Chinatown Detective Agency is described as a “cybernoir point and click adventure” on its Steam store page. Available on PC, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One on 7 April 2022, it invites players to take on the role of Amira Darma. She’s just opened her titular detective agency in the Chinatown of Singapore, and her clientele is assuredly going to be varied, with agendas of their own…
As a point and click game, there’s hardly much in the way of actual options so I’m skipping that. I do appreciate that there is an option to switch out the stylized text for something more easily legible, and it doesn’t overly “kill” the aesthetics completely.
Characters have realistically rendered portraits, while their character “models” and environments are in this pixellated style. The portraits themselves don’t have different expressions as far as I can tell, nor do they necessarily match a character’s current outfit, but their faceless pixel models are expressive even with the limited detail. Someone like Tiger Lily may be fanning herself, while Lucas Yeo’s wringing his hands even as he speaks with conviction.
What’s striking is the voicework. Singapore-based Witching Hour Studios with Masquerada: Songs and Shadows employed talent such as Matthew Mercer and Jennifer Hale but General Interactive have gone with easily recognizable Singaporean-accented voicework for many of their characters. It makes sense: Masquerada‘s setting is inspired by Venice and the Renaissance, while Chinatown Detective Agency has our heroine rooted firmly in Singapore. I had to resist paging my friends from across the Causeway and shove the game with haste into their hands. It’s not entirely voiced, but it’s enough to have it at key moments.
The game takes place in the not-too-distant future of 2036, and the technology doesn’t seem to have changed all that drastically besides more holograms. The stereotypically spotless public transit of the fastidious nation have regressed into disrepair, with broken glass and scrawled with graffiti by its disillusioned citizens. It’s intriguing, as you start to wonder just what triggered such a fall from grace. How much do you think you’ll be able to uncover?
Despite the “ugliness” on display, it doesn’t stop the various locations you’ll find yourself in having their own distinct beauty. It may just be one screen for a majority of your quick stops, but the lighting accordingly changes to the time of day. Major locations have a clear marker with their names, while mousing over interactable items will turn your cursor green. There’s no option to change the size of the cursor, so that might be something to consider. Then again, the aspect ratio is also so rigid.
I find that the menus can be hard to navigate, something which I think will take some time to get used to. The Information tab in the top right gives you a brief history of the place, and what it is like in this 2036 timeline.
AROUND THE CONSPIRACIES IN 80 DAYS
I’d say the narrative is intimately tied to the gameplay, considering it’s a narrative game and all, and one that requires you to do your detective legwork. I’ll discuss the systems in the prologue section and early into the “proper” start of the game, then leave the rest for you to find out.
The game offers you three “main” routes, their individual starting cases both showing you what to expect as you follow through their cases, and a taste of the mechanics you can expect to encounter. For what it’s worth, I went with Tiger Lily as my first “main” route.
Each of your “primary” clients have very strong impressions, as they should. The game warns you that once you lock in, Amira will not be accepting their cases, besides affecting your ending.
Rupert Zhou. First contact has your old boss Justin Koh hook you up with this “civilian” who is most definitely part of some massive secret society with eyes and ears everywhere. He “tests” you with a little riddle, which then leads you to hacking to get to your meeting place. You can expect shootouts, which feels a little clunky: you can disarm the target by shooting them in the hand or arm, but NOT the leg. If you take too long, the target is also automatically killed. Imagine my shock that I killed a dude by shooting him in the shin, but there you go I guess.
Tiger Lily is not one to mince her words. As the proprietress of her “health club” (a massage parlour) in the very distinguished neighbourhood of Geylang, she carries herself with pride. Under her discerning wing is Lucas Yeo, scion of a recently deceased “Father” whose “Temple of the Self” is what he dubs a sham religion. He wishes to return what he can of his father’s material goods to their places of origin. Imagine my surprise when the “Web” button honest to god opens your own default browser. Start Googling.
Keeran Iyer seems to be the most “unambiguously” good of the bunch, calling it his crusade to unmask the corruption within the system. His also seems pretty straightforward enough: actually going round talking to people, trying to extract information, with time-sensitive occasions to obtain the goods before you get caught.
Amira doesn’t just have these cases to tackle though. They may have bonus objectives you can complete and get rewarded accordingly, or opportunities you can pick up. She has bills to pay, and while you can recruit people as you expand the office, your expenses also grow and not paying two months in a row is an automatic game over.
That’s not the last of your monetary woes. Travelling to and fro on the transit also chips away at your cash, besides your flights overseas, or if you fail a hacking minigame at $300 a pop. A detective doesn’t get a hero’s discount, unfortunately.
Chinatown Detective Agency made me break out my notebook so that I can actually start writing down key points. Expect quite a lot of your game time to be doggedly dredging the depths of the hallowed search engine, cross referencing to be at least 98% sure that you’ve got your answer right.
All the while, the game’s clock doesn’t stop for you, not even when you’re on that piddly little MRT and especially when you’re on those cross-ocean flights, timezones, and the blasted 3 hour prior to boarding for your plane. It can get tense, as the game gets you to broaden your horizons and really work it, as time ticks away.
It’s definitely a novel idea. However, I think this comes with a certain clunkiness since that would be quite a bit of time outside the game. You can’t save while you’re on an active mission. Tabbing in and out if you don’t have another screen or a phone handy might sound like “too much effort”, even if it adds to the immersion.
Other nitpicks I have is not being able to choose the speed which text appears, the active area only being within a dialogue box which is nice to prevent accidental skipping of crucial text but also a minor inconvenience, and not being able to move across the screen with arrow keys. Retro doesn’t mean it can’t have a little quality of life.
Regardless, I would still recommend this game to wannabe detectives, and those who enjoy this genre of games. In a future Singapore falling into dystopia, Amira might not get quite what she bargained for. Trouble will probably find her anyway.
|In and out of game immersion||Might be too clunky for some|