Title: Blacksad: Under the Skin
Developer: Pendulo Studios, YS Interactive
Release Date: November 14, 2019
Reviewed On: PC
Blacksad: Under the Skin immediately caught my attention with its noir, crime, and animal theme. You see, the game uses anthropomorphic animals to fill up its cast, and even though they are adorable, the suspense oozes through its unique presentation. There’s a significant focus on the investigation and story elements, where players will assume the role of a detective. Blacksad: Under the Skin doesn’t require any knowledge of a previous series, but it does a fantastic job of setting up an appealing comic book world.
Blacksad: Under the Skin takes place in the 1950s and follows John Blacksad, a detective. One day, Joe Dunn, the owner of a boxing club, supposedly commits suicide, but if that wasn’t enough, Bobby Yale mysteriously disappears right before the most important fight of his career. So, John is hired by Joe’s daughter Sonia Dunn, who takes over the gym, as the two incidents seem to be tied to each other.
Something I immediately took notice of is that the player pretty much decides the personality of John Blacksad through choices made in dialogue. This makes it possible to affect his reaction as he interacts with others. The choices are timed, with not answering also being an option. Each choice ends up playing a role in the personality of John and might say something about the player too.
I liked this feature as the choices varied during each interaction, which gives the impression that I could form the character’s relationship with those around him. That said, you could make John the bad guy who doesn’t care about other’s feelings, or follow your gentle heart and offer a condolence to the involved parties. Additionally, you can also influence whether John will give into corruption or become someone who follows the law. Communication is a big part of this game as it’s necessary to be able to solve the crime.
Blacksad: Under the Skin offers a few different environments in the game to explore, with the gym being one of the first. Environments usually contain clues that allow John to put the pieces together and slowly solve the case. As John discovers new clues, new dialogue options will become available to the player to question potential suspects.
The game borrows elements of popular narrative adventure games and is separated between cutscenes and investigating sections where you can freely walk around to look for clues. In this regard, uncovering clues can make this game reasonably linear, as you have to complete a specific task to progress the story. Thankfully, progressing the narrative isn’t a problem because the game lays out everything smoothly for the player to discover. However, if you overlook something, then you’re bound to get stuck until you find out what you’ve missed.
During cutscenes, players are treated to an excellent play out of events, but there are quick-time events as well where you have to react quickly, or you will die. I found that the time required to press a key was concise, so it’s not unusual to die once or twice unless you have an excellent reaction time. However, when you die, you can redo the scene, without much of a consequence. That said, I enjoyed watching the cutscenes play out as the scenes were always enjoyable and moved the game’s narrative in new and exciting ways. After each scene, I felt a little closer to discovering the truth.
Throughout the game, there are stickers hidden that you can collect and add to your album “hall of fame,” although they don’t offer any new story insights or have a purpose outside of being cool collectibles. More important things to look for are clues. Players can look around and observe suspicious items as well as use their cat senses to find unusual smells, listen carefully to a sound, or highlight things you can only see close up. When you successfully collect clues, you can combine them, if the option is given, to yield new results. Thankfully, this isn’t cryptic, and through some trial and error of piecing clues together, it’s easy to move on with the narrative.
The graphics in Blacksad: Under the Skin are beautiful and will delight any fans of noir aesthetic. The cutscenes are very well done, but sometimes the animation can look a little off, yet, this didn’t hinder my experience. Sadly, I encountered a few bugs here and there, one of which had the game freeze so that I couldn’t progress the story. Luckily, I could replay the portion through the progress feature, which functions as a summary of the events at the same time, and didn’t have to start from scratch. However, the loading times could come off as a bit lengthy at times. I was glad to find that the soundtrack is relaxing and perfectly fits the game’s noir theme.
Blacksad: Under the Skin focuses heavily on its narrative to tell a unique story in a unique world. By interacting with the world and uncovering its secrets, I found enjoyment in every scene. Although the game has a slow start, each clue discovered pieces the mysterious puzzle together. This way of rolling out the information provided me with a few eureka moments while the story offloads its secrets.
Blacksad: Under the Skin understands its fanbase as the story plays it close to its comic book appeal. As you uncover new clues, the game finds a way of encouraging the player to think outside-the-box, which makes for a more interactive experience. If that’s not enough, John Blacksad is way too cool not to adore.
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