There is something undeniably stylish about film noir. Perhaps it's the flawed hero, the beautiful women or the gritty, violent world in which the books and films are based? Gaming has had quite a few attempts at a good film noir game, including Grimm Fandango, LA Noir and the Max Payne series and now a new episodic game, Blues and Bullets, aims to take the genre back to its roots with a stylish take on a classic 1950s murder mystery.
The game sets you as the former head of The Untouchables, legendry lawman Elliot Ness, now retired and running his own diner, from which the game takes its name. However, retirement doesn't seem to have been as quiet as Ness would have hoped and you soon find yourself exploring his past, his associates and accepting a job to locate a missing child from an old contact.
To add to the atmosphere, the game's graphics are entirely black and white with splashes of red in the same way that the film Sin City was shot. Although this may seem a strange choice for a next-gen game, it works well and helps to accentuate clues and add to the start grittiness the horrific murder scenes. The game play is typical of an episodic game, prompting you to make dialogue choices, interact with items and take part in quick time events (pressing buttons at the right time to guide Ness through critical scenes) as the story unfolds, but it also adds gun fights and crime scene investigations. These investigations involve locating clues and then trying to group them on an "investigation board" to ascertain the sequence of events of the incident. It's well done, helps develop the story and adds a nice puzzle element to the game.
The game isn't without its faults though. There isn't a way of controlling the point of view, with the camera adjusting automatically as you guide Ness around the world - which can be a rather frustrating experience when trying to fully explore each part of a location and can even leave you feeling a little queasy. The graphics also lack polish, with the animation a little less than fluid in places - such as when Ness continues to stride onwards when you guide him into an impassible object. Also, the choice of Elliot Ness, his contacts and some of the locations can seem a little strange but, hopefully, that will be clear up as the story progresses.
It's hard to properly judge an episodic game from a single episode simply because the experience, and story, can change dramatically in the later episodes. Currently only the first of five episodes is available so, in terms of the story, it's fairly early days, but episode one is well done and likely to please fans of film noir and horror games.
• Game reviewed on Xbox One