Blacksad: Under the Skin
Developed By: Pendulo Studios
Published By: Microïds
Category: Action, Adventure
Release Date: 12.10.19
I’m a big fan of the hard-boiled detective. I’ve read all the classics like Hammett and Chandler, and have a soft spot for anything following in their footsteps. The Blacksad series of graphic novels by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido was, at first glance, a little too furry for me. But the gorgeous, lavishly detailed art and smart, dark, and surprisingly funny story kept calling to me from the shelf at my local comic store/place of employment. I picked it up and have never regretted it. I’ve purchased every book released in the series since and owe Mr. Guarnido my absolute favorite comic con experience.
The line to get in was huge, and even though I got there an hour early I only got onto the floor an hour after the con had opened its doors. Getting a sketch in my book from Guarnido was my sole goal for the convention; it was, as I remember it, his first convention appearance in the US (or at least anywhere near me). I wanted to make sure I could get something from this artist I admired so much. His agent, who was running his booth, regretted to inform me that the sketch list was already full for the day. Mr. Guarnido, hard at work on other people’s sketches, beckoned the agent over and asked what we were talking about. After receiving his explanation, Mr. Guarnido asked if I would be there the whole day; I said I would.
“I can fit you in,” he said, and if there was any part of me that wasn’t already a fan for life, it was permanently converted in that moment. So, why did I tell you all that? So you will have some idea exactly how much it hurts me to have to write the rest of this review. I preordered Blacksad: Under the Skin for the Nintendo Switch the second it was available on Amazon, and even after a few delays, the game released in a broken, essentially unplayable state. After waiting months for a patch, I regret to inform you that while certain conditions have improved, the game remains a mess.
The true shame of the game’s buggy existence is that the actual game – if it would function properly – seems like it would be exactly what I’d want out of a Blacksad adventure. Boxing manager Joe Dunn is found murdered in his own gym, and private eye John Blacksad is hired to find Dunn’s star pupil and the primary suspect in his murder by Dunn’s daughter, Sonia. The mystery takes Blacksad on a tour of the boxing world’s seedy underbelly – and I love a good adventure through seedy underbellies. We get to meet a slew of characters introduced just for the game as well as a few longtime Blacksad allies.
In terms of gameplay, Under the Skin reminds me the most of Telltale Games’ catalogue of adventures. You can move Blacksad around the game world, investigating the environment for clues and questioning characters you meet. Your actions have different effects on the characters you meet; what you choose to share with them and what you keep to yourself will affect what they in turn share with you. The most interesting addition to the formula is Blacksad’s ability to make deductions based on facts he gathers through conversation and investigation. You enter a screen where you match up different facts to deduce certain aspects of the case. It sometimes boils down to just kind of randomly lining things up to see what happens; but it’s a cool mechanic to simulate a detective’s methodology.
There isn’t much action in the story, and what there is takes place in the form of quick time events. For those unfamiliar, a button prompt will suddenly pop up on the screen, and you have to hit said button before the timer on the action runs out. And this is where the game’s bugginess is most noticeable; the graphics stutter frequently, even after the patch. At launch the graphical stuttering was so bad the game would lag past an entire QTE before I even knew one was happening, resulting in an instant QTE loss without any chance to pass it. The patch has improved things to the point where I always know when the QTEs are happening, but I have lost half the timer or more on some because of the stuttering. It is extremely frustrating.
Sadly, the graphical stuttering is not the end of the game’s graphical troubles. Textures load very slowly, particularly in the backgrounds and sometimes for character models. Again, conditions have improved since the patch, but sometimes I’ll still be thirty seconds into a scene before a character’s facial textures finally load. One part that has not improved is the lip synching; dialogue almost never matches up with character’s mouth movements. It’s pretty jarring. Finally, we have one part of the game that has not really improved since the patch; crashing. I have not advanced past a certain scene at a poker game; every time I load up the game, I see the ending to that scene again, and, before the next scene begins loading, the game crashes. I’ve tried it several times, and the game keeps crashing at that point – six times and counting, in case anyone’s wondering if it’s just a fluke.
This isn’t a game I waited for a review code to get (although the Switch Effect was given a review code); I preordered this the very day it went live on Amazon. I’ve been playing games for almost thirty years; this is honestly the first time I have ever regretted preordering a game. I realize developers and publishers are under a lot of pressure to get games shipped and meet the financial demands of game publishing, but I honestly can’t understand why anyone would ever ship a game this broken. The game’s bugs are so frequent and pervasive that I can’t believe they weren’t fully aware they were shipping a basically unplayable game. Even a large day one patch and a second large patch could only reduce the severity of the game’s issues, not eliminate any. I will always be a fan of John Blacksad, but this is surely the series’ lowest point.