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Investigative noir with Blues & Bullets

Game design

Streaks of white and black clash together in grainy noir, highlighted with the occasional crimson red. Eliot Ness is a despondent retired cop. He once served Al Capone with a jail sentence. Now he is now serving greasy spoon dinners to the ineffectual police force that replaced him. That is until duty calls and he becomes a pawn in Capone’s own investigation replete with missing children, grotesque demonic creatures, and the Mafia. There are the monsters and then there are the monsters of the mob.

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We are surveying a nice residential home. It is a good and clean place that sits neatly packed within the neighborhood. It has a mailbox and a front yard and nothing out of the ordinary outside a missing front post, gardener gnome, unkempt lawn. Our partner makes archetypal noir talk as we approach the front gate and we ascribe characteristics to our setting, to our protagonist.

Enter and there is a man with a stake stuck through him. He’s been left dismembered as a symbol of some sinister undertakings. The stake drives through his midsection and lacerations are made all over, his hands chopped, eyes gouged, teeth expunged, glass forcefully inserted into his back. “Pity he won’t last ‘till Christmas because he’d almost make for a tree,” Eliot gravels.

So we investigate, rotating around the body and checking the damage. Grisly scene, as flies float over the rotted decay of the corpse. It is a heavy and punctual moment where we relate to evidence and it sets the scene for an exploration of the house.

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Follow into the lounge. Overturned bloodstained table. Broken glass from the window scattered about. Rolex watch dismembered from its owner. The evidence suggests an altercation. Nothing happened willingly and we start to determine the means of the injuries. Open bottle of whiskey and we take a drink because noir detectives do not let crucial evidence go to waste.

The blood streaks lead into the kitchen. We examine every single object, rotating them, searching for our MacGuffin. Dining room table: crusty plates of old lasagna; local wine vintage ‘52. Our victim had company. We examine the dining ware, absorb the context and contents of the scene, and thus can begin to sort this mess out.

Backtrack past the body and a ruptured staircase and a hell of a thing happens. Find a spoon lathered in gooey liquid and within the sink, a pair of hands clasped together. Finger by finger, pry open the locked grip and find our victim’s extracted teeth. The walls are slathered with ritualistic bloodstains. Grotesque sight to be sure.

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Through our collected evidence we can begin to ascertain the course of events. And from the ending point of the garage, we glean a sense of the perpetrator’s identity and can arrange our clues. Together these parts tell a full story.

And this is all brilliantly put together. As each piece of evidence unravels, we open our menu of connected strings, pictures, and tacks. It belongs among the smartest systems existing within an adventure game and especially a detective drama. We naturally sort the clues and they are given to us in the right order. They click into place with our expectations about the facts and the motive. And yet there is a feeling that this is mid-climax, the perfect midsection where everything works exactly as intended and there aren’t any frustrations. For the middle, a perfect balance has been struck. Curiosity grows and we are given the license to make the story right for ourselves.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @Calvin_Kemph.

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