Blacksad is a highly respected graphic novel from Spanish origin. Developer Pendulo Studios has the honor to work with the property and releases Blacksad: Under the Skin for Xbox One, published by Microids. At Gamescom I saw this game for the first time while playing XIII and Asterix and Obelix XXL 3 at the Microids booth, I was immediately interested in the art style and humanlike animals. To be honest, my knowledge about Blacksad was nonexistent, being so intrigued by the characters I did my research when I got home from the hectic Gamescom days. I was pretty stoked that I could get my hands on this Xbox game, playing as detective John Blackcat but that happy feeling quickly vanished… you don’t need to be a detective to find out why, as here is our review!
What we liked!
- If Music is a Place, then Jazz is the City: The game features some lovely atmospheric music, it doesn’t happen often but Pendulo really manages to let you absorb the feelings from the game by some excellent choice of music, mostly from the jazz genre.
- Conversations, story and figuring things out: behind some obvious negative parts, there is a pretty deep and fascinating story that holds everything together. Gamers that loved Murdered: Soul Suspect, the Sherlock Holmes games or Telltale’s Wolf Among Us will love this kind of experience. Choosing what to say against a potential friend or murder suspect really matters and changes the outcome in unexpected ways. If the developer did something right it is definitely respecting how great the characters from Blacksad are and giving them a fantastic narrative.
- More about that figuring things out: There are a few detective games and the original thing about Blacksad is the panther mechanics while interviewing suspects. You can smell when someone is lying about something, slow down time to read something or pick up on stuff. It gives some sublime gameplay moments while you try to piece everything together. The deduction board helps you with linking evidence (or rather let John piece stuff together) it is a little “slow” to use this deduction board, as most players will see the solution from far away but it remains engaging and fun!
- Press X to read on.. oh to late you failed.. restart the review again reader! You love or hate quick time events (QTE), I personally don’t mind mechanics like this but for Blacksad you really need some panther-like reflexes. Sweating and stressing over when to press a damn button can’t be what the developer was going for. It forces you to stay on point and luckily the failure cutscenes are pretty funny too!
What we disliked
- Apparently, being a great detective means looking at loading screens: You frequently hop from one location to another and each one comes with a very lengthy loading screen time. I honestly don’t get why either, locations aren’t that big or even detailed… I don’t want to spend my precious gaming time looking at a still page for literally minutes.
- “A shocking twist happens” but you only see an emotionless rhino doofus: I was really hoping for some fluent animations, as the characters are a big part as to why Blacksad is so interesting. Sadly enough the movements aren’t even close to being smooth, even in cutscenes some weird transitions happen that can’t be overlooked.
- Terrible controls: It is like playing some videogames from the ’90s again, Koudelka for example. At regular moments you are free to roam the environments to search for clues or hidden postcards (collectibles) but oh boy.. it’s like the detective didn’t even research how to move his body. I could understand that walking on two legs is hard for a black panther but yikes. The slow movement, weird camera angles that break your walking motion and the unresponsive turning as an elephant make it a real pain to play. Making things even worse is the flash box for picking things up, it disappears so fast that you circle back and forth to collect stuff, despite all the good intentions from the developer.
While the graphical novels from Blacksad are masterpieces for many readers, the same can not be said about this videogame. The game has many negative elements but luckily the gameplay and especially the story and dialogue are what keeps everything together. It still remains a bitter pill to swallow because it has so much potential, maybe Pendulo has more time and resources for the sequel.