Taken from the comic launched in 2000 by a couple of Spanish writers, Blacksad: Under The Skin has now been developed in a game by Pendulo Studios and published by Microids. In a parallel world of anthropomorphic animals set in New York in the 1950’s, you play as Blacksad a cat Detective. Immediately you feel the vibe of The Wolf Among Us , but rather than fairy-tale characters with many human features these are fully-fledged animals that walk and talk like humans.
In short, Blacksad is handed a suspicious suicide case where an owner of a boxing gym has hung himself, but all is not as it seems and it’s up to Blacksad to unpick the case and put his 9 cat lives on the line for the truth. The game starts you off quite aggressively with you as Blacksad in his detective’s office when an angry Rhino barges into your office and you faced with your first a few sporadically placed quick time events that are part of this game. You then are faced with the main element of the game which is the conversational options. Much like the Telltale games, every conversation path you choose has an impact on the story and it also shapes the personality of your Blacksad character.
Blacksad seems to share many elements with others in the same genre and yet feels like it has put its own mark on things at the same time. I feel like the games Wolf Among Us, L.A. Noire and Phoenix Wright have been put in a mixer to produce Blacksad. Similar to The Wolf Among Us there are quick time events and conversational choices with animal-like characters. Similar to L.A. Noire it’s very serious and I feel it contains a lot more adult violence. Then like Phoenix Wright you need to search rooms for clues and make deductions. So, if you are a fan of those games then I think you will enjoy Blacksad too.
The gameplay has some strong areas, but it also has a couple of flaws which should have been ironed out prior to release as it would have improved the game a lot. The strong areas are the conversational sections. You are usually given a choice per button and not a lot of time to decide as not saying anything is also an extra option you can choose. This helps you make snap judgements and not overthink every choice – potentially leading you down the wrong path and, I think, making the game more interesting. Also, if you do make the wrong choice and it ends up in a game-ending scene – such as you dying – then you are given the option to retry so you can select a different option that progresses the story.
The deduction section is also quite fun although you can’t really fail, and smart minds can piece these together quite quickly. The most interesting element they have is how you can use your feline senses to gain yourself an advantage in certain scenarios. Occasionally during conversations, you will see a cat option which when selected will slow down time around you and allow you to use one of your cat senses to pick things up which could assist in the investigation. For example, you can use your cat vision to see documents people are holding, you can use you cat sense of smell to pick up the scent of perfume or of people that are not in view or you can use your cat hearing to pick up on someone’s heartbeat to help gauge how honest they are being.
Where the flaws lie are in the free movement sections where you need to look for clues. The scenes are usually set quite nicely, the character designs are varied and cleverly drawn, and the slow jazz music pulls you into the noir feel quite nicely. Then you try to move your character and you realise what a bad choice has been made. When the idea is for you scour every inch of the scene looking for clues, having the controls to move Blacksad similar to the characters in the original Resident Evil games, which share the same poor camera angles and slow movement, it can be quite annoying. When you find a place of interest it is highlighted on the screen for you to push the A button. However, even when you shuffle as slow as you do you through the location you sometimes see the prompt flash and disappear quickly.
Then you need to shuffle Blacksad’s cumbersome carcass stupidly in circles, so you are facing the right direction in a vain effort to get the prompt to show itself so that you don’t miss the clue. This really needed addressing as it kills the momentum going so slow and can be frustrating when searching for clues. The other flaw is the quick time events; these come about usually without no prior warning and give you such a small window of time to react you almost always fail the first time and you end up watching Blacksad lose another of his cat lives. Quick time events fall into the marmite category where some love them some hate them. The fact they offer no warning and the timing is so quick I’m not sure how many are going to be fond of their use in this game but in my opinion it fits in OK, it just could have been handled better.
For longevity, though they have added some side quests to keep you busy during the main story. When searching all areas, you can also come across hall of fame cards which are just collectables to add to a sticker book of animal sporting heroes. There are also 6 possible endings to the game depending on your choices throughout the game, so it does give you a reason to go back and play through the game differently to see the other outcomes.
Blacksad: Under The Skin is an enjoyable detective game and the gritty noir story is very gripping. You care what happens to your cat-man detective and you’ll want to get to the bottom of the crime. All the other characters in the game are interesting and varied and the fact they are animals makes things a bit more entertaining. But the controls when moving Blacksad are so slow and clunky that they let the game down a tad, ruining the will to explore the world fully.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by the publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.