ness as he tries to uncover more clues to the whereabouts of Capone’s granddaughter.

Following the same style and gameplay from episode 1, reviewed here, the second episode of this noir adventure starts off with a flashback of Ness meeting Delphine Dockers, his mistress. This is the point where everything starts to go downhill for Ness and underpins the troubles hinted at in the first episode. The game then moves to the present, bringing you back to where you left off, the hiding place of Ivankov, Capone’s ex right hand man.

No sooner have you found Ivankov, you find yourself thrown into one of the shooting sequences scattered throughout the game. Ducking behind cover you work your way up the submarine and even though it’s all very point and click, the sequences are well polished allowing you to switch from cover to cover to get a better shot. I found this more rewarding than in the first episode and the gun fights were pulled together with various short cut scenes to continue the conversation and story.

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Before you know it, the excitement is over and you are back to being the detective you once were. Searching the submarine to see if Capone’s granddaughter is on there and what, if anything, has happened to her. This brings the second element in to the game, where you have to search and piece together the evidence and clues. As a helping hand you are given a pin board to link the evidence together. I found this part of the game good fun, with a couple of challenges thrown in to make you hunt for certain clues to allow you to progress. Yes the same red circles are there like the first episode, so it is a bit of a given where you need to look. Piecing the clues together was again fairly clear – the game won’t allow you to put something where it shouldn’t be. Once the evidence is complete the story flicks to Ness retelling the events using black and white character boards, to his trusty sidekick Milton (who he picked up in Episode 1 if you recall).

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The game continues to bounce through the story in the third person view, switching to first when you’re looking for clues. Halfway through the game you enter a dream sequence, and I have to tell you, this part is fantastic. Switching you to first person with a flash light to guide you, the dream sequence takes you through the twisted and tormented mind of Ness. I won’t spoil it… but all I will say is that the way it’s told is amazing and to for me, it’s the best part of the game.

Sooner than I would have liked it’s over, and you’re placed in the next part of the game. I did find the switching from past to present a little confusing sometimes but this didn’t take my enjoyment out of the game. As with the first episode, the colour setting is very noir black and white with just Ness’ tie and the odd red item, pool of blood etc standing out. However it was nice to see during one of the gunfight sequences the addition of colour in the flames. It really brought the scene to life and added even more depth to a beautiful game.The voice acting and soundtrack again seem more polished than in the previous episode and this fills me with hope for episode 3.

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Episode 2 is great and adds more depth to the game, if still leaving you wondering what has happened to the children, though a few more hints and teases are revealed. The Episode might also not be that long and can easily be completed in an hour, but nether the less is well worth it and leaves you wanting to take the story further. I just hope it doesn’t take another 6 or 7 months before we see the next Episode, but then again if it builds on the improvements that we saw in Episode 2 compared to Episode 1 then I would be happy to wait.

Thanks to A Crowd of Monsters and Xbox for supporting TiX

Second Episode of Blues and Bullets hits Xbox One

Those fans of Blues and Bullets will be pleased to hear that Episode 2: Shaking The Hive is now available to download on Xbox One. Shaking the Hive is the second installment of the episodic crime noir adventure game developed by A Crowd Of Monsters. In this episode you will take on the role of former detective Eliot Ness as he tries to unravel the truth of the conspiracy that he discovered in Episode 1, in the criminal underworld of Santa Esperanza .

In Episode 2: Shaking The Hive, players can expect to visit diverse locales including a submarine, learn more about Eliot’s past, meet new characters, explore more complex crime scenes, and enjoy improved gun combat. As with Episode 1, the players’ choices will have an impact on the storyline and culminate in a gripping cliffhanger.

Blues and Bullets Episode 2: Shaking The Hive is available for Xbox and PC for £3.99 or as part of the Blues and Bullets Season Pass bundles.

Blues and Bullets – Episode 1: The End of Peace review

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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ID@Xbox gives us the blues

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I’m back, admit it, you thought I’d given up didn’t you? Well, think again, there’s a huge list of games that’ve been announced on the ID@Xbox program at GDC and I’m making it a personal mission to make sure you know all about them.

Next up is A Crowd of Monsters’ noir-inspired Blues and Bullets. The Spanish developers have created a dark and dangerous world in Santa Esperanza. Corruption is everywhere and as a former detective, trapped in this decadent city, you’ll have to fight, shoot and talk your way out of situations. You decide what the detective will do. This has the look and feel of an immersive Sin City.

