Blues and Bullets is an episodic third person adventure game developed and published by A Crowd of Monsters. It’s a gameplay style similar to The Walking Dead developed by Telltale games) in which the player controls Elliot Ness, an ex-detective who retired from the police force, who begins the story running the Blues and Bullets diner in Santa Esperanza, an eatery frequented by cops.
This all goes swimmingly until a mysterious man delivers him a token relating to his past, which leads to the interactions between Elliot Ness and his enemy Al Capone. After the ex-mafia boss enlists his help, Elliot and a companion, Milton, embark on a thrilling but macabre tale.
The game play, while not entirely innovative, is still enjoyable. The most interesting feature is the way Ness pieces together the mystery. After touring the location, gaining a series of clues, each clue can be added to “the board” that traces the events of the murder. With each clue the player gains, they have to place it upon the board to build up a solid case of evidence. After placing all the clues, the board is complete and a cut-scene shows the series of events leading up to the murder in frames according to the evidence gathered, a bit like the Fallout ending cards.
In addition to the board, the game is full of exploration. This tended to involve navigating the areas using WASD and occasionally pressing E when I was near enough a clue, brought to my attention with a large red eye.
Despite still feeling like a detective while solving the incident, all the clues were totally blatant, with little to no searching involved other than looking for huge red icons. It would have been good if along with these main story clues, they could have implemented “hidden clues”, not so obvious but fleshing out details not vital to the main plot. This would have only added to the detective experience this game is offering to the player, by building a world around the crime rather than a linear series of events.
The combat in Blues and Bullets is split almost equally between quick-time events and shooting segments, though both are only used sparingly throughout the episode. This works to the game’s advantage, in a similar way that jump scares cannot be used too often during horror games. If the developers had chosen to add more quick time events during the game, then the tension would soon wear off. At one point during the mid-late game, a character jumps out suddenly and a series of quick-time events follow, in their attempts to fight Ness. Their surprise entrance really makes the correct key stroke feel like a matter of life and death, an effect that really works well. The shooting segments, however, leave a lot to be desired. While functional, they soon get old, as all they involve is shooting a gangster from behind cover. Fortunately these events only crop up rarely, as they do not work to the game’s benefit.
The presentation is where the game really shines. Rather than using a conventional, realistic art style, it uses 3 colours: black, white and red. The black and white make up almost everything in the game, in a similar style to other works, such Sin City. As red is the only colour used, other than black or white, it really stands out from the bleak surroundings. The blood is more vibrant and effective, along with other items that the game wants to draw to the player’s attention. Along with blood, the main use of the colour, other notable items in red are trees and Elliot Ness’ tie, making the character instantly recognisable.
While this can be overlooked to an extent as a result of being developed by an indie studio, the quality of lip syncing and facial animation is not great, and detracts from the narrative focus when characters are flapping their jaws around unrealistically.
A large positive of this game is the audio. Alongside admirably high-quality sound effects, the soundtrack to the game is also very good. It perfectly suits the mood of the game, with its Depression-era style reminiscent of other games, such as L.A. Noir.
Overall, Blues to Bullets is a highly enjoyable experience, with a consistent high quality, only let down in a couple of areas. The first episode is an impressive entry to the game and there seems no reason to doubt the following episodes will continue this trend.