Blues and Bullets: Episode 2 – Shaking the Hive – was developed by A Crowd of Monsters. This episode was released on April 8 at a cost of $4.99. A code was given to us for review purposes. The above video is a small playthrough of Episode 2, it does contain spoilers.

Hailing from Barcelona, Spain is an indie developer called A Crowd of Monsters. Previous to releasing Episodes 1 and 2 of Blues and Bullets, they released a platformer on Xbox One called ‘Funk of Titans’. According to A Crowd of Monsters website, they’re a true indie developer who has used their own money and resources to pay for Blues and Bullets. Therefore there was no one over them directing them on a release schedule but more importantly the story and content. I bring this up as this review will touch upon some of the story and whether or not they’ve gone too far with some of the “darker” elements.

Blues and Bullets features Elliot Ness, an American Prohibition Agent, who spent his professional life trying to enforce prohibition, specifically in Chicago. He led a crusade against the Mob, in particular Al Capone. He and his team of 10 detective agents were know as The Untouchables, as they couldn’t be corrupted, nor were they intimidated by the practices of the Mob.

While Elliot Ness and Al Capone star in the game, Blues and Bullets takes place in an alternate history. Sure, there are mentions of things that happened in their past, but for the most part the game, to date, does not revolve around actual historical events. Instead, things pick up approximately twenty years after Capone was first sent away to prison, in the year 1955. Ness has retired from his detective work and now leads a simple life in the fictional setting of Santa Esperanza.

In Episode 1, we learned that Ness runs the Blues and Bullets diner, known for its delicious Blueberry pie. Quickly we come to understand that Ness is not the perfect man you think a person of his stature would be. Instead he is haunted by his past and the notion that anyone he gets close to is ultimately killed. By all accounts, Elliot Ness is a tortured soul and many of his inner torments are played out on screen, in alternating fashion. The game goes back and forth between the main story and Ness’ inner thoughts.

When Ness and Capone finally meet during Episode 1, Capone confides to Ness that he needs his help, as his granddaughter has been kidnapped. With the start of Episode 2, we’re introduced to a Russian man by the name of Nikolai, who used to work with Capone before he was sent away. While Capone was incarcerated, Nikolai and other Capone henchman sought out their own fortunes, some more than others. Nikolai is a bottom feeder, the worst of the worst, as he has lowered himself to trafficking humans, especially children. Here is where the game gets dark and uncomfortable, especially for any parent.

There are scenes where you investigate the holding areas for these children. You come across cages, pens, fighting arenas, showers, and makeshift cargo boxes as bedrooms. Theoretically, the children and other captives are sold off to clients who have special requests. For example, the developers lead you to believe that the KKK requested a black child. And to a larger extent, there is an occult who has acquired Capone’s granddaughter. Some have the unfortunate fate of not being wanted by anyone and are forced to fight in a large cage or arena. Here, Nikolai holds fights where his crew can make wagers. Sometimes the contests will even include 5 dogs verse 1 human. Of course, none of this action is played out on screen, searching for clues helps reveal the grisly details. Even without the visuals, the mere inference of the vile acts is enough to make some people upset. However, it gets worse as regardless of the outcome of these fights, all contests are shot, dismembered, and stuff into a large trash compactor; truly disturbing.

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The 6 ton elephant in the room is the gratuitous violence and dark imagery. Certainly games before this have dealt with the occult, but it’s the matter of fact way they show children and animals being abused, or partaking in the abuse, which has left this author confused. Are the developers trying to go over the top to garner attention, has something been lost in translation, or are there some genuinely sick minds making this game? Most games have violence, blood, and all that goes with it, but few games come to mind where children are slaughtered and puppies are beaten to death. I get the need to separate yourself from the glut of other exploration games (thanks Telltale Games), but at what cost? Ultimately, to each their own, art is in the eye of the beholder. And while I’m certainly not offended, the acts, especially at the end of Episode 2, stick out as unnecessary.

A Crowd of Monsters have crafted two episodes which have a very strong narrative. The voice of Elliot Ness is voiced by Doug Cockle, who many will know from The Witcher 3. He has some great lines with the various characters he interacts with throughout the episodes. Specifically with Jim Dockers, a fellow agent whom he has broken a trust with by cheating with Jim’s wife. Visually, the game is draped in a noir setting, much likes games such as Sin City, or the under appreciated The Saboteur. The pacing of both episodes does well to move the story, even if the painful on-rails shooting in episode 2 over stays its welcome. The game does have its warts, which sometimes can be expected with smaller inexperienced or understaffed teams. Animations, ranging from voice to character movements, are not as strong as they could be. This is not to say it ruins the experience, but it does detract from an overall enjoyable narrative, coupled with a fresh and innovative clue mechanic. Each episode is around 3hrs in length, which feels just right. However, episode 2 could’ve been shorter, if not for the excessive use of the on-rails shooting.

Overall, Blues and Bullets is enjoyable, albeit an interesting adventure. In my opinion, the good outweighs the bad. The sign of good story telling is whether or not you’re invested to come back for more. While I’m not eager to see more kids involved in violent acts, I am invested at this point to see what A Crowd of Monsters are taking this story to over the next three episodes.