Please note that since each episode of Blues and Bullets features the same graphics engine and control setup, those elements will not be repeated in our reviews for the remaining episodes. To read our thoughts on that, refer to The End of Peace.
I’ve been critical in the past of too much downtime between releases in some of TellTale’s episodic adventures, but those were nothing compared to Crowd of Monsters’ Blues and Bullets. The noire thriller that re-imagines an alternate world starring Eliot Ness and Al Capone took nearly eight months to release their second episode entitled Shaking the Hive.
While I don’t want to dwell on the length of time between releases, it’s worth pointing out the obvious that maintaining momentum in such a scenario is very difficult. After watching the “previously on” montage I remembered the broad strokes of the story — Capone’s granddaughter is missing, you investigated a grisly murder, there was a submarine — but that’s about it.
Unfortunately, the game does you no favors by opening the second episode with a flashback sequence that features Ness on a date at some indeterminate time in the past with a woman who’s married to one of your “untouchables.” It sets up a later dream sequence, but I honestly couldn’t say if any of these characters were even referenced in the first episode.
From there we go back to the present day with Ness and Milton undercover and heading into a meeting with Ivankov, who is involved in human trafficking, including the abduction of children. This proves to be easily the best (and longest) section of Shaking the Hive, featuring a tense meeting, the introduction of a creepy new enemy, an extended shooting sequence and another investigation.
As with the first installment, there is some really dark stuff happening here. Sometimes it seems like it’s trying to push the envelope a little too far in the “gore for the sake of gore” sense, but it helps build up a creepy atmosphere that plenty of games have aimed for and fallen short.
Surprisingly, just two of the five chapters take place in the present with the other three consisting of two flashbacks and some kind of dream/hallucination. That doesn’t feel like an ideal ratio to begin with, and the fact that some of the focus (does your old partner know you’re seeing his wife!?) is on stuff that appears largely tangential to what’s going on doesn’t help, either. I suppose it could be setting the table for some later twist, but for now it makes little sense.
There are definitely interesting moments and storylines happening in Shaking the Hive, and I’m curious to see where things are going with Ness/Capone and the apparent occult tie in. The issue is whether or not I’ll still be curious whenever Episode 3 sees the light of day — and considering that the “next time” epilogue consists solely of audio clips and no game footage it’s anyone’s guess when that’ll be.
I had no problem making my way through Shaking the Hive, which is a compelling bit of storytelling on its own. As part of a larger whole, however, it’s tough to try to keep track of anything beyond the biggest story threads, which is an issue for a game built on its narrative.
While I recognize Blues and Bullets comes from a smaller developer, they need to find a way to get Episodes 3-5 out much quicker to maintain interest in the series.