April 10, 2022

It's your world. Connect the clues. Chinatown Detective Agency (Steam) Review

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Indie developer, General Interactive's Chinatown Detective Agency is not only fun entertainment but something more, something I suppose, would have thought almost impossible: It’s a futuristic point-and-click investigative game that doesn't depend on big-budget production or high-end graphics for its effect but works because of the enduring strength of the genre itself.

In some respects, this game actually could have been made in the 1990s. It accepts its conventions and categories at face value and doesn't make them the object of satire or filter them through modern-day sensibility. Here is, in fact, a private-eye game in which all the traditions, as old-school as they may seem, are left intact.

Let The Clues Lead You

At its center is the private investigator herself, Amira Darma, the head of her own Investigative firm, moderately made famous as a result of her experience as a former cop. She isn't the broke loner private investigators we see in movies, inhabiting a shabby office and guzzling a drink out of the office bottle or smoking a cheaply made cigar. She’s a common-sense girl who dresses well and is both civilized and intelligent. She does, however, possess the two indispensable qualities necessary for any traditional private eye: she is deeply cynical about human behavior, and she has a personal moral code that she sticks with.

There are also, of course, the clients, who come to the private eye for help but do not quite reveal to Amira the full dimensions of their problems but reveal just enough to pique our heroine's interest, These plots work best when they start out seemingly complicated and then end up with watertight logic.

The User Interface keeps track of key items, including locations and other bits of information needed to help move the story along. During the course of the game, clues and events are stored efficiently in the interface. The pieces of clues needed to solve the first few cases are relatively simple but become harder and more perplexing the further into the game you get.

Where a Case is Worth More Than Gold

There's also a rather unique element that offers real-time elements and adds a degree of strategy and exploration to the gameplay: searching the web for real-time clues. Unlike other games that offer information somewhere within the game, Chinatown Detective Agency implores you to become a private investigator rather than just playing one and asks that you momentarily exit the game to Google search specific clues like location, phrases, or authors in order to help solve cases.

It is this particular element of action and timing, not puzzles, that makes the game truly challenging. While most players will scoff at the idea of online searches, claiming it breaks the immersion, I personally found it to be a unique and intriguing part of the game's core mechanics.

The look of the game is fantastically done and comes as a cross between pixel art and hand-drawn caricatures that closely resemble the brushstrokes of Willem de Kooning. Special mention has to be made to the game's voiceover actors and actresses as well as they make the characters they represent come to life. The mannerism and tone used to convey the dialogue are done very well and have a kind of genuine reality to them that makes each character visually and audibly charming.

Overall, Chinatown Detective Agency is a triumph of story-telling, especially that of Amira. She wears the detective hat like a second skin. Her character is so complete that there are cut scenes where we can almost read her mind. Her loyalty is to her job and when she must pull back to decipher certain clues, we see the gears in her brain start to tick and no dialogue is necessary to understand what she is thinking.

Because Chinatown Detective Agency depends so much on the exquisite unraveling of its plot and story, it would be unfair to describe much more without giving too much away. For this reason alone, I highly recommend this game to all players of all genres, newcomers and experienced adventures alike, to try out. The game provides a good time, high style, a loving salute to an earlier period of game development, and is an absolute gem to play.

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