Blacksad is an offbeat adventure game where you play as a cat solving mysteries

Blacksad is a series of Spanish-created, French-published graphic novels about a cat in a long coat who solves mysteries. Are you not already sold? I read the first volume earlier this year, since they've been published in lovely English hardcovers by Dark Horse Comics. They're simple and compelling noir mysteries set in a world of humanoid animals, and if you can forgive a few eyebrow-raising female character designs, I give them a strong recommendation. 

This game is impressively faithful to the tone of those books, and it'll probably remind most people of Telltale's The Wolf Among Us, given that you're solving a mystery while interacting with talking animals. But while Blacksad: Under the Skin uses a similar cinematic presentation to recent Telltale games, it also contains the kind of puzzles you'd expect from a traditional point-and-click adventure, for better or worse. You play as John Blacksad (yes, the cat is called John) in this strange animal-dominated version of '50s New York, and you're trying to solve the mystery of why a boxing ring owner has (seemingly) killed himself, and why in a related matter, a boxer has gone missing right before a fight. 

The demo I played started in John's office as a rhino entered spoiling for a scrap. John got hold of photos of the rhino cheating on his wife (what a sentence this is turning out to be), and he's not happy about it. The ensuing brawl plays out in the form of a QTE, which is fairly rote, but the action is fun: headbutting a rhino in close quarters combat when you're a cat probably isn't a good idea. I really should've punched him instead.

(Image credit: Microids)

After John avoids taking a bullet and the fight ends, I can choose how to resolve the scuffle. I decided to tell the rhino I wouldn't reveal the cheating to his wife—though I turned down his offer of hush money. Later, though, I picked up the phone and told his wife about the cheating anyway. It's not a perfect sequence of choices when it comes to either money making or telling the truth, but I wanted to see how the game would react to a conflicting choice like that. 

Sure enough, in a later scene the rhino would confront Blacksad about his subsequent change of heart, which is a cool way of demonstrating consequences for small decisions. Some repeated lip sync issues aside, the characters are nicely animated, and John's quietly gruff voice actor is a spot-on choice for a surly, troubled and charming cat who's always trying to crack a case. 

A few different bars measure how you've shaped Blacksad with your choices. I don't get much of a sense of how much they affect the overall story, but one bar tells you how profitable the case in question will be, and another tells you how 'hardboiled' you are or aren't as a detective, which I assume tracks how empathetic you are towards the characters you encounter. When it comes to profitability of the case, the game throws up instances where you can choose how to approach the subject of money: you can be upfront about the price of John's services, or take a softer angle. 

(Image credit: Microids)

The fundamental novelty factor of a cat solving mysteries is powerful

Outside of the choices in conversations, the game feels more like a traditional adventure game, as you explore small-ish environments looking for clues to advance the story. You can then piece these clues together in a menu screen that represents Blacksad's detective brain at work (see above). I didn't do a whole lot of that, though, because despite finding plenty of interesting things around the environments in this demo, none of them quite added up to a solution that pushed the game forward. Instead, there was a lot of retreading the same places looking for clues I might've missed.

The pace seems fairly languid. I actually wouldn't mind Blacksad being a bit firmer in telegraphing what you're supposed to do next, since I'm more interested in the dialogue choice and story side of the game, rather than listlessly picking through environments. Blacksad can also uncover clues in the middle of conversations, hovering the cursor details on characters to figure out more about them, like who they work for. 

(Image credit: Microids)

The developers have just delayed the game to November from its original September date, and I think that was a wise move. Blacksad: Under the Skin could use a bit of polish. As well as clues being a bit easier to find, I wouldn't mind some clearer QTE prompts for certain actions, and better lip-syncing in cutscenes. The offbeat charm of the graphic novels feels like it's carried over, though, and there's a lot to enjoy about the characters and story. I just hope the more traditional point-and-click elements add up to an exciting detective game—this demo didn't convince me of that. 

Anyway, show me another game in 2019 that'll feature this scenario:

(Image credit: Microids)
Samuel Roberts
Former PC Gamer EIC Samuel has been writing about games since he was 18. He's a generalist, because life is surely about playing as many games as possible before you're put in the cold ground.