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Chicken Police: Paint it RED

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: HandyGames
Developer: The Wild Gentlemen
Release Date: Nov. 5, 2020


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PC Review - 'Chicken Police: Paint It Red'

by Cody Medellin on Dec. 7, 2020 @ 1:30 a.m. PST

Chicken Police: Paint it Red is a film-noir-inspired buddy-cop adventure that has all your favorite animals working together to solve a crime so mysterious it will ruffle your feathers.

There's something about a good detective tale. The intrigue sets up a mystery that needs to be solved, and you try to solve it before the heroes do. That is amplified when you're dealing with something in a noir setting where the detective is already down on his luck and fighting inner demons. There's an extensive list of classic detective noir media, including "Chinatown," Disco Elysium, Grim Fandango, and "The Maltese Falcon." If you can get past its unusual premise, Chicken Police: Paint it Red belongs on that acclaimed list.

You play the role of Sonny Featherland, half of Clawville's famous detective duo known as the Chicken Police. However, the glory days are behind you, and the big falling out with your partner resulted in you being placed on paid leave with 121 days to go before your retirement. On New Year's Eve, you return to your apartment to find a woman asking for help to investigate who's blackmailing her mistress, Natasha Catzenko, owner of the Czar Club and girlfriend to mob boss Ibn Wessler. To make things worse, you get a note from your ex-wife Molly asking you to take the case. Sensing that things are deeper than they seem, you call on your old partner Marty MacChicken to help you solve the case.

The most striking thing about the game are the characters. It's probably obvious by now, but Chicken Police employs an anthropomorphic style where photorealistic animal heads are placed on photorealistic human bodies, and the style immediately grabs your attention. This is amplified when you see characters take on fully human poses but their mouths animate minimally, similar to what you'd see on real animals. When compared to a game like Blacksad, which used fully anthropomorphic characters, the ones in Chicken Police look quite nice.

Get over the fact that these are photorealistic animal heads on human bodies, and you'll appreciate how far the development team has gone to get the noir aesthetic right. The music is reminiscent of every old detective film and TV show you've ever seen. The voice acting also mimics grand detective movies quite well but without turning into parodies. The dialogue fits perfectly with the setting and injects some humor into the proceedings, including the protagonist's sour monologues describing the decaying state of the city, the sultry inflections of the woman who hired you, the gruff police chief, your fight-happy partner, and a weaselly informant. Everything is fully voiced, so players can better appreciate the story.

Graphically, the game employs a black-and-white film look, and color is sparingly used as a highlight to great effect for things like blood, eyes, and fire. The backgrounds also use a similar color scheme, so shots of the city at night look like old stock footage that would've been used in classic TV shows. Every scene is alive with activity, which could be something as obvious as a car occasionally driving by while you're on the street or something more subtle, like the gentle sway of the camera when you're in a room.

The storyline and world-building also hit the right notes. If you're expecting something lighter like "Zootopia" since the world is populated with animals, you'll either be pleasantly surprised or shocked by the game's mature tones. There's nudity, and you visit a brothel as part of your investigations. Although this is a place where all animals supposedly live in harmony, racist comments are often thrown around. When you get into the history of the city, you delve into how some groups weren't recognized for their efforts in building the place. Then there are the anecdotes about how the bugs are destitute, forced into prostitution, and sell off their kids to make ends meet. The game never gets preachy about the sins of the city, but it recognizes that such things exist with no way to fix everything, and it does a good job of painting the grim situation.

The gameplay can be best described as a dialogue-heavy, point-and-click adventure. Each area is static, minus the camera sway and moving background elements, but you can pan the camera to see more of your surroundings, which makes most places feel bigger. Moving your cursor along the screen shows off anything interactive, and while you can pick up items, you're not going to fall into the adventure game trope of combining items to solve puzzles. Instead, most of your interactions are through the characters, which is where the visual novel comparisons come into play. Selecting a character or object brings up a radial menu with four options. View lets you look at the person or item and share your insight. Speak starts up conversations, which open up the two other action options. Questions bring up a list of things you can ask about in any order; you aren't going to be locked out of other questions if you choose an option that advances the story.

Interrogate is the meat of the game, and it's pretty in-depth. As you begin, a guide on the right side of the screen displays your initial impressions of the character, and that evolves over time. You'll also get a detective meter that shows you either getting closer or further away from your intended goal in your line of questioning. For the most part, you use your gut instincts to choose the questions, and you consult the meter to see if you're going down the right path. It's quite tough to fail these sequences, so you're encouraged to experiment with your questioning line, something that's emphasized by the "retry" button after you see your score. Occasionally, your line of questions will lead you back to your office, where you'll have to start tying things together to see if there's a plausible link between everything. Like the interrogation segments, it's difficult to fail these parts.

Beyond this core gameplay loop, there are only a few activities you can do in the world. You can go to the shooting range at the police station to try for a high score against the other cops in the station; don't expect any impromptu online competitions. That shooting skill comes in handy later, when you're shooting out tires of pursuing cars and you'll engage in other mini-activities, like trying to free yourself from ropes before a building burns to the ground. Again, it's nothing out of the ordinary for a detective story, but you get to do more than just interrogate people.

It all works well when put together, and while part of that comes from the excellent writing and characters, another key to Chicken Police's success is pacing. The whole jaunt can take you roughly eight hours to complete, but the game clearly lays out which scenes are necessary to visit to progress the story and which ones are optional. To be clear, you aren't going to be led around and only have one spot to visit, so if you're lost, you'll bounce between a few key locations before you might stumble upon what you're supposed to do, but the key location list isn't so large to be overwhelming. Likewise, the optional sequences are mostly to flesh out world and character lore, so anyone who wants to focus on the main plot can easily ignore the optional segments, but completionists and those who want to spend more time in the world can easily do so.

There are only a few quirks that blemish the experience. There are multiple times when the only way to get anywhere in the game is to speak with the same character several times in a row before they provide any useful information. That goes hand in hand with some conversations stopping even though there seems to be more to say, forcing you to click on that person again to keep it going. With a game as dialogue-heavy as this, it is nice that you get to replay conversations, but it would've been nicer to have the ability to backtrack a line versus having to replay everything from the beginning. Also, for those who want to play perfect runs, be prepared to replay whole scenes if you make a mistake; there's no way to manually save your progress because autosave happens every time you enter a new scene.

Chicken Police: Paint It Red is a thoroughly engaging detective romp. The investigation elements, like the interrogations and clue linking, are fun in their own right, but the rest of the package proves to be quite enticing. From the story and atmosphere to the characters and dialogue, this is a strong adventure title with a compelling film noir style. For adventure game fans, Chicken Police is a must-have.

Score: 8.5/10

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