STAFF REVIEW of Blacksad: Under the Skin (Xbox One)

Thursday, December 26, 2019.
by Adam Dileva

Blacksad: Under the Skin Box art From the moment I saw the first trailer for Blacksad: Under the Skin, I knew that I was immediately interested in delving into its dark and gritty world. Based on the comic that released in 2000, Blacksad takes place in 1950’s New York with you as the titular detective, John Blacksad. What makes this world unique though is that it’s actually filled with anthropomorphic animals, meaning that instead of humans, each character is a different type of animal but with human traits and qualities. Blacksad is a cat, and with that comes his heightened senses of smell, vision and hearing, something you’ll use to your advantage many times throughout this murder mystery.

While it’s set in the same world as the original comic, it’s a whole new story for Blacksad to partake in, so longtime fans will be happy to know that it’s not simply a retelling. If you’re a fan of Telltale adventure games where you get to navigate dialogue however you wish, or dark L.A. Noire style detective games, you’ll surely enjoy your time with Blacksad as he tries to solve a murder and missing person case that falls into his lap.

Boxing gym owner Joe Dunn is found dead, hanging from his apparent attempted suicide when the cleaning lady arrives early in the morning for work, calling the police to her finding. Bobby Yale, his star student that has his most important fight in his career about to come up has also gone missing, this sets the tone right away about a dark and gritty mystery that will have Blacksad search the bowels of the city for answers, wading through shady characters, corruption and more ugliness that he expected to find.

Sonia Dunn, Joe’s daughter, takes over the gym and hires Blacksad to investigate. While she wants to know why her father apparently committed suicide, she seems more concerned with finding Bobby, as his big fight coming up is the only way they are going to be able to afford to keep the gym open. Everything is not as it seems though, and Blacksad starts to go down a rabbit hole that he never expected, filled with more corruption and evil than initially thought. It’s a great story filled with lots of twists and turns, as I wanted to keep playing until its conclusion.

Even with its anthropomorphic characters, the setting of Blacksad is fantastic, as you get sucked into its world almost immediately with its 50’s noir backdrop and breadth of varied and interesting characters, some of which comic fans will recognize as well. As for its core gameplay, this is a detective game, so the majority of your time will be searching areas for clues, deducting said clues and how they fit together, quick time events (QTE’s) and of course, questioning people with many dialogue options.

Much like a Telltale game, much of Blacksad is dialogue heavy, allowing you to react and choose your questions and answers. Sometimes you’ll have a good amount of time to choose your responses, others will need to be snap reactions, not allowing you to overthink every situation and outcome. That being said, there are some wrong answers, in the sense that you’ll be greeted with a death or a game over screen, though you can quickly retry until you find the ‘correct’ dialogue path.

Much of the time you’ll be in a scene, wandering around for clues and objects. These sets are generally designed well, but Blacksad walks at a snail’s pace, so it can be a little frustrating at times when you simply want him to hurry up. The poor camera angles at times don’t help matters either, and when you are near an object of interest, an ‘A’ button will appear, allowing you to interact, but sometimes you’ll need to be exactly on top or beside the object which can sometimes be tricky.

Blacksad is a detective, so naturally he’s curious and wants to ask everyone questions. How you ask, what you ask, or more importantly, what you choose to ignore, will shape his personality and ultimately, which of the multiple endings you receive. Relationships can completely change an outcome of certain situations, as I chose to hide that one of Blacksad's clients was cheating on his wife, from his wife, in turn for a favor, one that I redeemed much later in the story. Of course, Blacksad’s morality wasn’t as high as it could be and that situation could have played out completely different based on which choices you make. You can even choose to be silent in situations as well, which is viable, and sometimes necessary, in certain situations.

Once you do question people and find clues you’ll then need to piece together these small pieces to draw specific conclusions. This system will allow Blacksad to conclude new theories and answers. Doing so is simple, as you’re choosing two or three clues, and if they go together and ‘match’, then Blacksad will deduct what it actually means, allowing you to progress further in the story. This is heavily relied upon in the later sections when you’re finally putting together all of the pieces and clues, but there’s no penalty for pairing the wrong clues, as it will simply reset your choices until you choose the right pairings.

Given that Blacksad is a cat, he’s going to rely on his senses at times as well. Your feline abilities allow you to utilize your superior hearing, smell and sight at certain times. For example, when you’re interrogating someone, you could listen for their heartbeat and see if it’s beating quickly, usually indicating that they are lying. Maybe you’ll quickly glance at a piece of jewelry they’re wearing, allowing you to deduct that they belong to a certain shady gang, opening up other dialogue options. While it’s not used a lot during the course of Blacksad’s investigation, and while there’s no way to fail these sections, it’s an interesting addition that plays into the animal characteristics of the characters themselves.

Blacksad’s world completely engulfs you into its dark and seedy roots. The 50’s noir detective backdrop is wonderful and completely believable with its varied and interesting characters. It looks as if Blacksad and the backdrop has been taken directly from the comic and the 50’s jazz-like soundtrack simply enhances the immersion and believability of the world. The majority of the voice acting is done exceptionally well, especially Barry Johnson who did an excellent job with Blacksad.

While I immensely enjoyed Blacksad from beginning to finish, it’s absolutely littered with a laundry list of bugs, even post patch. Clipping is notorious, not just from clothing and minor objects, but even a part where Blacksad had to operate a forklift, almost as if they didn’t get to finish a proper sitting model while driving, so he just ‘sat’ in it by clipping through it. There’s also a weird glitch when a camera angle changes and the clothing ‘pops’ in, reacting weird to the gravity. Sadly I’ve also experienced more than a couple hardlocks and crashes, one where I almost lost my game save.

While there’s a plethora of technical issues, I’m hoping these will eventually get fixed, as aside from the bugs, Blacksad is very well written, contains a ton of twists and turns and takes place in a fantastic 50’s noir backdrop. I admit, Blacksad is generally more interesting because of its anthropomorphic characters, but it surprisingly doesn’t feel out of place or odd once you get sucked into its dark world.

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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