In a version of a post-apocalypse, the 1986 world of Bahnsen Knights is ravished by mysterious tornados and the world has gone into disarray. Just this premise alone makes for an intriguing world mythos where infinite stories can spawn. LCB Game Studio definitely has a specific vision by having a line of games called Pixel Pulps, as Bahnsen Knights feels ripped directly off the drugstore shelf, which works both in its favor as well as against.
Pulp Fiction stories started in the 1920s but lost popularity in the ‘90s. They were short stories that ranged from detective thrillers to out of this world sci fi and in this way Bahnsen Knights fits the bill. It is a short visual novel that leans heavily into the bright neon of the ‘80s but with a gritty comic art style. You are playing as undercover FBI agent Boulder who has done horrible things to infiltrate the Bahnsen Knights cult (lead by a former car salesman), and to find his former partner Cupra, who disappeared mysteriously. Most of all, Boulder just wants to get back to his wife and child.
Like most visual novels, the story funnels Boulder through multiple locations and scenarios as he struggles to keep up his cover amongst the lowlife lieutenants of the cult while investigating their crimes. Choosing to engage with each member builds a trust meter that can later be used to expand dialogue options. There are also specific opportunities to investigate areas or lockpick for more evidence. Any evidence collected can be sent to the FBI via a card system. There are also mini games for driving and lock picking that come into play at limited instances.
The game’s issues come with the multiple choice nature of the experience. With trust systems, evidence systems, and timing-based mini games, the expectation is that there would be branching paths, but for the most part there really isn’t. None of the systems seem to come with story impact. The story is what it is, and there are just different ways of playing for your own convenience. One example has you gaining the trust of a bartender to find your way into a back room, but there really isn’t a way to get into the backroom without his trust and the game doesn’t allow you to continue unless you go into that backroom. Once inside the backroom, you have to search for evidence but finding the evidence didn’t yield any results once reported so there wasn’t a lot of variation. It felt like a poorly implemented illusion of choice, and that carried through the entirety of the game.
Once I rolled credits on Bahnsen Knights, I hadn’t felt like I played a game as much as I participated in a very simple visual experience that wanted to be more than what it was. The mechanics here are all ideas that never pan out to anything substantial, which makes me think this actually was more of an experiment–trying out inconsequential mechanics before releasing something more cohesive. That’s the hope at least because as of right now, Bahnsen Knights is a game that speaks at you instead of to you. It’s got interesting ideas but nothing concrete….yet. I’ll be keeping an eye on LCB Game Studios and Chorus Worldwide Games because Pixel Pulps is something I would be interested in, if fleshed out more. This just ain’t it.