Platform: PC, Xbox One (reviewed)
Noir can be an intriguing setting for a story, as it whisks you back to a simpler time where crime was rampant and the world seemed like it was black and white. However, you need to have the right approach to make it work. Case in point – the original Sin City film was nothing short of a masterpiece. The sequel, not so much.
That's what makes Blues and Bullets, the episodic adventure from A Crowd of Monsters, so hard to take. Sure, this is just the beginning of the saga, and there are some intriguing elements that take true advantage of the format. But the problem is how it's built – it really takes a while to get going, and that may turn off potential players before the real story begins.
Not Your Typical Mystery
The way Blues and Bullets unfolds is anything but typical, as you'll deal with a number of elements that you won't really find in any routine Sin City-style story. Instead, it's bent more towards the supernatural, although there are plenty of mystery-based ingredients that seem to blend in pretty well at first.
But after a promising start, Blues and Bullets seems to collapse due to its pacing. For instance, anything involving the actual investigation itself is a pain, mainly due to the camera not showing you all the necessary details you need, and the fact that your character walks so sluggishly slow, it's a surprise that he doesn't travel back in time. As a result, navigation can be a pain.
On top of that, having any sort of conversation can be quite slow as well. You have choices available, like in any other episodic game, and some of the dialogue can be quite snappy (compared to other noir material), but the way they unfold is also slow, to the point that conversations are actually awkward…not to mention they fact they take away most of the tension that comes from a mystery like this.
Things Do Pick Up, Over Time
However, if you choose to stick with Blues and Bullets, you will find some ingredients worth fighting towards. For example, the third-person shooting sequences are pretty good, save for the fact that your characters can take a little while getting to them. Once they unfold, though, they're a pretty good time, with the gun flashes and the cool use of coloring.
The story also unfolds a bit quicker around the second half of the game, when you get to a segment when you actually use letters in a word for cover (you'll see what I'm talking about once you get to that segment). The horror element also picks up a little bit in the game as well, building towards a pretty good conclusion that paints a brighter hope for the episodes that await.
Like I said, it's just a matter of seeing if you can get to that point. It's like dealing with the events in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 just to see how things ramp up in Part 2. Sure, that wasn't noir, but the pacing is easily comparable.
A Unique Style
The black and white art style of Blues and Bullets, mixed in with drops of red here and there, is very well done for a game of this nature, with inventive moments coming up towards the second half – including some creepy items that really tie in with the horror themes. There are times things can get a little stuttery with gun fights, but it's still a fairly good looking game.
Likewise, if you can get over the hump that is the awkward pauses in conversation, there's some great dialogue included here, along with bits and pieces of noir-like music that really set the tone for the game. Plus, the sound effects can be really unnerving, like the authentic use of old-school gunfire and, yes, those noises in the beginning. Shudder.