Published on December 2nd, 2019 | by Zorbz
REVIEW – Blacksad: Under the Skin
REVIEWED BY SNRUB!
Blacksad: Under The Skin is a new standalone story set in the same universe as the French graphic novel series about a 1950’s American Private Investigator John Blacksad. It looks and sounds amazing, but is its brilliance only skin deep?
Story/Concept: Before the game begins you are met with a prompt: “this game uses similar mechanics to other games of its genre” – which means you can expect it have some similarities to Telltale’s Adventure Games, although it does play a little differently with a mechanic centred around your ability to make deductions – not just choices.
John Blacksad has made a decision about a case he’s been working on; involving a guy caught having an affair that quickly escalated to violence. Right after that, he’s given a case much bigger where the real story begins– an old friend introduces Sonia Dunn; a dame who’s down on her luck, asking you to investigate the death of her father who owned a prominent boxing gym, and the suspicious disappearance of a famous boxer that occurred right around the time of his death.
Also it should be noted that Blacksad is a black cat, his friend is a gorilla, and the guy cheating on his wife is a rhino. But we just roll with that. You don’t need to know anything about Blacksad going in – but it might inspire you to pick up the comics if you’re left wanting more once this story’s been told. Playing it definitely reminded me a little of Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us for its animalistic noir, and takes a similar approach to LA Noire in terms of story, music and visuals – although this comes from a smaller studio aiming for some big heights.
The game allows you to make choices on how hard-boiled or nice you are while it keeps silent tabs on your moral compass in the pause menu screens, and it uses dialogue trees and clue-finding to help progress the story along. It also allows you to collect clues with heightened cat-senses of sight and scent while interrogating suspects, so the whole animal thing at least plays into the mechanics a bit.
Graphics: (played on PC Ultra settings) – the game is gorgeous, instead of going for a comic-book style like others might have done the developers at Pendulo Studios have gone all-in. If you haven’t already, take a look at the trailer and come back, it’s okay – I’ll wait.
Okay welcome back. See? That’s all in-game footage without any pre-rendering. Occasionally on PC I did notice characters popping in and out, and the mouth movements weren’t always exactly synced up, but considering how many languages this game was translated into before it even launched I’m still crazy impressed. It looks better than some AAA titles from big-name developers.
The streets are scattered with small details, and light reflects beautifully anywhere you walk. Backgrounds blur with style, and colours pop when they need to against the otherwise noir-inspired sepia tones.
Gameplay: Unfortunately this is the one category where Blacksad gets under my skin, where walking around looking for clues is not only stiff – but clunky, as navigating around small objects like handbags on the ground becomes an act of tedium and glitching against invisible walls is generally a frustrating reduction of pace to an already slow-boil story.
I was already wrapped in the story, and happy to explore for hidden things, but not when the game was getting in the way. Whether it was an unfair quicktime event where success or failure depended too much on luck or prior knowledge – for example I had to retry a photograph-taking quicktime event dozens of times, and chose to mute the unskippable cutscenes until I could get it right.
But where the gameplay shines is when it lets you be a detective, and lets you decide how much you want to comfort or confront each character or potential suspect. This also means that by the time Blacksad has figured out what’s going on, you as the player have already figured it out several turns ago while you look for the missing piece to complete the deduction puzzle.
The game itself is very linear, but the fun comes from playing it your way and making the character relationships your own – so this is one that could be frustrating to watch other people play if you can’t influence the outcome, and more fun to see and play for yourself.
Sound: The voice acting is better than many of the “other games of its genre”, and so is the music. It sounded better on the home theatre speakers than it did with headphones, but the sound design is very well done – with each area and character and clue bringing musical stings. This is definitely a game best played with the sound on to enjoy the jazzy experience – especially if you’re love of noir outweighs any mixed feelings you might have about saxophones.
Awesomeness: The things I enjoyed most about the game, was that it didn’t force me to play as either “good” or “evil”, as the moral compass was much broader and allowed for much more balanced decisions. Peeking at my character stats made me confront my own morality, although it did leave me curious to know what choices other players might have made. Other story based games bring the player community into the decision process stats, which would have been nice – but I hope it’s something these developers can expand on if they ever make another Blacksad game.
Final Word: Blacksad, like its protagonist is beautifully flawed and very human… even though it’s about a bunch of bad guys who often look and act like animals. It’s occasionally clunky, but I’m so glad it exists. $55 AUD might be a bit steep for a game this slow and linear, but if you love noir as much as I do – or you’ve been to the library recently to check out the graphic novels, you might want to give this game a shot.
Out of 5 Bugs!