Blacksad is Extra Sad
I can't get Blacksad out of a basement. He's trapped there. Help.
Okay, look. We got a copy of Blacksad: Under the Skin, an upcoming adventure game based on a well-loved French comic book series. It stars John Blacksad, an anthropomorphic cat that is a private detective. He solves crime, and generally does morally ambiguous things in 1950's New York City. In Under the Skin, he's solving the crime of a boxing manager that's found hung up in his own gym, and trying to figure out how he died and what happened to his champion boxer that went missing. Crime is afoot. Blacksad will solve it.
Over the course of the case, you have to talk to various persons of interest. You got the maid that discovered the body, the star boxer that may have been jealous of the champion, the victim's daughter that has to take over the gym, and more. Each character has a story that I'd love to unravel because they're all interesting. It's just that I can't.
You see, at one point Blacksad needs to go into a basement. The basement is dark and the only source of light is his lighter. Your goal is to... well I don't know, and that's the problem. Upon entering this basement, a time limit starts up counting down the fuel left in Blacksad's lighter. The problem is, I can clearly see a light switch, but the game won't let me interact with it. I can also clearly see stairs, but there's an invisible wall blocking them. No matter what I do, I hit the same situation. I run circles around the room, attempting to interact with everything to no avail. I simply can not leave the basement. Eventually, the lighter fluid runs out and I get a game over. Maybe there was a way around this basement, but I'll never know because there is one save slot and it autosaves before I entered. Maybe this is a commentary on Shrodinger's Cat? We don't know if he's alive or dead, if he solves the case of fails, we know nothing. It's almost genius if I wasn't certain it's not related to that at all.
There's an equal chance this is an unexplained element, or that I can't find something I need. Under the Skin has a bad problem with both pixel hunting and not telling you what to do. Several times before this, I found vital objects stuffed away in an obscure corner or behind camera obstacles. Clues go into a notebook or in Blacksad's mind, and you can access either at any time to help you along, but you're never told how to or when you need to. There's a system that lets Blacksad discover special hidden information using his exceptional sense of sight, hearing, and smell, but the game doesn't tell you how this system works. Things click when you piece it all together, but half the battle is actually piecing it all together.
There's also a serious chance that this is a glitch. Under the Skin certainly had quite a few during my time with it. If I tried to open the aforementioned notebook right when something else is starting, all the graphics would get messed up and often UI elements would vanish. During conversations, it was clear at times that audio cues or even entire voice lines were missing. Characters would awkwardly stare at each other. Animations would play off sync, or clip through character models. I once saw Blacksad smoke using his ear. So I'm completely willing to believe that I just ran into a particularly nasty glitch.
It's a real shame, honestly. While it may not have been great, I was genuinely enjoying my time with Under the Skin. It's a game I actively wanted to play, thanks to the great characters and interesting story. It helps that it seems to fit the tone of the comic so well, combining serious moments and themes with the art style and occasional comedy. Using Blacksad's skill set I was able to pick locks, interrogate witnesses, and find all sorts of hidden clues and connections. This is some classic adventure game fun at an enjoyable level.
Sometimes you'll have to get violent, though the fights are just quick-time events. They may not look great, even at its best Under the Skin always seems to look a little off, but they're set to such an incredibly fun jazz soundtrack that I couldn't help but find them totally endearing. If nothing else, the image of hardboiled detective Blacksad trying to fight off a professional boxer with nothing but a wooden serving tray is rather hilarious and worth the price of admission alone.
Look, even with its faults, I want to play Blacksad: Under the Skin. It's a game that I think manages to be a better experience than the sum of its parts. I just need it to work. I need to save John Blacksad from the basement he is trapped in. So the game sits to the side until a patch frees him. Once it does, I'll be back.
TechRaptor played Blacksad: Under the Skin on PC using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.