As seems to be the trend at the moment, Blues and Bullets will be an episodic release, initially expected this May. The choices you make and when you take them will determine how the game will react. You really are writing this story and making your own destiny.

Funk of Titans review

Funk of Titans is A Crowd of Monsters’ first console release; the title has been exclusively launched on Xbox One under Microsoft’s ID@Xbox initiative. You step into the funky shoes of Perseus, the son of Zeus who is less than amused by the musical styling of three Titans – Pop, Rap and Metal. It’s your task to traverse each of the three worlds and face off against each one in a dance battle to bring back the funk – this is a musically inspired take on Greek mythology and a weird one at that.

The art style is charming; the worlds are well laid out and the amusing mix of funk and Greek mythology make this auto-running title something that I kept coming back to over my seven hour playthrough. The pace and length of each level is spot on; perfect if you want to nab each of the three gold medals – one for finishing a level without taking any damage, one for collecting 100 gold vinyls and one for finding the hidden Pegasus Idol – collecting all three is easier said than done, particularly on the rather devious third world where you will need to be spot on with timing your jumps and weapon swings!

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There are numerous obstacles to traverse and enemies to avoid if you are to make it to the end of each level, which is marked by a jukebox pumping out funky rhythms. Perseus can take two hits before it’s funk over, the first hit will strip him of his armour leaving him in little more than his underwear to run the rest of the level in.

Gold vinyls lead you through each level like breadcrumbs and help to indicate the length of each level. Some vinyls are hidden in vases that must be broken by swinging your sword – you must also break down doors and defeat numerous enemies by hitting or jumping on their heads, which can boost you up to an otherwise unreachable area that is often home to the Pegasus Idol. The vinyls you collect can be spent on new helmets or weapons and while these are mainly aesthetic, some weapons must be used to access locked areas or to complete one of Zeus’ heroic challenges – there’s three to complete per Hero level and by finishing each one you will unlock more items in the shop my favourite being the Funkymus helmet, an Optimus Prime mask.

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A Pegasus Idol is hidden in each level – this is your trusty rocket Hobby Horse. Keeping with the music theme, this area is styled to mimic the music TV show Pop Idol and by collecting the idol you will get a shot at a mini-game that is playable at the end of the level – think Flappy Bird but less irritating. The environments of the levels would fit right into a Zool game – a mash-up of music and sweet objects. As you fly through the sky on your trusty stead you must press and hold the A button in order to avoid obstacles and collect vinyls – I only made it to 525m before crashing but it would have been nice to see where I might have placed on a global leaderboard or against my friends.

Located mid-way through each level is a Grunt that you must fight and at the end of each level there is a Titan waiting to beat the funk out of you. The battles are a series of three QTE events, to win you must outscore your opponent. While the Grunt fight sequence can be excused for a somewhat lacklustre set of QTE sequences, it’s a shame that the Titan battle didn’t have more rhythm to it, particularly as it is meant to be a dance off! Button prompts flash at the top, bottom, left or right of the screen, which map directly to the positioning of the Y, A, X or B button, you needn’t press them in time as long as they are in the right order – it makes for a clumsy experience especially when contrasted against the smooth flow of the auto-running level design.

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I really enjoyed Funk of Titans, sure the character’s one-liner can be irritating and the game itself might have felt more at home being played on my iPhone, but it’s a fun, simple game – perfect if you need something to relax with or that the little ones can play. It’s a shame that there wasn’t more effort put into the boss battles, particularly as they cry out for a rhythm based mini game. I also think Funk of Titans would have benefited from a map editor so that you can create levels to share with the community – this aside, the charming art style and addictive gameplay kept me coming back for more and I’m looking forward to seeing what A Crowd of Monsters do next, which could be as early as May – an episodic Noir adventure called Blues & Bullets.

Thanks to A Crowd of Monsters for supplying TiX with a download code

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Funk of Titans Xbox One Trailer

Funk of Titans is described by developer’s A Crowd of Monsters as an addictive and fun action-platform game for the Xbox One.

The player will control Perseus through a blaxploitation of the greek mythology: jumping platforms, collecting vinyls, beating enemies, riding Pegasus and confronting the evil Music Titans in epic dance battles to recover the real and only holy music: the funk!

Check out the latest gameplay trailer above and we’ll keep you posted or surprise you with a review in due course.