In 2012, Telltale Games managed to reinvigorate the adventure game genre with The Walking Dead. With its intense dialogue sequences, gorgeous art style, and episodic nature, The Walking Dead managed to become a huge hit. Since then, we’ve seen several attempts by other developers to capture the essence of Telltale’s recent games, with the latest being A Crowd of Monsters’ Blues and Bullets. While it may not have the production value of Telltale’s products, it has enough unique charm to really stand out.
Blues and Bullets puts the player in the role of famous Chicago law enforcer Eliot Ness. While the game takes place after Ness’ famous takedown of Al Capone–in fact, Ness now runs a diner–his past as a Prohibition Agent is constantly coming up. Through a few interesting twists, Ness finds himself involved in one more case, one that involves rescuing missing children.
Despite starring important historical figures, A Crowd of Monsters’ latest game takes place in an alternate history. For example, the Hindenburg never went up in flames in 1937, instead becoming a luxury hotel that is both above cities and the law. These twists in history are one of the most interesting parts of the world, and leave you wondering what else could have changed.
If you’ve played any of Telltale’s recent adventure games, then you’ll feel right at home with how Blues and Bullets controls. You largely walk around set environments and examining objects to move the story forward. Unlike most adventure games, puzzle solving is practically non-existent in the game besides one chapter of the episode, as branching dialogue and character choices make up most of the interaction. Despite the game not offering much in terms of gameplay during these exploration scenes, the levels are interesting enough for the player to want to check out every nook and cranny.
While most of the game finds the player examining locations, there are a few action sequences. Blues and Bullets is practically turned into a House of the Dead-style shooter during its action scenes, as Elliot will have to gun down a bunch of baddies while in cover. There are also generic fights that rely upon quick time events. While the action gameplay is unpolished, as aiming the gun feels clunky, compared to the rest of the game, they do add a nice spice of variety. They are also such a small part of the experience that they don’t tarnish the rest of the game.
About midway through the first episode, Ness encounters a grisly crime scene. It is one of the goriest scenes that I’ve seen in gaming, and absolutely gruesome. If you can’t handle seeing dismemberment up close, then you might want to pass on Blues and Bullets, as your job as a detective will require you to examine the remains of what used to be a human body very closely.
As you investigate the area, Elliot will come up with clues that are used to figure out what happened. You use these clues in a blackboard-type menu that is similar to how Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments handled crime scene investigation. Like the rest of the game, it isn’t particularly innovative, but gets the job done.
The story that Blues and Bullets tells is very interesting, but also rough around the edges. The dialogue isn’t poorly written, but you’ll be able to tell that the game has been translated from Spanish, the developers’ native tongue. Also uneven is the voice acting that ranges from excellent to cringe-worthy. Thankfully, the main characters are all voiced well, but some of the secondary characters are poorly acted. For example, there is a cop early on in the game who barely sounds human. The voice actor was clearly told to sound annoying, but he takes it to another level. One that is so unnatural that it reminds you that the cop is just a one note video game character and not a human with any substance.
Another area where the title struggles are with its graphics. Character models are rather poorly done, and a lot of the game is pretty ugly. To help cover up the visuals, A Crowd of Monsters employed an art style similar to Sin City, where it only shows three colors–black, white, and red. While you’ll still notice a few ugly models, Blues and Bullets generally looks good. This was a great aesthetic choice, as it helps transforms one of the game’s flaws into a strength.
With this being the first episode of a planned five, Blues and Bullets shows just enough of its story to leave you wanting more. The plot is far from settled, but enough has happened to keep your mind rolling with ideas of what could be going on. The only downside is that the episode is very short, clocking in at about two hours. Right when everything starts picking up after a slow opening scene, the game abruptly ends. While this is meant to create anticipation for the next episode, it left the first episode feeling empty. It may only be an opening chapter to something far greater, but it’s a damn good opening chapter.
Ultimately, Blues and Bullets is A Crowd of Monsters trying to do their best impression of a Telltale joint. While they don’t manage to hit the same high spots, they have instead created an interesting, but flawed experience. Only time will tell if the story manages to cash in on its intriguing premise, but right now this is an entertaining way to spend a few hours.
An Xbox One copy of Blues and Bullets was provided by the developer. To learn more about our score, read our review policy.