Blues and Bullets – Episode 1: The End of Peace Review

Platform: PC, Xbox One
Released: July 23rd, 2015
Developer: A Crowd of Monsters
Publisher: A Crowd of Monsters
Genre: Action-Adventure

Reviewer’s Note: I played this game on the PC. There may be differences between versions.

Episodic gaming is here to stay, it seems. Now that Telltale has proven the formula can be done well, it seems like everyone wants a piece of the episodic pie. Blues and Bullets enters the ring with something a little different, a detective adventure with more action than these games usually get. Does The End of Peace manage to convince me to give the rest of Blues and Bullets a try, or is this game as empty as Al Capone’s tax forms?

Story

Twenty years after Eliot Ness arrested famous gangster Al Capone he is shocked to find the man out of jail. Even more shocking was Al Capone’s desire to hire him. With his granddaughter (along with a group of other children) missing, Capone gives Ness the job of finding and rescuing her. Yet this is no simple job and Eliot quickly finds himself involved with a weird and twisted cult that seems set on rather brutal ritualistic murders.

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The End of Peace introduces a cast of interesting and varied characters that quickly captured my attention, but does have the disadvantage that most get “introduced” and little else. While Eliot Ness’ personality is mostly going to be up to how the player responds in conversation, the rest of the cast is mostly set in stone. Ness’ partner, and Al Capone’s right hand man, Milton is probably one of the best to come out of this episode. There’s just enough hints towards his history that I’m intrigued to see more, yet not enough to spoil it all on the first episode. Sadly this is more the exception than the norm. Police officer Alice is mostly just there to give Ness information, Dickson to taunt him, and Daphne to give a bit of late-game drama. If there’s more to them it’s not on show here.

I also can’t help but notice the strange sci-fi light setting that the game is using. The End of Peace isn’t always set in reality, and seems happy to introduce some odd science fiction settings. The most noticeable thing would be the survival of the Hindenburg, which was salvaged and turned into a massive hotel. A massive hotel with a painting of the Hindenburg going down in flames inside of it. It’s a little weird, but at the very least it kept me guessing.

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Being a narrative heavy game, The End of Peace also features a lot of choices to make. Yet none of these choices really seem to matter all that much. When Al Capone asked Ness what he’d like in return for trying to find his granddaughter, any of the three choices (which is between leaving the United States, going back to jail, or donating all his money to charity) basically got an “yeah okay whatever” from him. Likewise, an early choice between Ness either losing his cool or playing nice with Capone makes no difference in how things advance later. Hopefully the future episodes play with this though.

Presentation

Right away Blues and Bullets strikes with its lovely art style. The entire game has this wonderful black, white, and red color palette that really manages to impress, even when the technical side isn’t quite up to snuff. Characters have some stiff animations and inexpressive faces. Yet every time I saw a new area I was generally impressed with how lovely the art style is. The voice acting is good enough, with actors like Doug Cockle and Tom Clarke Hill providing some great performances. Al Capone’s accent sounds a little forced, but there were no noticeable drops in the quality anywhere. The music also works well, from quiet piano pieces to full songs that fit the mood of the game.

Gameplay

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One ting Blues and Bullets does that most other episodic games don’t is vary up its gameplay in different interesting ways. A lot of The End of Peace is really just walking around and inspecting environment details or talking to other characters to further the story. Yet the first episode does also introduce elements of brawling, third person shooting, and some investigation work as well. The brawling is by far the simplest element, basically just a chain of quick time events. Nothing that most games like this don’t already have.

There’s one major shoot out in the game and for this the game switches to a third person shooter. I didn’t actually have control over Ness’ full movement though, the game was on-rails and just led me from cover to cover. From here I could pop out and shoot, or switch cover if the one I’m at is taking too much heat. I had unlimited ammo, and it seemed to take a lot of bullets to bring me down, so the shooting isn’t really much of a challenging element. Especially when Capone’s men just sort of stand around explosive canisters that litter Capone’s front lawn for… some reason. That said, a short gunfight taking place in Ness’ mind is easily the highlight of the episode, with Ness and his imaginary opponents taking cover behind giant words as Ness’ narrates the downward spiral of his life. It’s an amazing moment that will stick with me long after I’ve moved on.

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The other major gameplay element in the episode would be a single investigation scene. Here Ness needs to wander around a murder site and inspect elements of it, then bring them to a board and connect them in some way. It’s a pretty neat idea, but isn’t anything overly challenging. If I guessed the wrong spot for a clue then the game just wouldn’t let me place it, so I couldn’t really be stumped, I just had to keep trying everything until something fit. All of these elements that The End of Peace keeps pulling up feel kind of weak on their own, but when all put together they do work with each other and meant I never felt bored or distracted by one thing.

Conclusion

Blues and Bullets’ first episode probably shouldn’t work as well as it does, but I’ll admit that The End of Peace is something I enjoyed. There’s quite a bit that needs to be improved, but Blues and Bullets shows a good start that certainly has the potential to keep delivering. I’m excited for the second episode and how this story will play out.

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