Review – Blacksad: Under the Skin
I have been very excited for Blacksad: Under the Skin for a little while now. It has so many different aspects about it that appeal to me. It’s based off the Spanish gritty crime drama comic Blacksad by Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido. It features anthropomorphic characters in a 1950’s setting and plays like a Telltale game (RIP). In fact, I figured this was probably the closest thing we were going to get to The Wolf Among Us 2 since Telltale went under. My hopes soared as high as Icarus and crashed in very much the same way.
I was originally provided this game much closer to its initial launch date, but it was in such a rushed and broken state that the game was unplayable. My heart broke. Then we received an email from the publisher, Microids, assuring us that a patch to fix the known issues was on its way. I eagerly awaited to play it again once the patch made everything run smoothly. The patch came, and while there is a noticeable difference in the visual quality, it still remains largely glitchy and buggy. Since this is the best I can hope for with no new news about further fixing the issues, I have no choice but to review it as is. Brace yourselves, because like this game, it’s going to get ugly.
You play as the titular John Blacksad, a panther-looking private detective in the early 1950’s. He’s hired to investigate the suspicious circumstances revolving around the apparent suicide of a local boxing gym owner, Joe Dunn, by his daughter Sonia Dunn. On top of her grief and stress of now having to run the financially failing gym, Sonia tells Blacksad that their up and coming prized fighter, Robert Yale, has mysteriously vanished. She instructs Blacksad to find the missing boxer and get him to fight in the upcoming title match as her father had originally planned.
The premise is very intriguing, although it does suffer from some pacing issues early on in the game. Before too long things pick up, with lots of twists and turns along the way. Racial tensions and prejudices are an important theme in here, but it is strange hearing characters talk about blacks vs whites when they’re all various forms of animals. It would make more sense to have dogs vs cats or carnivores vs herbivores like in Zootopia. It’s often confusing as to who is on what side until they reference it directly.
All of the voice acting is very well done and helps to sell the emotions the characters are portraying. Which is crucial since many of the facial animations are so wooden. I understand it’s probably difficult to get convincing facial emotions from various animals, but the comics were able to pull it off so I’m not sure what the hang up was here.
Even aside from the stoic character features, Blacksad: Under the Skin has lots of problems in the graphics department. The initial launch version had textures that wouldn’t render for anywhere from ten to thirty seconds. The patched version is marginally better, but still suffers from slow textural rendering, massive pop ins, and plummeting framerate drops.
Then there’s the loading times. Good lord, those loading screens are the worst. With a game this undemanding on your hardware, I have no idea why it takes between one to two minutes to load the next screen. Terrible optimization I guess. It’s not like you’ll only see them every once in a while either. Blacksad has to walk everywhere (slowly) and each new place he goes, be it the gym, diner, or an apartment, will have a lengthy loading screen. Since he has to frequently travel back and forth between places to talk to people, loading screens become the bane of your existence.
You can’t skip through cutscenes either, even if you’ve already seen it. If you fail one of the very randomly placed QTEs, you’ll have to watch the whole cutscene over again. Same goes for reloading your game. It’s anyone’s guess where it will have you start and how much of your progress it will save. I clocked about six hours of the game, but between the loading screens, re-watching cutscenes, and reloading my game, I probably only played about four hours.
The gameplay is where Blacksad: Under the Skin struggles the most. It’s suppose to be a point-and-click style game with occasional QTEs and a very cool cat sense feature to find hidden clues. However, controlling Blacksad is about as easy as driving a bus down Lombard street in San Francisco. The environments are very small and Blacksad has a ridiculously wide turning radius. This means he’ll bump into things around the room and get stuck on various items like chairs or desks. And I do mean stuck thanks to the wonderful glitches that run rampant throughout this game. I had to reload my game three times because he was stuck in place by a wall or table, regardless of how I tried spinning him around.
That’s not the only area where glitches affect the game. A large portion of Blacksad: Under the Skin involves interrogating suspects and persons of interest (or should I say animals of interest?). This is where the majority of the bugs occur. I can’t tell you how many times I would be interviewing a character, only to have them freeze while their dialogue continued. Or suddenly have the dialogue options disappear and leave the characters stuck staring at each other with no way to exit out of it. Or have the screen go mostly black and pixelated so so can’t see what any of the options are and have no way to exit out of it. Oh wait, yes I can. Twelve times! I had to reload my game twelve times in order to get out of the glitch, only to get stuck in that same spot again more often than not.
The whole experience was so incredibly frustrating, but I kept hanging in there because I wanted to know how the story ends. I’m a stickler for finishing a good story. Throughout the whole ordeal I kept hoping that the story would be so dark and compelling that it would make the headache worth it. Then after about six hours of playing, I was in the middle of an interrogation when the game crashed and booted me off. I started it back up only to have Blacksad stuck in the close perspective of a conversation scene with no one talking or any dialogue options present. I could move him, but not interact with anything and he would move through things and characters like a ghost.
I fell back on my tried and true method of reloading the game only to have it bring me back to the exact same spot with the exact same issues. That was it ladies and gentleman. I had come across a dreaded game-breaking bug. My only option now is to restart the game from the beginning, but there’s just no point. As much as I desperately want to know how everything turns out, I am not about to subject myself to several more hours of fighting glitches and bugs just to have this same nonsense happen again.
It’s such a shame. There’s a potentially amazing game to be had in Blacksad: Under the Skin. The idea is great and the vocal performances are strong all around. But having to reload your game a grand total of fifteen times before being taking out by a game-breaking bug is unacceptable. Hopefully Pendulo Studios learns from their mistakes and gives us the Blacksad game we can actually play and enjoy. If you’re still curious to try it, go with the PC version as I hear it seems to run a bit smoother.
The art design captures the look of the comics it’s based off of nicely. The facial animations however, can be very wooden. Tons of pop-ins, textural inconsistencies, and glitches.
In theory, it’s a simple point-and-click game with random QTEs. However, the controls are very cumbersome and the game is plagued with glitches and bugs. It crashed on me numerous times before I encountered a game-breaking glitch that made it unplayable.
The bluesy and jazz filled soundtrack fits the 50’s noir detective feel wonderfully. The voice acting is strong throughout.
The story is really intriguing and it gets even more compelling after you push through the slower beginning sections. Too bad the game is so full of bugs and glitches that it became unplayable before I could finish it.
Final Verdict: 3.0
Blacksad: Under the Skin is available now on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.
Reviewed on PS4.
A copy of Blacksad: Under the Skin was provided by the publisher.