A pixelated, neon-bathed world, murders, theft, corruption, international mysteries, and public transportation are just some of the features you can expect from Humble Games and General Interactive Co.‘s new mystery point-and-click game Chinatown Detective Agency.
Mystery and detective stories are amazing. There’s a reason why Sherlock Holmes is the most recognizable fictional character of all time. Mysteries are an escape from the monotonous, an invitation to dive into the unknown and unwrap it from the inside into what ends up feeling like a daring and satisfying conclusion, as it tests our ability and scratches the need for the truth.
This is what Chinatown Detective Agency sets out to make you experience throughout the game. Above all, it wants to put you in the detective’s shoes and, well, detect. It achieves this with several features that will immerse you into the world it presents and the job you and your character, a newly established private investigator named Amira, are dedicated to.
These features are, mainly, waiting, which will come in handy when you need to approach a task at a certain date and time; your map, that you will need to navigate through the different scenarios of Singapore, the main city of the game; Orus, a flight booking system where you can buy plane tickets for when a case leads you outside your city and into the rest of the world with the several countries you will visit; and one that I coincidentally have been wanting videogames to implement more for a long time: Your browser. Making you investigate things yourself, out of the game itself. It’s not the first one to make this at all, but to my knowledge, there is no other game that makes it a predominant feature, much less one of the most important of the experience with its own button. You will have to identify certain places, uncover passwords, and decipher codes, and all your clues will make you solve things either in-game or with the help of your browser.
Now, in the beginning, it might feel like you’re spending too much time out of the game, but it balances it out later on, especially after the somewhat lengthy (but engrossing) introduction, where you then get to choose between 3 clients that will define the main mystery you investigate onwards. There are some other mechanics, like shoot-out sequences that will ask for your precision and fast reaction, managing staff for your agency, or money that you need to watch out for since you have to cover your cases’ expenses and pay the bills, or you’ll get evicted after two months, and the game will be over. This will also happen on a case-to-case basis when you fail to solve some of the mysteries.
The presentation is the other side of the coin that completes the game. It’s a very near future that feels like a natural progression to our world while being a definitive different time nonetheless. There are some nice details, like how some of the trains you take will look different depending on the zone you’re traveling in, as some will look relatively okay and others will be damaged and painted with graffiti, sending the message of the population’s anger against the corporations that reign the world. It feels like a dazzling but hopeless cyber noir that doesn’t reach the sci-fi level of something like Blade Runner and instead feels comfortable in a setting closer to our reality.
Chinatown Detective Agency is a big step for detective games, pushing you to solve the cases yourself without going the typical way of, at most, finding the clues needed and automatically giving you the answer, that while valid and enjoyable in its own right, is different from what a lot of people would want to do as well. It’s a unique video game with amazing pixel art and an engrossing story that feels more interesting as it goes on. It might not be for everyone with its usually slow pacing and point-and-click nature, but any fan of detective stories should give it a try and unravel the lies behind the mysteries that fall on Amira’s desk.