The title card for Blacksad: Under the Skin

Now I have a little problem when it comes to video games based on books. If the reading material isn’t too old and not some giant Lord of the Rings-length series, I have to read it before playing. So knowing that, let me take you back to 2019. I was scrolling GOG.com and saw a picture of an anthropomorphic cat in a trench coat. Seeing that I instantly knew two things; it was a detective game, and it was probably noir. I was right on both counts, and after some light googling I saw that this video game was based off a comic series. Sometime in late 2020 I read all the comics(5 issues) and in 2021 I started playing the video game(still haven’t finished). Due to my experience with this series in both forms I believe I can accurately detail how Blacksad: Under the Skin was handled from paper to polygons.

The Comics

If there was a checklist for a noir detective John Blacksad’s would be full of ink. He’s a veteran, smokes, is disillusioned with society, and somehow ends up in the middle of all his cases. This series takes place in late 1950’s America with all the history and horrors that entails. Racism between white and black animals is very real, and this is used as the backdrop to a couple tales. Blacksad’s first story deals with a former flame’s tragic death and his latest one was a series of unfortunate events involving some writers and the circus. Blacksad is frequently fought, sometimes shot at, and knocked out a little too much in his tales. But one thing that is constant is that the crux of each story exposes or hits at the heart of something much bigger. His cases are never as straightforward as they should be.

Blacksad: Somewhere Within the Shadows: https://www.europecomics.com/album/1-somewhere-within-the-shadows/

John Blacksad and Police Commissioner Smirnov talking in this screenshot from Blacksad: Under the Skin

The Game

Blacksad: Under the Skin is a mystery-adventure that plays a bit like a Telltale game. There are three main elements. The first element is the backbone of every detective game; investigation. You can walk around and look at various scenes, pick up items, and move things around. The second element is the classic four-option response system seen in just about every story-driven game nowadays. You’ll also receive a little popup letting you know exactly what kind of response you gave. The final gameplay element and the one that makes you feel most like a detective is deduction. When you use deduction you take statements and information given and combine them to come up with new knowledge. There are also QTE’s scattered throughout the game that keep you on your toes. This game really lets you experience the more intricate parts of detective work.

When Paper Meets Polygons

The story for this game is very thick. It begins with the death of a boxing gym owner known for giving opportunities to minorities. At first the police believe it is a suicide, but you know it’s not that simple. The Blacksad comics constantly touch on society’s sins and its moral ills and this game does the same. The dialogue is sharp, world expansive and motivations unclear. You’ll see the racist undertones, feel the heat from the criminal underbelly, and touch on family drama. This game has the fights, the introspection, and the bottom-falls-out feeling of a Blacksad comic. While we normally watch John smooth talk information out of people in the comics the onus is on us now. It is a bit difficult trying to maintain the balance of not offending but still pushing for answers. This gives us a little more insight into what must be going through Blacksad’s mind constanly.

Conclusion

Blacksad: Under the Skin captures the feel of the comics perfectly. From the way Blacksad sits and reacts to his environment to the internal monologues and even the music, this just hits on all levels. The only negatives I can give this game are a few movement issues and the choice of voice actor, but those are significant enough to detract from your experience. Now you don’t need to read the comics in order to play this game, and you don’t need to play this game if you love the comics. But if you ever wondered what you would do if you were in John Blacksad’s shoes, this is your chance to put them on.

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