Blues and Bullets – Episode 1 Review (PC)

Blues and Bullets – Episode 1 Review (PC)

Episodic games have been everywhere recently. At least, everywhere Telltale Games can put them. Between the fantastic Wolf Among Us, the long-standing The Walking Dead, and the upcoming Minecraft game, Telltale have made a great statement that episodic games are the real deal, and here to stay.

But Telltale isn’t the only company in town putting out high-quality episodic content.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, an episodic video game is one where you get slices of content every few weeks, just enough to keep you playing for a few hours at a time. The idea is that it feels like you’re reading individual comics that build up to a full story arc, or watching episodes of a TV show. Usually, the decisions you make in each episode will come back in some way later on.

Enter Blues and Bullets, the detective-themed episodic title from indie studio A Crowd of Monsters. Set in the era of Mafia wars and all-American diners, you take the role of Elliot Ness, former detective, and ex-leader of the legendary Untouchables. After bringing down Al Capone, Ness retired from the business to open his diner, Blues, and Bullets. Ness is hired by Capone to hunt down whoever kidnapped his beloved granddaughter, but there are more sinister workings afoot than just a kidnapping. Kids from all over are disappearing…

The story and voice acting are brilliant, especially for the main characters. I’ve played AAA titles with less believable characters. From the creepy beginning, where you control a child trapped in some kind of underground dungeon, to the startling end, which forces you to make some quick decisions on your feet, Blues and Bullets is written well enough to draw you in and keep you hooked.

While the animations aren’t flawless, the general graphics through Blues and Bullets are up to scratch. Blues and Bullets has an art style that is instantly recognizable to fans of the noir genre, and especially of Sin City. The stark shades of black and white are broken only by occasional splashes of red, generally used to draw your attention to objects. It’s a striking style that I don’t think I could ever get tired of. There’s one scene in particular, where you channel your inner true detective to help Ness put together the events leading up to a crime, that splashes red throughout the scene ferociously, and it works magnificently to set the tone.

While I don’t want to spoil the details of that scene, as it’s one of the highlights of episode one in my opinion, I was somewhat disappointed by the detective work in general. You gather clues from the environment and have to decide what clues fit the various parts of the crime Ness is trying to piece together. The thing is, you can’t give the wrong answer, as the game simply refuses an incorrect suggestion, and there’s no punishment for guessing poorly. When I realized that, the scene felt more like trial and error than actual detective work. Luckily, the story in the scene made me not give a damn.

I’d like to take a moment to tell the developers, that I personally hate them for the cliffhanger ending. It left me craving episode two, which sadly isn’t out yet.

Gameplay in Blues and Bullets is slow when you’re out of combat. Ness moves sluggishly, which is perhaps fitting for a man of his age, and there’s no option to make him hurry it up a little. The fixed camera point means you occasionally find yourself walking into an object, rather than around it. When you are in a gunfight, you lose control of Ness’s movements altogether. You get to aim and shoot your gun, but moving from cover to cover and through areas is scripted. There aren’t enough firefights in episode one for this to be a major complaint, though.

Blues and Bullets is what would come trickling out of a blender if you filled it with LA Noire’s detective story, Telltale Games’ quick decision-making and episodic format, and Sin City’s art style. And yeah, it tastes good enough, in the end, to live up to that. Sure, the occasionally shoddy animations and the low-paced gameplay leave a few chunks in the mix that you can either chew through or spit out, but Blues and Bullets is, for me, a must-buy.