TAG24's Take: Chinatown Detective Agency shines, but is more rough than diamond

April's games showed plenty of promise, including Chinatown Detective Agency, an indie detective romp. Yet, the developer's ambitions turn parts of the new game into a chore.

Chinatown Detective Agency takes a deep dive into solving cases.
Chinatown Detective Agency takes a deep dive into solving cases.  © Humble Games/General Interactive Co.

Publisher Humble Games and indie developer General Interactive Co. released the new detective adventure Chinatown Detective Agency on Thursday. While it is a clearly ambitious offering that doesn't always hit the mark, it shines as a slightly tarnished jewel.

It's a deep and enjoyable detective story, and fans of the point-and-click genre – and really anyone who likes escape rooms – will have a blast for most of the game.

It's also an impressive release for the three-person team, so game designer Mark Fillon, programmer Jenny Hide, and art designer Ricardo Juchem surely deserve kudos.

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They drop you into the investigative role of Amira Darma, a former Interpol agent and now owner of the Singapore-based Chinatown Detective Agency. You'll have to manage your agency's funds, take cases, and solve them using in-game and real-world detective skills. That can even bump you over to your search engine of choice to figure out a cryptic puzzle or translate a language.

The art style is a throwback to retro arcade and Nintendo NES console days, with pixelated art that still looks great, thanks to designer Juchem. The game is set in a near-future cyberpunk version of our world, where neon abounds, and society is falling apart.

The team manages to include graceful touches like graffiti, characters, and scenery that show how the shiny neon lights don't cover up the cracks in the system. The real goldmine below the solid detective story is the setting, which the music and visuals drive home.

It's a delightfully dystopian take on what too much state surveillance could look like, and the plucky main character and her friends deliver just the right amount of humor and insight to keep you invested in the rest of their stories.

The colorful cast delivers leads, tip-offs, and waves you further into the intrigue of Chinatown Detective Agency's globe-trotting story.
The colorful cast delivers leads, tip-offs, and waves you further into the intrigue of Chinatown Detective Agency's globe-trotting story.  © Humble Games/General Interactive Co.

Rough around the edges

The ambitious detective game is worth the buy, despite its glitches.
The ambitious detective game is worth the buy, despite its glitches.  © Humble Games/General Interactive Co.

The story is the very best part of the game, followed by the art design. Seeing faraway cities by day and night keep the visuals fresh for most of the game, and the seedy figures Darma works with, for, and against make a good chunk of your playtime feel more like playing through a detective movie.

Some issues that bump you out of any sense of immersion could be fixed later with updates, but for now, there are some parts of Chinatown Detective Agency that make the game feel too much like work. There are minor audio and visual glitches that kick you out of the experience – like interacting with an object while walking that afterwards leaves the walk sound effect on infinite repeat.

There's also a save system that only saves after you complete a case, and can sometimes lead to rage-inducing moments if you fail a clicky combat sequence and lose your progress. But, these sequences aren't too difficult, by and large.

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One of the more distracting issues is the lack of polish on the spoken dialogue and its accompanying text boxes. The written words often don't match what the voice actors are saying. Plus, the vocal talent mostly sounds stiff and stilted, which also disrupts the experience.

Despite this, the writing is still amazing, with thoughtful moments that ask you to think about where the world is headed, or give you a poignant line to nibble on after you've closed the game.

Most of the time, the game plays like the developers intended. And the excellent music mixing helps you get back into the immersion, as do the absolutely stellar visuals.

At the end of the day, the game is a narrative adventure with excellent writing, visuals, and music that are well worth crunching through bugs.

Some puzzles can be solved without search engines, but be prepared to go full digital detective with tough cases.
Some puzzles can be solved without search engines, but be prepared to go full digital detective with tough cases.  © Humble Games/General Interactive Co.

Sure, it has some problems, but overall, Chinatown Detective Agency is still an excellent new adventure. And if you enjoy riddles, puzzles, or detective movies, it's worth your hard-earned cash.

Cover photo: Humble Games/General Interactive Co.

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