Sleuthing around and unearthing secrets and truths have long been a key aspect of mystery-styled video games, made even more mainstream with the likes of Phoenix Wright and Sherlock Holmes. There is just something about playing detective, and in General Interactive Co’s Chinatown Detective Agency, players will enjoy an engaging journey filled with investigations and intrigue in this point-and-click, and made in Singapore adventure game, albeit with some missteps along the way.
Stepping into the gumshoes of one Amira Darma, we are introduced to the world of freelance private investigation in futuristic 2037, a decade following a global economic disaster that has transformed the world. Gone are the manual labour and governmental control, and in come automated drones and mega-corporation seeking to squeeze the people dry of every single cent.
Against this backdrop of helplessness, we join Darma in Singapore, a safe haven compared to the rest of the world, and where she sets down roots for her new agency. It makes perfect sense for a game like Chinatown Detective Agency to use this country as a foundation, especially considering its current (and likely future) status as a place that celebrates diversity and cultures, allowing for different types of characters with varying backgrounds to call the country home.
This obviously leads to a smattering of interesting cases that involves all sorts of factors, reflecting the very place that Chinatown Detective Agency calls home. More importantly, most of the cases are coloured by the unique cultures at play here, and how players and Darma adjust to address different concerns only enhances the variety in the game.
This is perhaps most prominent in the three main clients that will determine what players will experience for the rest of the game. Whether you side with the shady fixer, a sophisticated socialite, or the determined politician, it will cut you off from the other two and result in playthroughs with different outcomes, the nature of the work involved, and replayability for your next run.
For the actual casework itself, the game functions like any good old point-and-click adventure, letting players collect noteworthy items and piece together the solutions needed. There is a level of hand holding that may strike veterans of the genre as odd, as our private eye is always aware of the important clues and where they fit exactly in the case. The heavy lifting then falls to the players when it comes to research, fact-checking, and the occasional codebreaking.
As mentioned earlier, the sleuthing work will test different disciplines, such as your ability to solve riddles and puzzles, codebreaking, or even your skills of observation and general knowledge in all areas. This will make or break Chinatown Detective Agency for many, requiring an investment of time and effort that could be one step too far for those not expecting such a challenging task.
When it comes to the time for answers, there is no guessing involved in Chinatown Detective Agency – you either know the answer, or you do not. Whether you do it via the online search engine within the game or using your smartphone in the real world, the sense of satisfaction at arriving at the precise answer can often be vindicating, as would the frustrations if you are going down the wrong rabbit hole, and progressing the story is also a worthy reward in itself.
Thankfully, there is a hint system in place that helps players immerse further into the world in the form of Mei, the librarian. As one of the last remaining human librarians, Mei is able to help out anytime you need for a price. Fork over a small fee and she provides a hint on your next research direction, while stumping up more cash and she can drop the answer right into your lap. Those preferring a pure experience can ignore Mei entirely, but her inclusion will likely be helpful for the majority of players.
Speaking of cash, that element is made out to be central to Darma’s desire to keep a roof over her head and the agency running, but in practice, it is not exactly as big of a deal. Sure, you may have to pay rent, invest in an office expansion, or hire more hands, but the starting cash reserves and subsequent monetary rewards from completing cases render the danger of folding moot.
Outside of a captivating narrative that kind of peters out in the final act in the game’s bid to humanise the villain at the centre of it all and the tried-and-tested gameplay, the visuals of Chinatown Detective Agency are what separates it from its contemporaries. From the neon-lit skies to the gritty streets, the world created is full of details and exudes an allure that makes a somewhat dystopian future something to look forward to. The same quality also shines through when it comes to voice-acting, and should feel instantly endearing to those who call Singapore home.
The star of the show is undoubtedly Amira Darma, a character that feels truly fleshed out and holds true to the values that make her who she is. Her growth, particularly towards the end of the game, is inspired and organic, taking players on a journey that functions as a worthwhile addition to the conversation about the law and the black-and-white nature of it all. Whether you like it or not, Chinatown Detective Agency will make you think both about the game and the world outside of it that had influenced its creation.
Despite the fact that much of the detective work is done for you in Chinatown Detective Agency, it is still an enjoyable adventure that packs enough intrigue to keep players wanting more. It has been a while since a game genuinely rewarded players for being invested in real-world knowledge to get ahead, and even if there are things that you don’t like about this title, you cannot really argue with an experience that seeks to both educate and entertain like this.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Granting players a peek into futuristic Singapore and putting their research skills to the test, Chinatown Detective Agency stands out for its story and visuals, but less so for the detective work.
Gameplay - 7.5/10
Story - 8/10
Presentation - 8.5/10
Value - 8/10