For the second time in a week I found myself entrenched in a Noire-themed game. The similarities between Calvino Noir and Blues and Bullets end there, however, as the latter is a TellTale-style episodic thriller that’s focused on storytelling with a bit of action sprinkled in. The first episode, entitled The End of Peace, introduces us to an alternate reality where Eliot Ness and Al Capone cross paths many years after Capone was jailed for tax evasion.
For most of your time you’ll simply be walking around, interacting with objects and selecting various conversation choices. It all works well enough, though the game is so rigidly linear that you’re often restricted where you can go even within the limited locations you visit. Things also feel inexplicably unwieldy during the investigation section, where examining evidence is a struggle to figure out which way the developers want you to rotate the controller.
Quick-time events (QTEs) are fine, and the shooting segments are functional. The heavily scripted sequences felt similar to games like Time Crisis, where you’ll move from one place to the next, duck behind cover and then pick off your enemies. While it’s far too rudimentary to ever be mistaken for an actual shooter, at least it’s better than sniping in The Walking Dead or hunting with a bow and arrow in Game of Thrones; though that isn’t saying much.
Despite being an Xbox One release, Blues and Bullets looks like it’d run just fine on the 360. To be clear, that only references the graphical quality, because despite the often muddy looking characters and terrible lip synching the game still battles frame rate troubles and lengthy load times. Its high point visually is its style, which is exclusively black and white except for red (mostly blood, but other objects as well). It does alright for itself, but much of it definitely has a budget feel.
Doug Cockle, known for his work as Geralt of Rivia in The Witcher series, lends his talents to Ness, who offers a good performance. The rest of the cast is up and down, with your partner Milton being the best of the bunch. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Dickinson is pretty atrocious, and Capone’s accent sounds like a bad stereotype. The soundtrack is solid.
As mentioned, Blues and Bullets takes a pair of real historical figures (Ness and Capone) and weaves them into a brand new fiction. It’s an odd mix at times, with Chicago being replaced by the imaginary Santa Esperanza, which is weird for a few reasons: 1) real cities are referenced throughout, 2) several things suggest it’s located on the coast of California, but 3) a flashback in said town takes place in a massive snowstorm. It just doesn’t add up.
Forgetting about the setting for a moment, The End of Peace finds Ness retired and running a diner after failing to solve a case involving missing children. Apparently it’s an ongoing matter as soon Ness is visited by Milton, a very polite gangster that invites the one-time Untouchable back to the Hindenberg (which did not crash and is now a hotel) to meet with a newly freed Capone. In an interesting twist, Capone’s niece has gone missing, and he’s hiring Ness to find her.
As an episodic, choice-driven endeavor, Blues and Bullets draws natural comparisons to TellTale Games’ recent body of work. Thus far, however, it’s found wanting. It’s not always clear which way a particular dialogue option will go as they’re typically one-word phrases that can be ambiguous, and there’s no feedback as to which choices matter.
Speaking of which, perhaps the biggest area of weakness thus far is that it doesn’t feel like any of your decisions mean much. Sure, they could be rippling out into future episodes, but there are no moments where there’s clear and immediate feedback — like one person lives and the other dies. One early encounter with a knife-wielding stranger offers two ways to handle the situation, and yet both end with the man silently leaving. Will he ever be seen again?
There’s some pretty dark stuff at play as well, centering on a group of cultists that are involved in the missing children. A grisly murder scene is the episode’s most memorable moment, and the ensuing investigation where you piece together clues is definitely M-rated stuff. It’s similar to L.A. Noire where you gather evidence and slot it into place to reconstruct events, though the game dumbs it down a bit by not letting you put something in the wrong place or reach an incorrect conclusion.
There are some interesting elements at work in Blues and Bullets, and while there’s definitely some work to be done moving forward, The End of Peace is worth checking out if you enjoy crime drama.