Title: Blues and Bullets - Ep. 1: The End of Peace
Developer: A Crowd of Monsters (@CrowdOfMonsters)
Platforms: Xbox One, PC
Arguably, episodic adventure games are hitting their peak. As a fan of story driven games, I am absolutely in love with this genre (albeit, a bit frustrated with it at times due to the wait time between episodes, a fact exaggerated that much more when the series is excellent). When I saw the first trailer for Blues and Bullets, I was immediately hooked on the concept. An alternate reality crime saga featuring a heavy noir style and focusing on Elliot Ness and the mob? Sign me up! After months of anticipation and teases, developer A Crowd of Monsters’ latest outing has finally made its debut on the Xbox One and does little to disappoint.
Blues and Bullets centers around the story of a retired Elliot Ness (yes, The Untouchables own!), who now runs a diner aptly named Blues and Bullets. It’s clear that while Elliot is very happy with his newfound career path, he hasn’t quite escaped the toll that his career as a detective has taken on him. When a recently released from prison Al Capone sends his new right hand man to pay him a visit at the diner, Ness is soon brought back into a world he desperately wanted to escape, as Capone seeks his help in locating his kidnapped granddaughter.
In this debut episode, A Crowd of Monsters focuses on laying the foundation for the series by fleshing out Elliot and Al’s rich history, as well as the psychological damage their infamous feud has taken on Ness over the years. From flashbacks to dream sequences, players gain an immense amount of information on Ness, helping build an understanding of his current mindset as he reluctantly embarks on this new investigation.
One of the standout things about this title is the visual style. Reminiscent of a Frank Miller flick, the world is presented in black, white, and red. The visuals look incredible as wet roads shine in the moonlight and explosions light up otherwise dully lit areas. The various environments each have a unique feel to them, whether it’s the luxurious lobby of a high-end hotel or a littered crime scene. Players are set on very specific paths, however, so while these areas can appear large, players may be limited to only experiencing a small section of them at a time.
Like many of the excellent adventure games of today, gameplay is simplistic yet perfect for the occasion. Once given control of Ness, players use the left stick to walk, while items of interest are highlighted with a red eye symbol that morphs into a prompt to “press ‘A’ to interact” when close. Seeing that Ness is doing detective work, it’s natural to expect some good old fashioned shootouts! Ness will automatically go into cover during these moments, leaving players with the simple task of highlighting the guys shooting at them with the right stick, holding LT, and firing with RT. Other combat instances bring about close-quarters encounters, which are handled as quick-time events that ask players to hit a button. Thankfully — and similarly to the early Xbox One title Ryse — the buttons required appear as they do on the Xbox One controller, so if you need to hit “A,” the prompt will appear on the bottom of the screen.
As expected, with Ness being a detective and helping a notorious mobster and all, there are crime scenes to investigate in which players are tasked with scoping out the area for clues. Not only does Ness collect the evidence, but a corkboard-style puzzle system comes into play that allows Elliot to piece together the events that transpired based on the clues presented to him. While not overly challenging, these systems work well together and keep things fresh throughout the episode.
Player choice comes into play in many instances throughout this episode, from something small like adding various amounts of sauce to a burger, to bigger decisions like whether or not to pull the trigger during a heated argument. I’m not sure how some choices will tie into the overall story arc, but several choices I’ve already made are noted by characters that recall a decision I made in a previous chapter. Many of the options presented to players are immediately acted upon and influence the current tide of events, so while there are a lot of options, they seem to always have a meaningful effect and purpose.
On the technical side of things, Blues and Bullets can use a lot of improvement. One of my biggest gripes with the game is that the audio is very inconsistent. Music often plays much too loud in certain areas, and the sound quality of character dialogue varies. While Ness and the other main characters come through crystal clear, I found it hard to hear some of the supporting characters at times, even if there wasn’t anything playing in the background. Many animations are rather awkward as well, as faces look odd up close, lip synching is noticeably off at times, and even Elliot’s jogging animation (done by holding “B”) looks strange. Thankfully, none of this will hinder your enjoyment of the game, and I didn’t run into any slowdown outside of the occasional loading screen between sections and chapters.
Lastly, the soundtrack is superb. Music ties into each scene appropriately, and many of the tunes are hauntingly beautiful for the time period they’re representing. The games title track, “Blues and Bullets,” perfectly sets the tone for the events that unfold once the game begins.
Blues and Bullets debut episode is the perfect way to begin a series. With a strong focus on building an understanding of the main cast of characters, the series is definitely off to a great start. From the striking visuals to the various gameplay mechanics on display, A Crowd of Monsters has done a great job bringing this alternate history tale to life. With a strong foundation laid, I eagerly await what the next episode will bring as Ness’ investigation has only just begun.
This review was of the Xbox One version of Blues and Bullets. Review code provided by the kind folks at A Crowd of Monsters.
- Large focus on character development
- Unique visual style
- Brilliant soundtrack
- Lots of player choices
- Volumes constantly fluctuate
- Some awkward animations