One thing that I find oddly depressing on a personal level is that there are not enough video games about police officers. In United States culture, the police are one of the most divisive groups in the nation. I know that seems like an odd statement, but when you think about it, it is not an inaccurate one. Some people see the police as an oppressive force only there to bring someone down. Others see the men and women in blue as heroes who are bastions of justice within society.
The Detail, a game created by studio Rival Games, is a point and click adventure game of the same vein as Telltale’s recent works. The studio is attempting, as their site clearly states, to become the HBO of video games. It is a very lofty goal, and episode 1 of The Detail is their first small step towards that objective. So the question is whether or not that first step is a good enough start to their journey, or will they get their feet caught on a proverbial crack in the sidewalk and faceplant?
The story of The Detail is that of a homicide detective and his partner. This duo has been drug into a rather grisly murder that could potentially be more than what it seems. The detectives bring in a former trigger man connection of theirs to get closer to the potential murderers. It is within episode 1 that we are taken on a small yet interesting ride. Make no mistake, this episode only has the intention of giving you a small taste. The episode only lasts about an hour and a half at the longest. You’re going to have to wait a little bit for the main course.
To the overly cynical, The Detail seems like your typical cop story. In fact, wording out the foundation of the story would make it seem rather droll. Just because I’m the kind of guy who loves to take time to prove a point, I’m going to do it for you. A criminal gets murdered, detectives are put on case, detectives suspect that something more grand is behind everything, the enlist a former criminal to do their dirty work, and things inevitably become much much more complicated for everyone. It’s one of the more common foundations of the police story, especially ones focused around homicide cases or detectives.
With that said, the problem with an overly cynical approach while looking at a storyline is that you miss all of the small details that give a storyline its personality. In a weird way, you missed the heart of the matter. Despite the fact that it has the same foundation as just about any cop story that you’ll stumble across, it doesn’t stop the game from tugging at your heartstrings. With credit to the writers, the characters are easy to relate to for just about anyone who might play this game. In a way, the saving grace of The Detail is its accessibility to a more mature audience. Just about anyone could probably get into this video game in the mood for a great cop story and enjoy themselves. It also wears its inspirations on its sleeve as the tone of the story, and even some of the characters and their situations pull slightly from HBO’s classic show The Wire.
Visually speaking, the detail has a very good art style to it. Characters are drawn in a very hand drawn style, but the artist takes time to make sure that each character looks distinct from one another. This is important in the long run, because like many cop dramas there are many characters to get to know and a lack of variation in design would make them harder to keep track of. Though at times the game will shift into a black and white graphic style, thankfully the art does not try to mirror Frank Miller’s Sin City completely. It’s simply uses that style to convey a specific tone. The opening sequence in particular does this very well. It is used to convey when the storyline is going to a much darker place, or hearkening back to past events. Such tonal shifts help to accentuate certain parts of the story line, which ultimately helps aid the story that I had already mentioned.
However, all of the details presentation is by no means perfect. One thing that the game suffers from is a lack of voice acting, alongside a troubling lack of sound effects within the game. Gunshots and footsteps will have sound effects, but yet smaller details will be missing. The unfortunate effect of this lack of detail in the sound department is that it can make the world feel hollow at points, on top of risking the characters seeming flat. Though I do understand that this is a much smaller studio that may have had to weigh the pros and cons of possibly having it voiced by amateurs or just not having them, not having them comes across as being the greater of two potential evils. Luckily there are two saving graces.
The first of two is the aforementioned writing. The second is the orchestral score of the game. The background music of the detail is very well composed. You see, good background music is able to take a player or viewer and bring them into the experience by conveying a certain mood. With that said, the composure of this game score fits that bill. If it hadn’t, there would be good reason to worry about this game’s overall quality. With that said, I am sure that there is a reason that there is no voice acting and there is some lack of sound effects. To quote CS Lewis though, ” an explanation of cause is not a justification by reason.”
The gameplay is your standard fare for an adventure game. You can control the character through mouse clicks and WASD movement. The controls work and get you from A to B, and that really is all you can ask of them. Looking for great controls within the context of these games ultimately comes down to the question of whether or not they are functional. In this case, they are. Ultimately, the game play in an adventure game is going to either be story driven or puzzle driven. This is very much a story driven game, so there really is not too much of a need for the controls to be anything more than simple.
The level design is not complex either, but that is not a bad thing. Complex level design in this kind of a game would be nothing more than a time waster. Ultimately, the only hang ups are a couple of invisible walls that a player can easily stumble into. One was outside a possible perp’s house, and the other was inside the police station. The only other grades that one may have is that sometimes it may seem but there are more objects to interact with than you need to. This is a problem that LA Noire fell into, but The Detail does a solid job of having that element and it mean something. These objects allow you to get into the lead character’s mindset, and understand his way of thinking. Each one has some sort of commentary about the world around the character, which is a good way to have that feature and it not waste the time of the player.
As it stands, The Detail is a good first effort. It is far from perfect, but at the same time it is not a bad start for a young company. One thing that the development house needs to be careful of from here on in is that it can be too risky to simply rely on your strengths. Though the story is engrossing, the characters interesting, and the soundtrack wonderful, the other issues that episode 1 has in the sound department could end up biting them in the long run. With that said, I still would recommend The Detail for purchase, but also would understand if some people may wait for further review of later episodes before committing.
You can get The Detail for your PC on Steam.
The Detail is a solid first effort, but has some audio problems that could hurt it in the long run. Worth a buy, but hesitation is understandable.