Blues and Bullets is a curious beast. Part Mafia thriller, part point and click adventure, it had enough interesting ideas and concepts to colour me intrigued, but playing through the first episode, something seems to be preventing it from sailing to loftier heights.
Set in the fictional city of Santa Esperanza you play as Elliot Ness, the real life Prohibition cop of The Untouchables fame, hired to take a job by none other than the man who helped make him famous, Al Capone. While both protagonist and antagonist in real life, the story takes some artistic license in the telling – that’s not to say the game now has them as besties, but one or two liberties are taken to better suite the narrative, so don’t go into this thinking it is a historically accurate account, and at no point does the game try to fool you otherwise.
Starting the game you find Ness retired from the police, although still keeping in by serving them burgers in his diner, “Blues and Bullets”. It is here that our story begins (after a quick scene in a rather elaborate underground catacomb plays out that serves as the games’s prologue) when a shady character arrives and ominously places a bullet from Ness’s past upon the counter. The story does a good job of introducing the set up and main characters quickly with sufficient detail as to follow what is going on, the characters and dialogue doing a good job of filling you in, even if the characters themselves do feel a little stereotypical (here’s looking at you caretaker on the Hindenberg). Just as with the portrayal of real life people, locales from history also make an appearance, notably the Hindenberg, that is portrayed here as an up market flying cruise ship – it’s purpose (at least so far as I can tell 3 chapters in to the 5 chapter episode 1) is to serve as a bit of window dressing to quickly show how wealthy the ageing Al Capone is when you meet him in the present day.
Graphically the game is striking to look at, each scene decked out in shades of grey, with certain aspects of the scenery stood out in stark contrast in bright blood-red, similar to the Sin City films. This choice serves the grizzled narrative well, and at times it is beautiful to look at, but I also found the bright red-eye that signalled items of importance or objects that I could interact with to be quite jarring and pull you out of what is generally a good-looking game.
My main complaint when playing Blues and Bullets is the fact that when controlling Ness, he moves so slooooowly. You can run by pressing the B button, but even then his pace barely improves, and his character model seems to shift from a slow, confident detective swagger to clumsy and lumbering OAP jogger. This quickly becomes frustrating, as it can make getting from A to B a bit of a laborious process – I get that each environment is painstakingly created, but when the main character walks at an icebergs pace I found my patience wearing a bit thin, at the expense of exploring each location a bit more thoroughly than I perhaps would have done had he moved through each a bit quicker.
During the course of Episode 1 there are a few instances when Ness does pull out his gun, and the game shifts from point and click to on rails shooter. This sections are done well, particularly the stylised section that has enemies hiding behind words taken from Ness’s grizzled monologue after meeting up with Capone in the present day – hard to describe but you will know it when I see it. These sections have Ness running from cover to cover as you move a giant cursor that zooms in when you pop out from your hidey hole, and are a nice addition to break up the quite story driven first episode, but I didn’t really feel challenged or in any danger of death during any of these shooting sections, easily aligning the cursor and then popping out to take my shot, but it seems that the difficulty has been omitted in favour of the story.
Episode one of Blues and Bullets is a short, whistle-stop tour. Does it have me interested enough to go and buy the next episode? Perhaps. Although not as instantly gripping as The Walking Dead or Life is Strange, it does do something different – playing on the alternate history angle and the shooting sections are a nice touch, but the game is all about the story, and similarly to Life is Strange, the impact of player choice, such as the outcome of particular actions or responses during a conversation. Interestingly enough, I didn’t find myself mulling over my decisions the way I normally do in these sort of games; not once did I fight the urge to reload a checkpoint in order to change the outcome of a particular scenario.
The story and voice acting do a great job of quickly laying out whatever it is you have to do, so much so that I was confident with my decisions that I made when playing as Ness. It is for this reason that I am tempted into buying episode 2, in order to see how the choices I made impact the story further down the line, provided Ness buys a pair of trainers to make him move a bit quicker.
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