A Crowd Of Monsters episodic alt history / adventure game Blues And Bullets continues with its second episode “Shaking The Hive”. The previous episode introduced the primary and secondary characters and a monochromatic world. The End Of Peace also provides the game’s MacGuffin – the kidnap of Al Capone’s granddaughter Sophia. Shaking The Hive progresses the story, filling in some blanks that were left at the conclusion of the previous episode.
Shaking The Hive opens with another single-take camera shot, gliding over a harbour front holding a Christmas market, and a flashback prologue to a lover’s tryst between Ness and the wife of a member of his Untouchables, Delphine Dockers. Elliott and Delphine discuss her husband Jim’s suspicions and whether or not the lovers should end the affair. Mid-discussion the couple learn of a raid gone wrong, resulting in the death of Jim Dockers – whom Ness had tasked with heading the operation in order to steal time away with Mrs Dockers.
The game flashes forward to the fifties and continues the cliff hanger from The End Of Peace, with Ness disguised as a low level mobster along with Capone’s henchman Milton meeting with the enigmatic Nikolai Ivankov, flanked by his enormous, mute skull mask-wearing bodyguard aboard his Soviet nuclear submarine. This portion of the game includes the cover shooter and crime scene investigation sequences seen in the previous episode. The investigation provides Ness with enough evidence to believe Ivankov was involved in Sophia’s abduction.
The following scene takes us back to the past, and a tense trek through the woods with Elliott Ness and Jim Dockers. Dockers tells Ness that he has something to show him, and whilst they make their way to their destination, discuss a Voodoo-esque cult that inhabited the local area. Jim draws comparisons with the cult’s leadership issues to infidelity, and reveals to Ness that he suspects Delphine of adultery – it’s up to you whether Ness comes clean about the affair or not. By the end of the sequence, Ness will have obtained evidence that will put Capone in the slammer.
Tied into this flashback is a first-person, almost dreamlike sequence. As with the cover shooter and investigation portions, I felt this fit in well, as Ness’ subconscious fears are address. My only fear is that A Crowd Of Monsters may be cramming too many different elements into the series.
At the conclusion of this scene – and back to the here and now, we find Ness and Milton sitting front and centre in the Hindenburg’s theatre, as Capone takes out his rage and frustrations on a captive Ivankov. Ness takes over the interrogation, only to be interrupted by Ivankov’s monstrous right hand man. Ness, Capone and Milton must shoot their way through Ivankov’s minions to a cable car at the far end of the airship that will take them back to terra ferma. A couple of points of note are the opportunity to control Capone for a limited time and Ness also has the chance to use a truck bed-mounted minigun.
The episode concludes with a return to the Blues And Bullets diner, and a Se7en inspired cliff hanger. There’s another epilogue following the vocal credits focussing on who we assume to be Sophia dealing with the consequences of the previous decisions she made in The End Of Peace.
Shaking The Hive continues the high standard that first episode set. The graphical style, music and voice acting from Doug Cockle, John Guerrasio and the rest of the cast are consistently solid. I do have a couple of concerns with this episode though; the first is the inclusion of another style of gameplay, and whilst I admit that it fit perfectly, I hope this is reserved solely for the purpose it was intended – seeing Ness’ fears from his point of view. My second grumble comes from the minigun sequence – I found that the frame rate dropped horrendously, which stalled an otherwise fantastic cover shooter sequence. Aside from these two issues, Blues And Bullets continues to impress. Bring on episode three.