Blues and Bullets is a game having an identity crisis. Sometimes, it is an adventure game, based around exploration and investigation. Other times, it’s an on-rails shooter. Half of the time it is telling a gritty, hard-boiled noir drama. The other half, a story about a ritualistic occult. And none of this is a bad thing. Despite the game’s definite missteps, Blues and Bullets is a confident game that gives players just enough, without going overboard, keeping them interested in coming back.
Players are put into the shoes of investigator Eliot Ness in the city of Santa Esperanza. The death of one of his best friends and his inability to solve a mystery of missing children — a case that may still be open — has forced Ness to leave the force, opening up the “Blues and Bullets Diner” in its place. 20 years have passed since he has been in the thick of crime, but when former nemesis Al Capone begs him to search for his missing daughter, kidnapped by an imposter from her boarding school, Ness is thrust back into a former life. What ensues is an investigation that forces Ness to face old demons and sink into a world of crime where cults commit violent rituals for unknown reasons.
The game’s story isn’t new territory, but as of this first episode, it’s enough to keep players interested. Characters are unique and well acted, and the noir style isn’t overdone or cheesy. Forcing Ness and Capone to join forces creates an interesting duality that will surely become more fascinating in later episodes. Players are also given short glimpses into Ness’ demons, and this creates a curiosity in wanting to crack him open, exploring what continuously plagues him.
Blues and Bullets isn’t necessarily a good-looking game. Environments can look muddy, character models are stiff while interacting with the world, and lips are often out of sync with dialogue. Despite that, the game has a very confident art style. The entire game’s color palette is black, white, and red. Things such as blood, fireworks, and even bottles of chili sauce cut through and create a striking juxtaposition amongst the black and white. Unique environments such as the lobby of a Zeppelin-hotel floating high above Santa Esperanza or a trashed house after a violent murder all have their own mood, never making players feel like they are walking through the same place twice.
A lot of Blues and Bullets is spent exploring environments, either looking for clues or interacting with items of interest. Despite environments being unique, they often feel empty of items of interest to interact with. A large lobby, or even Ness’ diner, may only have two or three things to find or see. It’s unfortunate that such well-thought-out areas are given so little to find, creating little reason for players to stay in one place for too long. This is back-ended by extremely long load times, which quickly become too frequent when players aren’t in one area for very long.
The game breaks up that pace though with occasional shooting sections or puzzles based around investigating crime scenes. During the combat sections, Ness runs from cover to cover, taking out small waves of enemies, but players aren’t given any control of where Ness moves. Rather, he runs on-rails to a predetermined cover, tasked with clearing out a section of enemies with a stiff aiming system before running to the next piece of cover. These sections feel forced and unnecessary, as if they were an afterthought to keep players interested, rather than a meaningful addition to gameplay.
Exploring crime scenes are a highlight of the game, as players are tasked with finding clues and piecing together what has happened. Clues are posted as a puzzle board for players to fill in the blanks on whether or not there were any witnesses, how the struggle took place, and what murder weapon was used, for example. Piecing together all of the pieces and searching for any missing clues are the most engaging part of Blues and Bullets, and will hopefully be more frequent in later episodes.