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The Detail

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Adventure
Developer: Rival Games
Release Date: Oct. 28, 2014

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PC Review - 'The Detail: Episode 1 - Where The Dead Lie'

by Brian Dumlao on Jan. 15, 2015 @ 1:30 a.m. PST

Set in a modern American city, The Detail is a classic 2D point-and-click adventure with a noir theme. You play as a veteran detective who's investigating a brutal murder and a reformed criminal who's trying to protect his family. Make tough moral choices and deal with the consequences.

The return of the point-and-click adventure has taken on many different themes. Sci-fi and fantasy make up a good chunk of that genre, with horror closely following those two mainstays. More serious adventures are starting to take a foothold nowadays. What you don't see too much of is the serious cop drama, and you certainly don't see it done in the episodic format popularized by the Telltale Games team. The Detail is an attempt at a serious cop drama that's drawn out in short episodes. Based on the first episode, Where the Dead Lie, the title is off to a very intriguing start.

The story hits the ground running as you investigate the whereabouts of a suspected child molester. After a brief scuffle and harrowing interrogation, you're on a murder case where the victim is a high-ranking organized crime member in what looks like a deal gone bad. With not many leads, your partner calls in a friend, a former informant who's gone straight and is reluctant to get back into the game. Some persuasion follows, and both parties fall into something that could be much bigger than either had anticipated.

From the outset, The Detail doesn't seem to be afraid to get into mature territory. Aside from the child molester, you're involved in what appears to be a sex trafficking ring, and you'll also walk in to a torture session involving a deep fryer and someone's face. These occurrences still aren't very commonplace in games, let alone point-and-click adventures, so it might catch some players off guard. Despite the subject matter, none of it is gratuitous, so the amount of actual disturbing imagery is rather low. You won't  see something that's too much to stomach.

The other thing that's surprising about the game is how grim it can feel. Aside from a moment of normalcy, just about every scene deals with a horrible crime in progress, a gruesome scene, or something bad that's about to happen. There's no sense that things will get better, so you're constantly alert of how bad things can get.

The game follows some of the hallmarks of the modern point-and-click adventure as you take control of either Detective Reggie Moore, reformed crook Joe Miller, or rookie cop Kate Hayes. Exploration is pretty limited, as you spend a number of scenes walking to other environments or finding characters to talk to. There are a small number of objects to interact with, but the simplified system only gives you two options at a time, so you won't spend time dawdling around until you reach the one option that leads to game progress. There's only one puzzle that deals with a bulletin board to locate a specific shop to visit, and the Quick Time Events, while still timer-based, allow players to mull over decisions for a longer period of time. There are also a few that deal with placing your cursor in the correct spot and clicking at the right moment to match symbols, but those are few and far between.

The conversation system is where you'll spend a bulk of your time, and it's both similar to and different from most modern adventure games. Most of the time, you're presented with dialogue with the purpose of getting more information about characters and situations. You're given multiple choices that sort of circle back to each other, giving you the chance to ask every question before dismissing the character. Other times, you're presented with one-time choices that branch the story and situations in different directions, and you don't have a chance to take back anything. Conversations aren't timed, so you can take your time in figuring out your approach. Each choice carries enough importance to make the decision feel weighty.

The lack of more intimate feedback from the conversation system is what makes the game feel different from a typical Telltale title. You'll obviously get different responses for your choices, but it is unclear whether your choices have a lasting impact on the rest of the game. For example, you aren't notified about whether a character you're speaking with remembers your actions. You get a summary of some of the actions you've performed at the end of the game, along with some facts regarding those actions, but it remains to be seen whether those choices will play a bigger role later on.

From beginning to end, Where the Dead Lie clocks in at about an hour, the same amount of time you'd spend watching an average cop show on TV. You can double the time by playing again to see the alternate routes, but the experience doesn't last as long as similar episodic adventures. The experience is well worth it, though, as it doesn't feel like any moment is wasted on fluff, but the brevity is something to keep in mind.

The visual presentation is rather striking, as it takes on the look of a graphic novel. There's a nice shift between the black and white introduction and the full color of the rest of the game, and the colors are rather bold despite the use of various gradients. Both backgrounds and characters blend together, so they don't look pasted on. While the game uses single screens to display most of its stuff, it uses a few comic panels to accentuate the action. The only thing that looks odd in this department is the character movement, which looks more like paper pieces mimicking human movement than something more natural.

On the other hand, the sound is rather minimal. In fact, the only thing you'll ever hear is the music, since no sound effects or voices exist. The decision can be seen as both a good and bad thing, as you don't have to worry about bad voice acting potentially ruining a tense scene. Then again, the lack of effects, even though they're represented by text, robs some scenes of atmosphere that would ratchet up the importance of the situation or ground the calmer scenes. With the music solely responsible for handling the tone, players will be thankful that it does a good job. Save for a scene of normalcy at Joe's apartment, every scene has a track that conveys the weight of each situation. It isn't overpowering, but that feeling of unease and dread sinks in and doesn't let go.

Like any good episodic series, the first outing for The Detail has a pretty good hook. The obvious cliffhanger is a bit predictable but leaves one curious about where things can go, and the escalation of events for other characters can open up some intriguing things later on. The gameplay might be a little short, and the choices don't make too much of a difference yet, but it's too early to tell if that will always be the case. Aside from the short play time, it's rather engaging, and while it is way too early to say whether The Detail ends up being a great adventure, the first episode will certainly whet the appetites of those who love a good police procedural.

Score: 8.0/10

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