Blues and Bullets: Episode One starts on all the wrong feet, but sticks its landing as a compelling noir detective story. Heavy-handed storytelling gives the victim’s location away before we even know there’s a kidnapping. Occult themes and gore scream, “this game can’t do subtlety!” Yet character relationships and smart pacing hooked my interest despite all of the game’s loud hiccups. The game takes place in not-Chicago (the fictional Santa Esperanza) despite players inhabiting real-world detective Eliot Ness in the years that came after his pursuit of Al Capone in what we know historically to be Chicago. This alternate-history setting serves for the enjoyable fictionalization of semi-true events. Blues and Bullets often reminds me that I’m looking at polygonal models attempting to convince me that they’re not puppets. The early scene in the Blues and Bullets Diner reminded me far too much of Shenmue’s adolescent video game storytelling. And just like Shenmue, I think the issue is that English is not the developer’s first language. Josué Monchan writes recognizable American English lines into the 1950s setting. But the whole game made me wonder how much better off the game would have been had he stuck with a story surrounding his own Spanish culture. Cliches are ultimately Blues and Bullets’ biggest problem. The game revels in film-noir tropes: Grizzled cops, 1950s nostalgia, gangsters with tommy guns, and racism are in full force. Very little about the setting surprised me until I got onto the Hindenberg Hotel, a repurposed blimp that served as the hottest hotel for the richest of the rich. It was still a cliche, but something about the scene felt rich with potential and drew me in. The crazy thing is that this story of cliches, gunplay and subtlety-free storytelling works. Magic happens somewhere between the introduction and the final scene. The character relationships come together in a way that acknowledges all of the tired cliches, but leaves you full of curiosity about what will happen next. In a narrative adventure game like this, curiosity is all we need. The developers at A Crowd of Monsters seem to know the precise time to throw you into the fire with a bit of action, keeping the pace brisk. Firefights show up in rails cover-shooting segments where bullets feel like they have just the right amount of deadly impact. And just before it gets too much, the violence diffuses into compelling dialogue. It’s a perfect dose of nuance that holds the crazy mess of a story together. The detective work might be where Blues and Bullets shines the most, as the crime scene investigation turns into a narrative puzzle that’s a joy to piece together. Unfortunately, piecing clues together incorrectly yields no consequence which undermines the tension; anybody can click-mash their way through crime scenes if they find all of the pieces. You may run into some significant performance issues right out of the box. The high 1080p settings on my Geforce 960M turned into a slideshow. But the game ran fine at medium 720p settings, albeit never more than thirty frames per second. These performance hindrances also led to frame dips that took me out of the experience, but it wasn’t bad enough for me to want to stop playing. The crazy thing is that this story of cliches, gunplay and subtlety-free storytelling works. This first episode is over in around two and a half hours if you linger like I did. Early scenes lacked the gracious tact required for a narrative adventure. But it all comes together for me thanks to the smart pacing and key character relationships between Milton, Capone, and Ness. I felt like the episode ended at the wrong place, but I’m very curious about episode two and what happens next. In a game like this, you couldn’t ask for more than that kind of curiosity.