Nestled within its gritty gangster noire style presentation, the Blues and Bullets episodic series is starting to come into its own. Taking real life figures from the mafia’s heyday like Eliot Ness and Al Capone, and melding their paths into a fictitious tale of crime, death, and redemption. Episode 2: Shaking the Hive continues its stride with capturing the player with it’s twists and turns into the dark underworld of human trafficking and the occult. While this episode shifts more towards the psychological and supernatural dynamic, Episode 2 elaborates on the potential the series has, and shows that its choice driven mechanics actually impact the story.
In Episode 1 we see a retired Det. Eliot Ness leave his humble life as a diner owner when he is recruited by his career nemesis, Al Capone, to find his kidnapped granddaughter. Episode 2 continues guiding us down the winding trail of clues and criminals leading us to the next key in finding Sophia Capone. You begin by entering the massive submarine of Russian mobster, Ivankov. Accompanied by Capone’s burly bodyguard Milton, Ness discovers that a human trafficking ring has been working out of the belly of the submarine. They uncover the horrors of murder, mutilation, and caged imprisonment within the watery confines. Even worse, evidence proves that Sophia was there, and sold to a mysterious buyer. Ness and Milton rustle Ivankov back to Capone for some good ol’ fashioned mafia style interrogation, in hopes of retrieving more information on Sophia’s buyer. Abruptly, they are cut short when ambushed by Ivankov’s “bodyguard” and fellow henchmen. This erupts an all out shootout of epic proportions.
In between the scenes, you get to relive flashbacks of Ness and his illustrious affair with Delphine, the wife of fellow cop, Jim Dockers. These are welcomes scenes that open the depth of the story and the characters themselves. You feel the inner conflict as Ness struggles with loyalty and betrayal, making him seem less like a pistol-wielding shell. What’s Blues and Bullets accomplishes best by far, it’s its ability to enrapture the player with its unique concept and story. I can honestly say in a year with such ambitious titles like Uncharted 4, The Division, and Quantumn Break, Blues and Bullets can comfortably sit alongside them in terms of storytelling quality. Even when all the pieces don’t work properly, the exceptional narrative can help you look past it.
Something I noticed and appreciated upon playing Episode 2 were the choices made in Episode 1 actually shape the players story in Episode 2. These weren’t just hollow questions that died with the credits, they came back and affected how other players interacted with you. It helped carry the flow of the plot and made it feel like an individual, personal experience for the player. Even when it feels like Telltale games own this genre, A Crowd of Monsters creates a world that is like none other and draws you in whole heartedly.
What cements itself just as impactful as the top-notch narrative, are the visuals. The classic black and white television style presentation, flared with bursting reds warmly welcomed me into the Blues and Bullets world. Now the textures and environmental details may not explode off-screen, but the base visual aesthetic is more than enough. They relay an almost eerie, Twilight Zone atmosphere. As I played, I was generally intrigued for the next scene, just to see how the black and white graphics would be applied. I wish the character models didn’t look so dated and stiff, but once again, it doesn’t discount the quality of the visual experience.
Okay so here’s where Blues and Bullets flaws rear its ugly head. Controls. Moving Ness along isn’t that bad, it’s clunky, but nothing that could be deemed “unplayable”. Where the problems kick in, are at the shooting mechanics. What happens is an on-the-rails mechanic takes over Ness as he moves in between different cover points. While in cover, a large circle reticle appears on-screen. The goal is to line it up with the target, pop out of cover so another smaller reticle appears, and then tighten your aim on the enemy before firing. It feels so redundant, quirky, and jarring from a smooth shooting experience you would expect. You’re essentially double aiming for every enemy. It wasn’t like I dreaded these firefight encounters, I just wished they were more satisfying.
The Blues and Bullets episodic series has graced the current round of consoles with a captivating story and distinctive gameplay loop. Episode 2 furthers the path deeper into the exceptional groundwork laid in the inaugural episode. The characters are starting to open up, and produce a sense of anticipation for the tale that s unfolding. With its alluring visual presentation, and stirring plot, I can say I’m officially on board to following the breadcrumbs to the series conclusion.
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