Interactive drama meets classic Noire in the personal and violent first episode.
Blues And Bullets centers around ex-cop Elliot Ness (voiced by Doug Cockle who is best known as Geralt from the Witcher series) as he struggles with life after Al Capone kills his closest friends on the Police Force. Ultimately, Capone is indicted on charges of tax evasion while Ness tries to move on and opens a diner. Although he’s retired, Ness still finds himself haunted by increasing reports of child abductions in the city, so when he’s approached by someone [redacted to prevent spoilers] halfway through the first episode, he agrees to start looking into the cases as a private investigator.
From there, Blues And Bullets will probably feel like an incredibly familiar experience. It borrows quite liberally from other successful interactive drama games from the past decade to create a rough-around-the-edges but altogether gripping experience. Some might find themselves turned off by just how much the game takes from 2011’s L.A. Noire or the various TellTale games, but what ultimately sets Blues And Bullets apart is its undeniable sense of style. The game uses classic noire black and white to push a somber tone while also adding vibrant red to accent brutal violence. On top of slick visual design, the game has a few excellent scenes. In one of my favorites, Ness is describing a crime after finding all the clues. As he talks, the camera twists and turns as white silhouettes act out what’s saying. The entire section feels satisfying and feels like a reward for doing actual detective work.
While the first two scenes in the game feel like a bit of a slog as the writers create the backdrop for Ness, the game takes off as soon as the alt-history narrative comes into play. As soon as I boarded a gondola that took me to Zeppelin hotel high above the city, I felt like I had been sucked into a world I had never experienced in gaming. In fact, developer A Crowd Of Monsters made me feel something other games hadn’t made me feel in years – uncomfortable. When the game really takes off in scene four, there is a scene so shockingly violent, I felt genuinely disturbed while rummaging through the grisly crime scene. And that’s a good thing. Very rarely do games use violence so succinctly. In a graphic game like Gears of War, carnage is just part of the game and it quickly seems comical as blood sprays like a fountain. But when violence in games is brutal but also eerily realistic, it has a tremendous effect on the experience. Even after the credits rolled for episode one, I still felt shook from the experience.
Blues And Bullets might not have the best graphics and the visuals occasionally bug out, but in no means should it hinder you from finishing this short but worthwhile experience. At certain points, A Crowd Of Monsters may ape classic noire films to the point of cringeworthy cliché, but in many ways, it feels like to the homage to the long-forgotten genre. For that reason, the game feels much more Maltese Falcon than it does Sin City, but gamers with an appreciation for classic films should still feel perfectly at home here.
It’s hard to say if the other four episodes can capitalize on the slow-burning but nonetheless enjoyable debut, but after my time with the game, I’m ready to put my feet back into the troubled shoes of Elliot Ness.
Blues And Bullets was played on an Xbox One using a press-copy courtesy of A Crowd Of Monsters.