A dark and gritty noir adventure, this brand new episodic series puts you in the shoes of the famous ‘Untouchable’ Elliot Ness – the man responsible for the arrest of Al Capone. Ness has since retired from the force and is running a diner frequented by police and other law workers; safe to say he has settled in with his new line of work. But not for long, as he is approached by a man saying he works for his former nemesis Capone, who is after the retired detective’s help. A string of child abductions have been blighting the city, and the latest victim is Capone’s granddaughter. So Ness decides to pick up his investigating hat (his metaphorical hat that is) and try to figure out what’s going on.

There are some clear comparisons to be made with other episodic titles, such as The Walking Dead, with respect to both its format and gameplay. Obviously Blues and Bullets is an episodic title, this episode being the first of five, and the pacing and drive of the story are prioritised in order to keep the player interested. This basically means there’s a lot of exposition, dialogue and slow but sure gameplay with an emphasis on exploration over action. In terms of fundamental gameplay, you pilot your character Ness around areas, looking at things, interacting with objects and talking to some characters where you can. But more interestingly, the game also has some unique elements in the genre in the form of shooting sections and investigations.

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Shooting is a bit weird to be honest, and I don’t mean that as a criticism. Basically you will, in a couple of sections of the episode, have to engage in what is essentially on-rails combat. You’re in third person view, Ness takes cover behind a wall or another object, and you have to pop up and take out the guys that are firing at you…simple. There is sometimes a prompt to change cover if you wish, but it seems kind of superfluous. There’s no weapon selection and no ammo to run out of, just short and sharp encounters. I suppose you could criticise it for not being particularly complex or interesting, but I do feel it adds a nice action touch to the game. And it’s better than the shooting sections in The Walking Dead, that’s for sure.

The investigations on the other hand provide a much more thought-out experience. Try to imagine an amalgamation of The Walking Dead, L.A. Noire and Murdered: Soul Suspect (if Murdered’s investigation actually made any sense, that is), and you will have a good idea of what the investigations play like. You enter the crime scene, are confronted with the crime and must piece together various bits of evidence in order to come to a conclusion. So you wander around the area looking at things, picking up objects and examining them, then trying to determine the most relevant piece of evidence to your question – for example, how did the attack begin; the attacker came through the window, threw the victim across the room, etc – which will then open up another branch of questions like what did the attacker do next, or where is this missing piece of evidence (roughly like that, I wouldn’t want to spoil the actual investigation). It’s really quite good. It’s an engaging way of undertaking investigation – having you find the evidence and then piece it together yourself – it’s undoubtedly the game’s stand-out feature.

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But in other respects, particularly before the investigation section, I wasn’t so impressed. The exploration and interaction elements are decidedly lacklustre – each area presents a few items or views to ‘inspect’ that will come with a comment from Ness, but they don’t add much to give you a better feel of the area or story, and ultimately there’s not actually that many of them. It was great wandering around in The Walking Dead and looking at seemingly mundane objects, as they would give you a good sense of place; but there’s very little of that here. Additionally, the game feels decidedly low budget. Now, I don’t have much of an issue with the game looking a bit dated, or even the animations being slightly stilted, but some of this extends to the gameplay. Ness’ movement is very clunky and slow, making it look and feel awkward to explore; and for what is clearly supposed to be a gritty title, wonky animations can take you out of it just a little.

Similarly, the voice acting – which was hyped up pre-release, boasting actors from The Witcher and Mirrors Edge – is not actually that great. Ness has some solid voice acting, but other characters are sub-par, which really makes me struggle to take things seriously. It also takes a while for the game to go anywhere, which is the last thing you want from an episodic title – considering the first hour or so (the game lasts roughly two hours), I was just finding it all a bit dull. And these supposed important decisions/choices you have to make along the way don’t really give much of an impression. You get a screen at the end which shows your decisions, and who know, maybe in later episodes they will have some meaningful effect, but for now they don’t seem that impressive…in fact, some seem a little silly – in one instance you’re given the choice to drink juice or answer the telephone.

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It’s unfortunate, because actually Blues and Bullets has a very interesting story and setting once you get into it. The black and white with touches of red here and there makes for a very appealing aesthetic, and the time period is an interesting one. Not to mention the actual drive of the story. The kidnappings seem to be a little more sinister than they first appear, with cultish elements that lend a bit of horror to the game – the opening scene, in which you play as one of the kidnapped children, is actually quite tense and creepy. It’s also not for the faint hearted – this episode’s investigation is particularly brutal, and really drives home that this is a dark tale.

I mentioned that it takes a while to get into the game, which is true – first impressions were not great – but I did leave with an improved opinion come the conclusion; and I’m actually quite excited to see what happens in the next episode. I think the game has some unique spins on the episodic adventure genre. The shooting is a bit simplistic, but definitely adds some excitement; and I cannot wait to do some more investigating. It’s just a shame the rest of the game is a little bland. Hopefully this will be sorted in the next episode (as things get going), because there is a lot of potential here.



Author

John Little
John Little

I started gaming with the release of the PS1 - Crash Bandicoot and Ridge Racer Revolution being the first 'real' games I ever set eyes on - and have been enthralled with the medium ever since. I particularly love strategy and horror games, the sort offered by titles such as Total War and Silent Hill, though I also have a soft spot for a good RPG. I studied Journalism at university in the hopes of progressing into writing about games. You'll most likely find me covering indie games as I'm always on the look out for interesting little titles, and generally I stick to the PC and PS4 platforms. I'm not interested in MMOs or really any kind of online game, and I have an unusual and frankly worryingly expensive obsession with collecting gaming guide books, but aside from that I like to think I'm a well rounded average gamer. Find me on twitter @JohnLittle29