I'm a sucker for the noir genre, and the hardboiled detectives like Raymond Chandler's classic Philip Marlowe. Something about them captures you and you get a feel for the period-specific dialogue, and the gritty and raw tales of murder and mystery. The genre has been up and down; at their best we've had classics like Grim Fandango, Hotel Dusk: Room 215, and The Wolf Among Us. L.A Noire was a decent attempt but fell rather flat with some of the story and gameplay elements, despite having some groundbreaking facial technology. But the genre seems rather sparse; perhaps it's just not as popular. Regardless, the team at A Crowd of Monsters published and developed their own noir mystery with Blues and Bullets. It's an episodic title that gives players a glimpse in a real life figure, portrayed in a fictional tale.
Back in the late 1920s, Agent Elliot Ness led a team of about 11 other agents known as the Untouchables to help take down the ongoing prohibition problem mainly caused by Al Capone. They successfully led to his 11 year imprisonment for tax evasion in 1931. Blues and Bullets gives us a perspective after the fact, painting a faux history of an older Elliot Ness, retired and owning a diner called Blues and Bullets in Santa Esperanza. The first episode begins with a chilling intro, letting us play from the perspective of kidnapped children in some obscure cult-looking dungeon. It seemed out of context at first, but we are quickly fed information in the diner that Elliot couldn't solve a case of missing children, and that that was what caused him to retire. Things take an intriguing turn when we are reintroduced to Al Capone, and are asked to aide him in finding the whereabouts of his missing granddaughter.
The rest of the first episode plays out like a rollercoaster of different tempos. We have some fairly slow moments of just walking around diner, chilling moments of investigating a gruesome murder and piecing the information you discovered. And then there are sporadic psychological bits that give us a taste of what it's like inside the head of Elliot Ness, who is clearly facing some inner demons. Episode 2 begins immediately after the events of 1, and without spoiling too much of the story, it maintains these different paces throughout. I found it pretty gripping at times, and a genuinely curious mystery. Sticking to the noir theme, it definitely doesn't pull punches in depicting some of the more gruesome mutilations, nor does it shy away from topics like child abduction. To top this all off, there are moments in the game where you can alter the course of your path. At the end of each episode, you're given a percentile ranking of other users who may have chosen your path, akin to TellTale's The Walking Dead.
The game is a third person game that essentially mirrors traditional point-and-click gameplay like other recent titles like King's Quest and The Walking Dead. Elliot scans the environment until you find a large red eye, indicating there's something worth checking out. There are random psychological moments where the player simply moves forward as certain things are thrown your way, and first person dream sequence that takes a turn into some light psychological horror. It's admirable to see the game juggle so many different artistic views, and they all seem to add different layers and elements to the overall mystery. One of the biggest issues with doing something like this in a video game, is that juggling too many things could cause you to lose focus, and thankfully this isn't the case. These segments are placed rather strategically and you are quickly brought back to the main point of the game.
There are random segments where the game has you involved in shootouts. It plays rather on rails as you are moved from cover to cover with a new shooting gallery. On top of that, the actual shooting is pretty loose, with targeting feeling flimsy and less precise. I can understand that this isn't the crux of the game so there probably wasn't a lot of consideration compared to other aspects, but it only leaves me wondering why they needed this, or why they couldn't have made quick time segments out of these moments like they did with other action segments.
The evidence collecting gameplay portion is pretty neat, but it's a pretty big handhold. Everything with a red eye is presumed evidence, and you need to be the one to place each piece of information in their proper context. Solving the who's, the why's, and how's are divided in branches with slots for different pieces of information. The biggest issue here is that there's really no penalization for accidentally choosing incorrectly. Choosing the wrong piece for the wrong portion of evidence only leads audio and visual cues letting you know you're doing something wrong. It would have been neat to see failed outcomes, especially in a game already attempting plot turns and offers a freedom of choice for segments.
Blues and Bullets takes noir rather literally with the game's visual appearance. It is predominantly in black and white throughout the entirety, with colour thrown in thoughtful places. All the reds stand out, similar to Sin City, with Elliot's red tie highlighted on his black and white character model, and other things like fire illuminate certain areas, giving colour to that portion. This isn't a benchmark title, with some awkward animations, and flatter textures, but I really dig the artistic style and lighting. The framerate does slow down quite a bit in various segments, which is a shame.
Like a Raymond Chandler book in its early chapters, Blues and Bullets has captured my attention, and I look forward to following Elliot Ness' mystery and further moral choices. The story stays true to its noir genre and comes off as a solid mystery, with some fairly good detective mechanics. The alternate history of Elliot Ness and Al Capone was done in a really creative way. I hope that the future episodic releases can continue the same stylized pacing the first two episodes have put forth.
- Neat noir aesthetic for a film-noir inspired title.
- Great juggling of investigative, mystery and psychological horror elements without losing focus.
- Great faux-history tale incorporating figures like Elliot Ness and Al Capone.
Would have liked the evidence gathering to offer some penalization.
The textures and animations are a little rough around the edges at times.
The shooting mechanics are pretty loose.
Overall Score: 7/10