The fictional city of Santa Esperanza is a particularly gloomy place that’s no stranger to incessant crime, violence and misfortune. Developed by A Crowd of Monsters, Blues and Bullets is a five-part episodic adventure set within an alternate history America. The game itself is heavily influenced by Noir tropes, in all aspects of its narrative to the highly stylised aesthetic. Blues and Bullets first episode begins with a most mysterious case as you become embroiled in this macabre narrative.
You are introduced to the infamous real-life Prohibition Agent, Eliot Ness, who within the game’s own history, has hung up his badge and whisky swivelling ways for a much humbler profession as a diner owner (eponymously named after the game’s title), that’s not exempt from some rude clientele. The game’s fictionalised history plays heavily with notorious characters and events, offering up some zany alternatives. One such character is that of Al Capone, who seems to play an integral part in kicking off this story. Needless to say, the game wouldn’t be inherently Noir without an obscure case that only the Protagonist himself can solve. That’s precisely where Blues and Bullets leads you, with some added twists and turns along the way.
Dialogue choice plays an intrinsic part in the game as you choose how Ness will react in any given situation. This feature feels as though it’s in place to ultimately pool together your choices with some gratifying consequences, but so far these choices, at least where episode one is concerned, feel unimportant. Blues and Bullets brings minimal characters into the fold for episode one, presumably saving essential figures for later episodes. Characters depicted within the game are visually a little rough around the edges, however, this never gets in the way of the game’s stylised aesthetic and cinematic presence, which is where Blues and Bullets truly shines.
Primarily clad in black and white, save for the heavily accented bright red colour that’s prevalent throughout the entire game. It’s incredibly reminiscent of Frank Miller’s Sin City, and it’s not hard to see why. Environments look gritty and bleak altogether emphasising the turmoil of the city. The game’s directional camera is implemented perfectly, as it creatively scopes out each scene in a cinematic manner. Music is continuously present within the game as undertones of blues and jazz correlate well with each scene.
The gameplay mechanics of Blues and Bullets are similar to that of a Telltale game, with points of interest to interact with, along with some overly simplified quick-time events. The character movement and overall directional navigation can feel slightly compromised as various environments and almost seem ‘boxed-in’ as you attempt to steer Ness through an instance. The most disappointing thing about Blues and Bullets is its combat mechanics, specifically gun fights. Ness will automatically move to cover as you clumsily aim to take out enemies. In this regard, the shooting sequences of the game feels dumbed down and in turn, lacks any form of challenge.
Minor flawed gun-play aside, Blues and Bullets is a game primarily focused on narrative and style, which makes its gameplay transgressions all the more forgivable. The game becomes evidently more exciting when Ness dusts off his old detective skills when you encounter your first mysterious murder. You’ll get to piece together clues on an investigation board, which introduces an element of deduction which you would hope to experience within a game like this.
Apart from some gameplay mechanics that never feel fully realised, Blues and Bullets still has a lot to offer. The game compares nicely to other Noir influenced titles such as L.A. Noire or The Wolf Among Us. The most impressive attribute about the game is its distinct aesthetic which is executed rather well within a video game. Although episode one of Blues and Bullets may be a tad too short, it still manages to put together a compelling narrative that you’ll genuinely want to follow. Needless to say, Blues and Bullets is a welcomed accompaniment into the Noir genre that’s sorely missing from video games.
Sunita Osborne is a games writer and contributor to PN2. You can find her on Twitter @SunitaOsborne