Blues and Bullets - Episode 1: The End of Peace - Xbox One Review

Blues and Bullets has an immediately familiar feel to how it plays, despite a unique visual impression that helps it to stand apart from other games. More importantly, it sets the stage for what promises to be an interesting investigation. Episodic games need a successful first episode to keep people hooked and coming back for more. Mission accomplished.

The episodic format is not my favorite in video games - but in fairness, that is just a matter of personal preference. I prefer to binge watch my television shows as well, and find having to wait between weeks an annoyance most of the time. Blame it on our instant gratification society if you like, but I would prefer to just sit down and spend my time playing a game or watching a show through to its conclusion.

That being said, some of my favorite narratives come from this format. Telltale Games has found it a part of their recipe for success and even the new King's Quest game is adopting the format. Blues and Bullets is the next title to break its adventure into bite-sized pieces, making for a somewhat quick couple of hours of gameplay that left me wanting to see where the story was going. The end of the episode was a solid way to leave us with more questions than answers.

How the episode started was unique in and of itself, as you are thrust into the role of a young girl. Without going into much detail, she and other children appear to be trapped - held as hostages by some occult group that is unidentified. Her plight is brief but effective before we transition to our primary protagonist for the episode, the legendary Eliot Ness. Removed from his days as a cop butting heads with Al Capone, Eliot is now running a diner where he has found cooking to be his true calling. At least, that is what he tells himself.

When Eliot is given an opportunity to look into a case that resonates with him due to case he was never able to solve during his years on the force, he decides to dig into it and try to solve it. Getting into the story itself in this review would be a disservice, so I will touch instead on the game itself. For starters, even as it follows Eliot, it does not all take place in the present day. There was an excellent scene looking into his past that involved a very basic yet welcome gun fight that added some much needed variety to the proceedings.

Despite the interesting hook the story gives us with the young girl right out of the gates, Eliot's portion of the tale is a very slow burn at the beginning. It introduces the player to the basic mechanics and characters but offers little else during the first half of an hour or so. Anyone who has played a Telltales game such as The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones has a pretty good idea of what to expect here. You control the protagonist, moving about the environment and interacting with items of interest when they are encountered. Interactions could use a skip button. There were a handful of times I accidentally clicked on an item a second time, and had to listen to the measured words spoken about it.

Over the span of the adventure, which took me about two and a half hours to complete, new gameplay mechanics were introduced that helped to spruce things up. Different conversational options that appear they will impact the story later make for a familiar system. Additionally there are a couple of points where quick time events get sprinkled in for good measure as well. The aforementioned shooting scene was unique and certainly fell in line with the title's 'bullets' theme. The standout set piece however, is when Eliot investigates a grizzly murder.

The site of the murder is an absolute mess. The body was put on display and the crime scene left the way it was. This allows for a fairly lengthy sequence where you navigate Eliot around the house, looking for clues, turning items over to examine them and then lastly using a sort of bulletin board in his mind to assemble the clues. This was a great way to leverage his abilities as a detective, and it was the one moment that felt like it was on the fringes of the beginning and end of the episode - which involved the kidnapped children.

It is worth noting that despite some small technical performance issues, the presentation itself is excellent. There were hitches in the dialogue now and again and a fair number of loading scenes that broke the immersion slightly when they occurred. However, by and large the visuals and sound were quite impressive. The style of the graphics is incredibly distinctive, going for a black and white noir aesthetic set in an alternate history. The only color getting used was red, whether it was on dress shoes, ties, smatterings of blood - all things that were naturally red. It was not as though the color was being used to call attention to something specific in the environment, but the one repeated use of that color, even in small bits of lighting, created a unique effect.

Characters move a little stiffly at times, but to be honest I had to really be focusing on them to notice it. The world itself is gorgeous with this art style, and quite often I simply stood around with Eliot and took in the surroundings. The music is appropriately dramatic, with sound effects that compliment what is going on but never overwhelm the most important thing - the voice acting. The voice actors ranged from okay to great depending on the role, and that is huge since this is a narrative heavy game.

Blues and Bullets - Episode 1: The End of Peace is an excellent starting point for this game. The mystery is sufficiently interesting, the art style and voice cast well done and the duration long enough to make for a satisfactory play through. The current choices I made did not feel as though they had a great deal of impact on the story as of yet and a couple of performance hiccups detract slightly from the experience, but this first episode had made me invested in seeing where things go.

Platform Xbox One

Developer(s) A Crowd of Monsters
Publisher(s) A Crowd of Monsters
Genre(s) Adventure
Mode(s) Singe Player
Other Platform(s) PC

Article by Nick

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