There are over 100 cities around the world that have “Chinatown” areas, communities with large ethnically Chinese populations in close proximity. General Interactive Co’s game Chinatown Detective Agency takes place in a Chinatown in Singapore and follows the exploits of ex-cop turned private investigator Amira Darma. So, we’re looking into the game for its Kickstarter campaign and played the first case which takes approximately an hour to complete.
The first thing that struck me from the game, just noticing the screen setup, is the amount of inspiration it takes from the Carmen Sandiego series from the 80s and 90s. As one of the few video games I was allowed to play at the time, I’m a huge Carmen Sandiego fan, even though I still suck at geography. Having several different message windows as well as a smart assistant definitely contributes to Chinatown Detective Agency feeling futuristic, though more cyberpunk than sleek.
Unfortunately, with so much of the screen taken up by tools, the visuals suffer. While the traditional pixel art is fun, the lack of faces on the characters outside of their dialogue boxes means you’re moving a faceless creature across the screen. It looks a bit odd. The backgrounds aren’t detailed either, but that style choice doesn't evoke quite the same uncanny feeling as the featureless people meandering about. On the other hand, the character portraits are beautifully rendered and wonderfully detailed, making each individual look phenomenal.
The plot is, unfortunately, fairly straightforward for a mystery/investigation game. Amira meets up with a client named Rupert Zhou via an old contact. A member of the rich and powerful cabal secretly running Singapore from the behind the scenes, he requests her help in tracking down a man with a debt to pay, going only off of a quote from a book that he gives you as your only clue. While this is an intriguing setup, it fails to pan out. There’s no ambiguity about where to go at any point or about what to look for, and Amira follows labeled connect the dots to solve the case.
I appreciate that this is a tutorial case right out of the gate, but the straightforwardness was almost insultingly easy. It also makes Amira come off in a bad light, as we aren’t shown brains or resourcefulness or any of the other qualities she should have as a detective. It also begs the question why Singapore’s elite need her to unravel this puzzle, and how, if they got the first clue to begin with, were they not able to track this man themselves. It’s fairly nonsensical when you break the whole thing down logically, but it works on a surface level.
The one puzzle in this case is not very well thought out or explained. It’s a simple number to letter cipher, with a key that intentionally makes it look more difficult than it is, and one that we are handed without having to actually work for it. It feels like being handed a puzzle, rather than playing through an adventure game and actually figuring it out for yourself.
The voice acting in Chinatown Detective Agency is middling. While we only hear from three characters, there’s a distinct lack of emotion in the performances. At the bottom of the list, Rupert Zhou sounds unconvinced of his own power and influence. Amira, meanwhile, sounds on the verge of abject boredom during every interaction she partakes in.
It’s clear that Chinatown Detective Agency needs some polishing. It’s also clear that the right elements are in place From the Sandiego inspired layout to the beautiful character portraits and intriguing premise, there’s plenty of promise. Will Chinatown Detective Agency be able to find the diamond in the rough? Time will tell.
TechRaptor previewed Chinatown Detective Agency on PC using a copy provided by the developer.