Blues and Bullets is an episodic detective thriller set in a film-noir theme with large nods towards Bioshock, the premise has all the ingredients for a truly memorable game.
The opening menu greets the player with a beautifully crafted Diner, painted almost completely in black and white, the only other colour on show is a striking red. Throughout the game this acts as the bullet point for the player’s attention. When first poking through the menu, it boasts a “My Choices” tab, this shows that B&B uses the butterfly effect (your choices affect how the game is played out) and the choices you made throughout your game are tallied up against other players, it’s a small but since touch. Deeper in the menu shows controller support, which always gets a vote from me, and different resolution choices that allows the game to be tailor-made to an individual set-up. When poking round the menu the backdrop moves with the player, this shows more angles of the graphic capabilities on offer, it’s another small touch but it’s nice to see nevertheless.
As the story starts it opens with a flyby of the beautiful surroundings, with the credits littered around the scenery; B&B makes this work effortlessly and because it works so well it really adds to the atmosphere of the game. The introduction cinematic is complemented by the beautiful soundtrack, which demonstrates, when done well, just how evocative music can be, the game wants you to feel curious, the soundtrack does that. The game wants you to feel vulnerable, the soundtrack does it, the game wants you to feel like you’re in a disgusting place, the soundtrack does it, and every sound is wonderfully encapsulates everything that’s presented on screen.
The gameplay controls for playing with M&K on PC is simple as it could be, W,A,S,D to move and E to interact, that’s it. The opening stages allow the player to explore the surroundings, interact with the environment and get a real feel for the game. On very first impressions the walking animations are very lifelike and realistic, but it’s so slow, the walking animation really could do with being sped up slightly, a small nit-pick I know, but it feels necessary. A few minutes into the game and it’s time to make your first decision and spoiler alert here; you’ll feel like a horrible person for choosing the obvious answer. As you cast your decision, the game loads a “You made a decision” banner, letting you know that the game as changed slightly, giving you the feeling that you are truly in control of the story.
Set around the Mid 1940s/50s, in the fictional town of Santa Esperanza, we meet our protagonist, Eliot Ness. The story slowly picks up speed as it becomes clear that the setting is one of the main characters this game has. The graphics are incredibly well crafted without a single feature being missed, the splashes of red really stand out especially in a busier environment. Further into the game, the weather changes dramatically and its effects hit the screen as if we are watching the events through a camera, another small, but captivating touch. There’s also an alluringly artistic section where Eliot has an inner monologue and the buildings are replaced with key words in the sentence. Frankly, this part of the game is artistically sublime, it really grabs the players attention and makes them feel a part of it all, the character interaction works really well, dialogue flows freely and every character’s voice fits wonderfully, however the facial animations were ever-so-slightly off, even though it’s clear what the character is saying, the audio and the visual are just slightly out of sync.
The environments change rapidly through this first episode, each as striking as the last, but there’s a strange disparity, the production quality doesn’t fit into triple A, but it doesn’t fit into Indie either, it almost seems like low budget wearing the skin of high budget. This feeling is most prominent halfway through because it takes place in a seemingly open area, but it’s actually closed in by invisible walls, the biggest example of “You can look, but you can’t touch.” This becomes even more striking as the second scene goes on, the fixed camera angles push the player towards an object, really limiting itself, it almost feels like the player is a passenger in the gameplay, rather than the driver.
As the game gets in full swing, the detective elements are explored in more detail. It gives a scenario and the player must figure out what happened, also why and where it happened. Walking around the player can pick up clues and they can be added to a clue tree that is slowly filled out and pieces everything together, these clues are in the form of mini-games where every angle and aspect of a clue can be viewed from, completing these investigations gives an enormous sense of reward and makes the investigation seem like a sight-seeing tour, this mechanic takes clear inspiration from La Noire.
Blues and Bullets is a game that is difficult to place into one genre, because it travels through a lot of styles, the elements of Bioshock such as the art style, character interaction and the quite obvious references (Without giving spoilers, in one scene you’re in a place that was created by an A. Ryan, a visionary with a god complex that created it from scratch, I mean, if I’m wrong and it actually has nothing to do with Bioshock, then I don’t really know what to believe.) The shooting and action elements of the game that have faint reminders of Mafia 2 (because of the fixed camera angles and cover based system,) also, the detective elements of La Noire (except a lot more in depth in the detective sections, with an actual feeling of reward.) In short, this game is for you if you loved those titles and wanted to see a hybrid of them, or if you if you played La Noire and thought “I’d enjoy this game a lot more if it wasn’t so poor, and if the story was actually engaging.”