Blues and Bullets Episodes 1 & 2 - HighrezGaming

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Blues and Bullets Episodes 1 & 2 / 21st of April 2016

Episodic games have become the new way to portray a big narrative in gaming recently. We have seen it from the huge number of games that Telltale release on a regular basis to great success, whilst other companies, especially Indie developers, can find episodic gaming to be better on both their budget and their creative freedom. Blues and Bullets is one of these new series, coming from the indie studio A Crowd of Monsters. Will this series prove to match up to the standards set by other franchises? Time to find out.


The game’s story is of course its main focus. Set in an alternate reality 1950’s in which American hero Eliot Ness, part of the ‘untouchables’ police agency group who put away notorious gangster Al Capone, has retired from police work and has decided to open up his own diner called Blues and Bullets. However, his new line of work doesn’t last, and he is brought back into the world of crime by the very person he put away, Al Capone, who, after being released from jail, locates Eliot to help him locate his kidnapped daughter and uncover the plot behind a child kidnapping cult. The story is very much a crime drama, the twist of him owning a diner has practically no effect on the plot which is a shame as I would have liked to see how that could have made this game stand out from other crime noir thrillers. And when I say this is noir I mean that to the most extreme extent, think Sin City as a video game but as a crime drama instead and you’ve pretty much summed up this game. The first episode is extremely hectic from introducing characters and getting us familiar with the gameplay mechanics, however, I didn’t really find myself too engaged with it. The second episode is far more action packed though, and it’s also filled with a lot more backstory filler content. Personally, I found myself enjoying the second episode more than the first and the inclusion of a ‘previously on’ section would help to keep people up to date.
The presentation is a bit of a mixed bag for me. While the interesting black and white on red colour scheme does certainly give this game the noir tone and make it stand out from a lot of other narrative driven episodic releases, I feel like this style was chosen mostly to hide the outright poor texture quality that this game has. It really feels like a game that was made a long time ago with muddy textures, terrible animation work and laughable facial expressions. While I wouldn’t expect to be up to the levels of the triple A department with this being an indie project, it makes me feel as though the specific colour palette was chosen simply to make up for the lack of quality textures. This can be seen by the lighting which, while moody, does seem to struggle at times, especially with indoor areas as it often becames too dark for me to even see what was going on. In action sections they include red outlines for people and obvious button prompts so that people can actually see what they are doing, otherwise the visuals all just tend to blend together. The music score is your typical noir jazz and blues with some orchestrated pieces thrown in, however, there isn’t anything there that really grabs you or stands out in particular. The voice acting is downright hilarious at times, which is a shame as it makes the game feel confused with the tone it is trying to establish. Sometimes it feels like it is trying to be a satire on the genre with laughable dialogue and stilted animations making fight scenes seem like something out of the Benny Hill Show and yet it covers dark subject matter and disturbing imagery. It genuinely confused me as to the tone it was going for, which proves to be a huge mark down for this game.

The gameplay itself is your standard fair when it comes to episodic narrative-driven games. You watch cutscenes play out and make decisions in them which can affect things that happen later on in the story and there are also quick time events that you have to deal with at times. What this game does do differently, however, is a type of on-rails shooter mechanic whenever the main character gets involved in a shootout. These sections are incredibly easy and can prove to be a bit stilted and stiff at times but they do help to make the game more exciting, though I’m not entirely sure why they give you the ability to swap between pieces of cover as I did absolutely fine without needing to bother. There is also a detective/crime solving section in both episodes that requires you to look around a location, find clues and piece together exactly what has happened. It reminded me a bit of L.A. Noire and it does play out these sections well, however, the game became a slog in these parts due to one simple thing, Eliot walks so…so slowly. There is no way to speed him up and you will feel like simply walking from one room to another in order to find a clue is a slog and it makes these sections less enjoyable than they ought to be, which is a damn shame as these parts are by far some of the most interesting sections of the story.
In the end then this game doesn’t seem to live up to the high standards that I expected of it very well. There was actually a section in the second episode which involved it switching into a first person perspective in an incredibly stylish and artistic sequence, and I feel as though the game would have perhaps benefitted if it had been done from this perspective during all of its gameplay segments as it not only made the environment easier to navigate but also allow the stylistic noir lighting to really show itself well and not prove to be a hindrance. Slap on a sprint function to Eliot and you have yourself a much more bearable game with an intriguing look into an alternate history timeline. However, with how the series is going that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, and with the laughable animations and strange, inconsistent tone I would hold off on the rest of the episodes unless the story is really gripping you.
Jack McKay
 
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