During NYCC 2019 I got the chance to test out Pendulo Studios and Microïds game, Blacksad: Under the Skin. I instantly fell in love with this adaptation of Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido’s Eisner winning comic Blacksad. Fans of the comic don’t need to worry about being ahead of the game, the storyline is specific to the game itself and introduces new characters to the franchise. I was excited to get my hands back on this game and wasn’t let down! Be mindful going forward with the review if you haven’t played the game yet. Spoilers are bound to appear!
The real charm of Blacksad: Under the Skin is the murder mystery we walk into. The story begins by introducing John Blacksad, a veteran private detective with issues of his own. The first choices are made when an angry rhino body guard comes storming into the office after finding out about some bad pictures you have taken for his wife. After dealing with him, the real story begins. The apparent suicide and a missing boxer sends John on a deep dive into underground gambling, assassins and an illegal pharmaceutical company.
The overall story has enough twists and turns to keep the player guessing until the very end. At one point I was absolutely sure this one character was responsible and had enough evidence to support my cause and then outta left field I found out I was wrong. The game does a great job making everything seem like the right direction. So many mystery type games become predictable at some point, but Blacksad: Under the Skin never did that for me.
One small little complaint I would say, is that the ending was a bit of a downer. Major spoiler here so if you haven’t finished the game, skip to the visuals section. Now when looking over the achievements I am pretty sure there are multiple ending scenes. However, I got the one where it seemed like even though I hit that quick time event Sonia still killed herself. I did everything in the game to really help Sonia, being nice to her and supportive. I know this obviously doesn’t fix the depression she must feel but it still felt like everything I have done was for nothing.
Blacksad: Under the Skin takes place during the 1950s in New York City and the designers really captured the look. From the main setting down to even the smallest details the game feels like it was pulled from that time. The music is beautiful and at times I would just sit in the menu screen to listen to the soft jazz tunes. What really surprised me that I missed during my play test was how the story is told back in the progress screen. Each chapter with your choices is drawn out in the form of a comic book, allowing you to read through your journey.
One thing from NYCC that had me a bit iffy was the use of animals instead of humans. I was afraid it would add to the disconnect from the characters and story, however it really was easy to see past it. The use of multiple animal species help add diversity to the characters. I really enjoyed how they used parable traits of animals to help define the characters like John Blacksad as a panther and the coyote who ran the illegal gambling ring. My favorite character though, the witty blind goat who has made a home behind Dunn’s gym.
The mechanics for Blacksad: Under the Skin is pretty straightforward. The story is told through dialogue trees that require you to make choices that will affect the overall game. Some of the dialogue is timed which at times become a bit frustrating with how long the answers were. To help unlock different dialogue options you can spend time exploring the area around you and spotting things with your cat senses.
The items you can interact with were tagged with an A (on the Xbox One) when you were close enough. However, I was constantly having to strategically walk back to different areas to hit the right angle in order to get it to pop back up. Once and a while and this would have been fine, however after spending 10 hours in a game and having to constantly do this, it got old. I did however find myself spending more time exploring to unlock everything and try and collect all of the trading card pickups.
Blacksad: Under the Skin also includes quick time events for the action sequences. When I tested this during NYCC, the events were smooth but I still struggled a bit trying to swap between tapping, click and holding, and hitting the buttons at the right time. However, the events felt smoother this time around and the growth in challenge from the beginning to the end felt natural. I also felt that the save points for quick time events were perfect. If you died during something (which is bound to happen) you loaded back in with enough time to get your bearing but you also didn’t feel like you were replaying through an entire scene.
The mechanic I really wanted to like was the cat senses John Blacksad controlled. Being a panther he obviously has heightened senses he can use to his advantage. During dialogue or action sequences, you can choose to use your cat senses to spot different things that can unlock new choices. You are always guided to exactly what you need making it a bit of a weak mechanic. I did however like that during the scene in the hospital where you need to spot the gun at just the right time to stop Sonia from shooting. If they had married the senses mechanic along with the quick time event more often it would have been perfect.
Finally, like any good mystery nior thriller needs is for the player to look back and make deductions. There are lots of twists and turns in this story, making you believe that almost everyone is responsible for the murder of Joe Dunn at some point. What was really great is that the player is able to take a look at the information they have learned to match together and make deductions. This is another way to unlock dialogue trees as well as moving on to another chapter.
Blacksad: Under the Skin is a game that I will definitely be replaying in the future. The achievement hunter in me needs to grab those left over trophies plus I need to know if there are multiple endings, happier endings. What I really want is for them to announce future games within the world. I highly recommend this to anyone who loves 1950s noir mysteries or a good story based game.
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