I enjoy Noir settings a lot. The whole 1940s style interests me, from the dress to the tech. It’s a classy and provocative period in our history. Something that is utilized in the medium of film, radio, and book is the role of the private detective. Blacksad: Under The Skin follows in the footsteps of noir stories before it, but with its own twist, animals! I was afforded the opportunity to review this game from our partners at Microids, so let’s see how it turned out!
Blacksad: Under The Skin has you play the titular character John Blacksad, a cat private investigator. You find very quickly he has to deal with many shady people right from the get go. After a bruising opening segment, he is approached by a friend who brings a young woman to him. Turns out, the owner of Dunn’s Gym, Joe Dunn, has committed suicide. Or so the story goes. It’s up to you to find exactly what is afoot in this crazy world.
I am surprised the tutorial is not automatic. If I hadn’t done my normal look through the menus I do with new games, I’d have gone in blind. While I play many games, not everyone does. This game is similar in style to the Telltale games Walking Dead and Wolf Among Us. These are generally easy to play, but if you have no guidance a game might be easy to dismiss.
The gameplay is a bit tanky in control. Blacksad is at times annoying to move, and I was stuck in corners or at invisible walls on a regular basis. From there you move to interact with the environment, pressing your action button to find collectibles, lore, and most importantly clues. You’ll need to comb over everything if you want to move to the next chapter, as deductions present themselves once you have two clues that line up. Just press the R1 button on PS4, and you’ll have the chance to match them up.
It’s easy to catch on to how the developers want to tell the story. You ask questions and spend a lot of time in dialogue. In turn, you use what you learn in conversation to deduce where to go next. This happens a lot as you maneuver Blacksad through each area. The game is quite repetitive in this regard. One way this could have been adjusted for the better would be having an inventory system akin to Walking Dead. You aren’t just looking for clues to think about, but to insert into the larger picture.
So how can one employ the narrative style Pendulo Studios goes after in this game? Craft an excellent story. It certainly helps when your source material is an adaption of an award-winning comic series. As a result, Blacksad: Under The Skin manages a complex affair well, even if a bit too convoluted.
The murder is just the tip of the iceberg, as is the case in many whodunnits. But the time you spend with it compared to the larger story isn’t balanced. It leaves your solving of Joe Dunn’s murder feeling like an afterthought. The final act hits almost too quickly and packs too much information. The narrative is good, but oddly paced.
If you didn’t notice when looking at the case, Blacksad: Under The Skin is rated M for mature. It took a moment to realize it, but the amount of dark themes is surprising. If there’s anything you prefer younger eyes not to see, best to not play this game with them. At the very beginning you find pictures in your drawer of your current case, an adultery scandal with two characters having sex. In another scene you’ll hear an eagle talk about his child prostitution ring. It fits with the motif of the game, but it’s sinister for sure.
Where Blacksad: Under The Skin really shines is the characters and the setting. John Blacksad in particular is both well written, developed, and voice-acted. It’s a pleasure to watch him inner monologue. When you have great source material, it helps. But there are several unique characters that were created just for this game, proving how well Pendulo Studios can world-build.
I mentioned before that I love the noir setting. Watching the old cars, the classy clothing, the organized crime, and sleazy business owners who are shiny on the outside but corrupt underneath is amazing. Adding animals to the formula just makes it more interesting. They do seem off given they have human hands and as funny as it sounds, the women are highly sexualized (which fits the timeline). Besides this, I really appreciate the effort put into bringing the 1940s to life again. It’s not the most graphically intensive game, but neither are Telltale games and they look great for their medium. Also, that sax/jazz music! Perfection.
Unfortunately, there are some technical issues. I had problems with loading pretty regularly, and choosing dialogue didn’t respond quickly. There are moments with either mistyped subtitles or misspoken dialogue. You also have audio tracks not lining up, causing a character to look funny as their mouth moves without anything happening. And here is a video of my favorite issue I call “The Seductive Horse”.
Blacksad: Under The Skin is a mixed bag for me. I love the setting and style. John Blacksad and crew are terrific characters. The story has great moments, but can follow them with unsatisfying plotlines. Then add the annoying controls and technical issues and I’m torn. Blacksad: Under The Skin is frustrating at its lowest, but its highs leave me impressed with the tale it delivers. I suggest it to anyone who likes the Telltale series, noir settings, or detective stories.
*Review code was provided from our partners at Microids. Blacksad: Under The Skin is now available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC. Click your corresponding system in order to purchase your digital copy now!