Enter the dark world of anthropomorphic animals (animals which look like humans) in Blacksad Under The Skin on consoles and PC. Set in a post-war New York City, you play as private dick John Blacksad. He’s a troubled cat-human with a keen eye for detail and a hard-boiled approach to solving crimes. In this instance a missing boxer and the supposed suicide of a boxing gym owner. Tasked by the now deceased gym owner’s daughter to solve the mystery, is Blacksad Under The Skin worth while for adventure fans?
First things first what is this game if we’re to pigeon hole it somewhere. It’s a point-and-click style adventure game with some quick time events (QTEs) thrown in for good measure alongside some neat investigation gameplay. The Blacksad character comes from the Spanish comic album series created by authors Juan Díaz Canales (writer) and Juanjo Guarnido (artist). The look comes faithfully recreated here but in a video-game kind-of-way. If you look at the art in any of the comics you will notice a far greater attention to detail there. That’s perhaps a negative then for those familiar with the comics. Anyone else will blissfully take the visuals at face value considering the anthropomorphic style is a key feature here. It’s actually quite unique and conveyed very well here despite the lack of overall detail and character expressions.
Looking at the gameplay, it consists of slow-walking through various locales (Blacksad never runs), clicking on objects of interest, QTE’s, collecting hall of fame collectibles, interrogating suspects and concerned parties. Beneath the surface Blacksad gathers clues in his notebook and then pieces them together in a deduction mode. This is quite neat but sometimes is a little vague where trial-and-error acts as an effective strategy for those not paying full attention to events. During interrogations Blacksad uses his unique detective skills where time slows allowing him to focus on sight, sound and smell. Here players move a cursor to highlight the point of interest.
The main hook then aside from some 30 odd characters to interact with is the compelling story. It’s a detective game, your job is to uncover the truths and to-be-fair the story is very good to the point you have to finish what you started. It’s a whodunit at the end of the day alongside a healthy dose of misdirection and red-herrings. This keeps events rather interesting and when the final curtain falls it’s a completely odd direction you wouldn’t have guessed at the start of the story.
Most of the systems work here then although some moments are vague and feel a little buggy. For example, invisible walls block movement and in some case it’s hard to move the character due to the props or camera angle. Perhaps the most annoying element are the QTEs which come scattered about various scenes. Often not giving much time to react resulting in restarting the section. To-be-honest the game would have been just fine without them as they add very little to the overall adventure. In some instances it also feels like the deliberate slow-pace is a design feature to prolong the experience which is a bit unnecessary. Let players run around if they want to. Give them some urgency rather than this cool and collected cat like slinking around each location.
Negatives aside, the visuals look good… mostly, with basic animated faces and movements. Some environment texture details are lacking though made worse by the slow-pacing drawing focus on them. That said, the visuals are functional with decent lighting and shadow effects. There is an HDR option as well for those looking for a bit more contrast between light and dark. For PC owners limited options rest in the menu to suit your system. The game locks at 30 fps though so at 4K our RTX 2080 Ti was running at around 30-50% usage. A shame but not really a deal-breaker.
The game’s jazz-fused soundtrack though is excellent and a driving-force behind the investigation. Some really great tunes fill the air which are fitting of the 1950s vibe. The characters are also well-acted. Blacksad sounds suitably gruff alongside the calm voices of the females and accent heavy supporting cast. A good job overall with the audio and of course the script offers plentiful humour as well.
In terms of length expect to net around 8-10 hours depending on how thorough you are. As mentioned, elongated somewhat by the slow walking speed of Blacksad. Replay-value is a bit of a tough one because the game is all about telling a story. Whilst it’s possible to choose alternate responses during conversations on a second playthrough, the main story once bested loses its investigation appeal when you know what happens.
Blacksad Under the Skin is a pleasant game to play although perhaps a little slow-paced for some. It has some interesting gameplay ideas using Blacksad’s senses and powers of deduction, but the main hook is the visual style. Whilst still very good, perhaps it doesn’t capture the same expressiveness of the comics the game is based on. A lot of the characters seem emotionless in terms of animation relying on the voice-over to get the point across. A shame then given the subject material. As an adventure game there is a nice story to uncover here but it’ all quite easy to fathom out. Perhaps that’s a good thing for some gamers. If you like adventure games then this is worth a look for some entertaining story-telling. For those who prefer more taxing pastimes this might just be a little too easy-going.