A good mystery adventure can always find its way to pique my interest, especially one that is coated with a pixelated cyberpunk aesthetic. General Interactive Co.’s upcoming game, Chinatown Detective Agency, fits that description, having you play as former Interpol police Amira Darma operating a private investigative business in a futuristic dystopian Singapore.
As a solo private investigator, you have to cater to your client’s requests to have food on your table at the end of the day. However, quick and easy jobs end up leading you to unravel an entire global conspiracy. Though not much of the narrative is spoiled in this hands-on demo, I got to experience many key characters among the gameplay mechanics.
Gameplay is split between puzzle solving, context-setting dialogue, time and finance management, and straight-up thinking. There weren’t any choices during dialogue, but there is a brief shoot-out sequence in the demo. I’m hoping the full game will have a mix of mechanics that change the outcome of the narrative.
Chinatown Detective Agency often forces you to think outside the box, encouraging you to use resources outside of the actual game itself, with clues that allude to information that can be found in the real world. One such instance was introduced during an early puzzle where you’re given a quote and tasked to find the author and, ultimately, the book that the quote came from.
Though this game is set in the distant future, it utilizes many references to historical events and artifacts. Additional puzzles follow in a similar light, sprinkling you with crumbs of hints on real-world objects that you otherwise need to research yourself. The contrast in time brilliantly sets the tone and atmosphere and paves the way for the overarching narrative.
In addition to somewhat breaking the fourth wall requiring outside research needed to progress, the developers also emphasized resource management, precisely time and money. Some tasks must be completed by a specific date. These requests land you a paycheck, but if you blow it all on flights and incorrect puzzle guesses, you’ll be left with empty pockets and an eviction notice. Yes, if you mess up enough time for certain puzzles, you have to pay a small fee to try again.
Buying plane tickets requires cash, but you don’t just arrive at your destination. The game has a time aspect to it, where you have to arrive at the airport at the correct time of your flight. Otherwise, that’s money you just washed down the drain if you missed it. This realism attempt is appreciated, but having to wait 3 hours every time before you catch your connection can come off as cumbersome and tedious.
The artwork of Chinatown Detective Agency accentuates its identity as an indie game, with gorgeous pixel graphics and intricately drawn character portraits. Voice-overs accompany dialogue, but not all the time, which is odd and ultimately breaks the immersion. The in-game HUD is very similar to Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, with a virtual phone to call a contact and several tabs to check your bank account, messages, book a flight, etc. It might sound like a lot on paper, but the UI isn’t overly cluttered and very easy to navigate.
Chinatown Detective Agency is shaping up to be a unique game with loads of potential. It’s got all the right ingredients to deliver an experience unlike any other. The real-world research and clever puzzles, in addition to the exceptional artwork and aesthetic, are enough to immerse you into a story worth unfolding. There are, however, quality-of-life tweaks that can be made to provide a more excellent experience.
Chinatown Detective Agency is coming to PC, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One sometime in Spring 2022.
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