With its film noir aesthetics and a promising story that hints at some sort of mysterious and unsettling cult activity, Blues and Bullets: Episode One is an encouraging start to what could possibly turn out to be a chilling five part saga.
You assume the role of Eliot Ness, a retired police officer spending his days running Blues and Bullets, a sleepy café that is popular with his former colleagues. When a beefcake of a man that Eliot finds vaguely familiar enters requesting blackberry pie however, his troubled past begins to catch up with him. Finding himself forced to pay a visit to Al Capone, the nemesis that he was instrumental to putting behind bars some 19 years ago, Eliot is conflicted when it turns out Capone wants him to help locate his missing granddaughter, Sofia. Not being someone that could rest easy knowing that a child was in grave peril, and with his recompense agreed with Capone, Eliot is once again dragged into the murky underworld he thought he had escaped from as he begins his investigation.
Whilst it’s obvious straight from the outset that Blues and Bullets’ visuals are technically sub-par, it’s a prime example that an interesting art direction can make all the difference. Edges are rough, textures often lack detail, lip syncing is poor, and character animations are stilted, but it doesn’t matter; the game remains visually appealing thanks to its bleak yet stylish art style that oozes atmosphere. Blues and Bullets’ audio on the other hand, doesn’t get such a reprieve. Whilst the music used throughout is simply a pleasure to listen to, and suits the tone of the game perfectly, the voice acting lacks a consistent quality. Eliot is voiced by Doug Cockle, whose gravelly voice many will recognise as The Witcher’s Geralt of Rivia, and though he puts in a solid effort, the rest of the cast are not quite as competent, taking the edge off of the experience somewhat. Still, it’s never bad enough to truly ruin your enjoyment of the game.
Forget about the audio and visuals for a moment though, as what really makes Blues and Bullets so engrossing is its curious mix of Telltale style adventuring and third-person on-rails shooting segments. That’s right, when you’re not exploring the moody environments, looking for an item or a conversation that will progress the story, you’re engaging in some rather well played out firefights. With movement taken care of for you, all you have to do is choose when to pop out of cover to pepper the hostile goons with a few rounds, but despite their simplicity the shootout sequences do a great job of breaking up the rather slow pace of the game. For further variety there’s also one scene where you stumble upon a rather grisly murder, instigating an impromptu crime scene investigation in which you are required to find pieces of evidence and string them together to get an idea of what occurred. It’s all rather basic, but the mix of gameplay styles works beautifully to keep your attention throughout the whole experience.
As per the norm for a modern Telltale style adventure game, Blues and Bullets also features its fair share of dialogue options and quick time events, although they’re nowhere near as predominant to the title. Conversations will often present such options as being a domineering a-hole or an agreeable gentleman, but despite briefly changing the course of dialogue your choices don’t really affect the end result. Hopefully proving to be more impactful however, are the five decision points you encounter over the duration of the game. Potentially shaping the nature of Eliot’s demeanour and relationships with key characters, they don’t have a profound effect on the immediate episode, but who knows how they will influence the game in the future.
From beginning to end Blues and Bullets: Episode One will take you about two hours to complete, and whilst this may seem rather short, its low price of £3.99 ($4.99) is very reasonable. Irrespective of its perceived value based on its length and price though, there’s no doubt that Blues and Bullets: Episode One alludes to a series that could be somewhat of a diamond in the rough, and I for one am keen to see as to how it develops.