Blues and Bullets, an episodic crime -noir adventure game by A Crowd of Monsters, sets the hardboiled tone with its monochromatic (plus red) color design and a cast of notorious, historically well-known players from America’s criminal history. Its first episode originally was released last summer for Xbox and Steam, but the first two episodes were finally released for the PS4 last week. Development for the final three episodes is still in progress; they will be released one by one as they are done.
In Blues and Bullets, you follow Eliot Ness, the famous American Prohibition agent, in an alternate reality where he retired from the force as is now running a diner. His claim to fame while he was an authority figure was locking up Al Capone, the infamous Italian gangster, as a revenge for killing his best friend and fellow coworker. His retirement takes a sharp turn from food service back to criminal justice, however, when he gets a request from Capone to save his granddaughter who has been kidnapped.
Each episode explores the intertwining relationship between Ness and Capone. We find out that Ness is not straight and narrow and actually has a shady past. We also find out that in this alternate reality, Capone is not as invincible as we think he is. He is willing to do anything to save his granddaughter, and trusting the man who locked him up is just the tip of the iceberg. Finally, we also get snippets of Capone’s granddaughter’s captivity with a really dark and crazy cult with a fascination for children.
You play as Ness majority of the game, but also Capone’s granddaughter in certain smaller segments. Blues and Bullets mirrors most episodic dramas, where you choose a response to some questions and decisions to get different outcomes. There are also certain actions and events that has to be completed in order to progress the story.
One of the main events in each episode is to link clues in a cognitive map to help Ness understand what happened in the crime scene. This event is usually the lengthiest of each episode’s chapter, because of the collection task. Some clues require some manipulation and interaction, such as opening a briefcase or searching for bloody footprints. Collecting clues can be fun, especially if playing detective is your thing. Solving the puzzle is not hard at all; in fact, the game does not punish you for making the wrong assumption and gives you unlimited tries.
There are also shooting events that breaks the monotonous pace of choosing dialogues, collecting clues, and solving the crime. Thankfully, these are plentiful and at least two chapters are shooting events in each episode. The shooting events consists of taking cover and shooting at enemies, and sometimes it allows you to change cover or use a different weapon besides the trusty handgun. It also has some quick-time events, where you have to press certain buttons at a certain time in order to not die or lose. Just like the crime solving events, the shooting events are quite easy and gives the player a lot of leeway in taking hits before dying.
Ironically, you would think a title like Blues and Bullets would have some blue in it, but there is not. The developers really took an artistic direction by having the whole game in black and white and kept all the shades of red. It is a very cool concept and the deep tones of red pop in certain scenes, however, the color scheme does hinder the gameplay in certain aspects. This is particularly true in the shooting scenes, where a fine red circle is used as the targeting mechanic, and oftentimes, the target blends in with the background so well that you cannot see where you are shooting at.
To Buy or Not to Buy
Despite certain blunders on the design and gameplay assimilation, Blues and Bullets is definitely a game to try out especially if you are itching for a good crime story. The color choices, while I certainly think is cool, may not appeal to everyone; fortunately, the game is episodic, so you can at least try out the first episode, get a sense of how it plays and how it looks, and decide from there whether you want the full experience.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Work Alongside a Former Nemesis to Save a Life
Plot - 7/10
Gameplay - 7/10
Design - 7/10
+Alternate history featuring Al Capone and Eliot Ness
+Cool colors of monochrome with a pop of red
-Targeting mechanics gets lost easily with the background