Blacksad: Under the Skin, a brand new adventure game by Pendulo Studios, is out now for Xbox One, Playstation 4 and PC. We played the PC version of this adaption of a Spanish/French comic.
It’s been quite the year for adventure gaming fans, what with everything that happened with Telltale Games and the genre shifting more and more towards the indie end of the spectrum. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (the Blackwell games are still some of my favorites), but it’s still nice to have a classic adventure with high production values to look forward to. This year, I had Blacksad marked on my calendar as such a title, and it hasn’t disappointed even though it’s a little different from what I had been expecting.
The game unfolds as a detective story that takes place in the film noir era, which echoes through in the characters, moods, clothing and backdrops – although Blacksad is more colorful (visually speaking) than your typical noir movie. Colorful doesn’t mean cute though, since there is plenty of adult dialogue and violence here.
For those unfamiliar with the Blacksad comic, it’s worth pointing out that all the characters in the game (and comic) are anthropomorphic in nature – Blacksad himself being a black cat/human hybrid who doesn’t take long to get in a scuffle with a rhino character. As with Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us, however, the plot is very mature and it doesn’t take long before you’re enveloped in the world and consider all these characters to be perfectly normal.
The plot starts with a gym manager named Joe Dunn, who was found dead. You were hired by his daughter to find out what happened, quickly discovered that Joe’s most prominent boxer has also gone missing (just ahead of a big fight) and things spiral into a story of intrigue, crime and corruption not long after. Uncovering clues and connecting those breadcrumbs opens up new narrative paths in the game, as well as new locations for you to visit. Not everything’s chronological and told from the same perspective though, since you’ll also play through flashbacks with other characters that help you piece together the story.
Pendula’s past games have been very true to the classic PC adventure game era, with mouse controls to help you navigate through the story. Blacksad’s a little different and is basically Pendulo adapting a bit of the Telltale formula to their own brand of gaming. Not only do you have direct control over John Blacksad as he walks through the various scenes of the game, you’ll also encounter various quick time events. I wasn’t ready for the first one at all since I usually play my adventure game in a very relaxed manner, so it was a little frustrating to be thrown back into the story to play through that very same QTE again. Only to fail, and to have to do it three more times. This can be a little frustrating, although they’re not so common that they break the flow of the game.
The writing in the game is excellent, and doesn’t require any advance knowledge of the comics. What also helps is that there’s a fully voiced cast of characters here, and in true classic detective style Blacksad helps narrate the story as its events unfold. Locations and character models are all highly detailed, and aside from the not-so-great lip-syncing (which I assume works better in another language) the animations are very well done too. To add to the experience, an excellent music track brings a nice nostalgic flavor to the game as well – with jazzy sounds that fit the detective era.
With a great detective story, an appealing audiovisual style and over ten hours of gameplay, Blacksad: Under the Skin is a highlight for adventure gaming fans this year. The game had technical issues at launch, but a patch came out when I was about halfway through and my second half of gameplay was trouble-free.