Xbox ONE Reviews

Blues and Bullets – Episode 1 Review: Style over Substance

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Adventure games are definitely “in” right now thanks to the success of Telltale’s titles. That means that more and more companies are throwing their hat in the ring to create evocative, interesting episodic stories. Blues and Bullets is a new example of a mafia-era noir take on the genre.

Set in a clear alternate history, Blues and Bullets follows an aged Eliot Ness, the real-life person who took down Al Capone, who, now retired, runs a diner. However he is thrown back into the role of detective after Capone, finally free after 20 years in jail, convinces Ness to help him find his missing granddaughter. The story is dark, featuring elements of the occult and centers around strange, masked people who are clearly kidnapping children. It’s a game that doesn’t shy away from bad things happening to kids, something very rare in games today. It’s creepy and unsettling. Mix this in with some weird alt-history settings like a luxurious hotel set aboard a blimp, and you have a game unlike any other.

10

Like any adventure title, the gameplay in Blues and Bullets is primarily done through dialog choices and quick time events. There’s even some on-rails third person shooter segments to break things up. However most of what you’ll be doing is walking through environments looking for items that can either be observed or interacted with. It’s pretty straightforward stuff here, none of it is done poorly but nothing really stands out either.

What does stand out is the game’s striking visual style. The entire world is portrayed in black and white, except for the color red. The world is lit up through these touches of red: Ness’ tie, the lit signs on his diner and of course lots and lots of blood at crime scenes. More over than just the choice of colors is how the game presents the noir narrative. One particularly effective sequence features Ness walking down an alley, monologuing (naturally) with his thoughts  appearing to his left and right in giant white and red letters. This sequence slowly turns into a shooter with Ness and his foes literally using the letters as cover. It’s impressive sequence that highlights just how impressive the visuals and style of the game can be.

1

True to proper mafia stories, this is a noir through and through. Ness has a constant inner monologue and expect there to be dames, booze, and tons of mystery. Voice acting is sufficient with both adult and child actors doing a good job. Ness is appropriately gruff and Capone appropriately vain. My favorite character ended up being Milton, Capone’s second hand man who is tall and imposing but clearly has a soft, peaceful side.

This first episode of Blues and Bullets spends a lot of time setting up the world and characters, to a fault. You’ll bounce back to prohibition era to witness Ness finally taking down Capone. You’ll be introduced to Ness’ old police buddies and friends. You’ll see little kids trying to escape some type of dungeon. There’s a lot going on but not a lot actually happens.

The story does finally pick up near the end of the chapter when you investigate someone involved in the disappearance of Capone’s granddaughter. This leads to a Se7en-esque scene where you piece together the events of the murder by finding clues. It’s the best part of the episode but you have to slog through a lot of exposition to get to it.

23

Blues and Bullets offers an interesting alt-history take on the fabled Ness-Capone relationship. The style and art makes it easily stand out from other games in the genre but the first episode has pretty lackluster gameplay and the storytelling can get a little slow at times. Still it does a good enough job and ends on a nice cliffhanger to keep you interested for the next episode. I love the idea of seeing the very straightforward, realistic Ness being thrust into an occult world, which is where Blues and Bullets seems to heading and I’m looking forward to being there.

SCORE: 7.5 out of 10

A code for Blues and Bullets – Episode 1 was provided to Pixel Related for review

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