There is absolutely nothing wrong with building a shared universe, whether that be across games or films. Of course, Marvel and DC do it best, taking their heroes and villains, seeing them popping up or getting referenced to in different stories in their universe. But the gaming world does it as well; take the various Resident Evil games that run as separate stories but have a common thread.
The developers of Bahnsen Knights have been here before too – in fact, this is the third game in their shared universe of Pixel Pulp games. Previous to it were Mothmen 1966 and Varney Lake which told almost X-Files stories in a weird America. We’re now set for another strange tale. Let’s go down the rabbit hole.
I am a sucker for a good narrative and both of the previously delivered entries in this series deliver that and more. They are grown-up stories that deserve the “Pixel Pulp” moniker. Yet whilst the first two had a supernatural element, Bahnsen Knights is much more of a grittier detective story, a game that showcases the evil of man/woman without a monster of the week to smother it. It feels more focused, shorter than the previous two, but is still thoroughly enjoyable to play and read. It does feel dirty and grimy in this universe it creates. That though, is a big thumbs-up.
In Bahnsen Knights you play a detective who is working undercover for the government in a religious cult group. His life has been fabricated, including a make-believe dead family. The cult group is based in the middle Americas somewhere, their religion focused on cars and roads. They produce exorcisms on the road while driving; very dangerous and extreme. Your journey takes you across this story, through the roads, barns, and bars of this cult group. You try to keep yourself hidden while learning all you can about the cult and its leader. When someone is captured (a regular from the whole series), the undercover detective has to make an important decision whether to risk it all…
The writing is excellent, as is the world building. But that is to be expected from this series of games. There are stories within stories, all working well. Personally, that is a bit of a favourite technique of mine and this game does it superbly. You can taste and smell the places that are written about in Bahnsen Knights, and that ensures you get good storytelling. It has that ‘choose your own adventure’ choice system in place too, which might mean a lot of retrying to get through to the end.
As with the narrative choice gameplay system, there are some minigames to take in; a small version of darts and – like the other two games in the series – a strange version of Solitaire. There are some driving minigames too, a fighting one, and a strange lockpicking thing that needs to be completed. These extra elements make Bahnsen Knights into something a bit more than just a visual novel with a good narrative. Even then though, it’s only going to take a couple of hours to complete but it might be worth a few replays as you are bound to miss some narrative threads. Threads like that of the barman who tells different stories…
Bahnsen Knights visuals work as before – all pixeled, running like that of an Amiga or Commodore 64 screen. They are, however, beautifully coloured and designed with some dazzlingly well created screens. For some these retro designs might not satisfy but I think it works in the grand scheme of things, as well as with the tone.
The sound design is simple but effective with some 80’s synth tracks that build up the menace and the tension throughout. There is a jukebox in the bar where you can choose different tracks and these are lovely.
If you loved the other games in the series, then Bahnsen Knights is a must-buy. And honestly, if you haven’t experienced this trilogy yet, you should do so. Neatly, you can start here if you want, mostly as it is a story in its own right and you won’t have missed out on any lore. The narrative and writing are excellent in Bahnsen Knights, as is the mix of very simple bits of gameplay with the visual novel setup.
There’s little available on Xbox like the series from LCB Game Studio and you really should take some time to enjoy the story that is Bahnsen Knights.