Kicking down doors, taking names and casually disregarding due process, here's The Detail. A hybrid of point and click and episodic interactive fiction which switches between worn out police veteran Reggie Moore and ex-hoodlum Joe Miller, The Detail cites The Wire and Telltale Games' work as influences. Stark art styles and moral choice abound with promises of lasting consequences and tough situations. Does this first episode live up to these lofty ambitions? I grab my badge and gun and find out...
Opening in stark black and white, two beat cops are on the trail of a convicted child molester, and are ambushed in a seedy apartment. Playing out perfectly as an interactive comic book, the scenes unfold by clicking through dialogue and following directional cues to sweep the apartment. As the perp attacks, you are presented with what I'm going to call 'Quick Choice Events'. Instead of hammering a button at the correct time, you can decide which move you want to make by selecting one of the available arrows. Flat on your back with an overweight pervert strangling you, what do you do? Go for the eyes or smash him with a broken table leg?
The idea of choice is prevalent throughout the game, not only in actions but in conversation as well. Each of the main characters can react in different ways to the various situations they find themselves in. I found it interesting that I played Reggie the cop as a humourless curmudgeon, yet as Joe I played as an understanding and even sensible guy, quite far removed from your typical street punk. Most of the choices are final, and can lead to consequences down the line. As this is only episode one, it remains to be seen how deep and convoluted these choices become.
In trying to solve the murder of a known gangland boss, Reggie Moore and his partner Tyrone enlist the help of ex-thug Joe Miller who is trying to go straight and look after his young family. Throw in some hardened criminals and a rookie cop trying to make her way on the mean streets and all the ingredients are there for an intriguing crime story. Events move along at a fair clip and left me wanting more at the end, which is always good in an episodic story.
The art for the most part is the real strength of this game. Beautiful backgrounds and the alternation between black and white and full colour styles make for an interesting mix. Even the title screen is well designed, with shattered glass, rain and streetlights setting the tone for a gritty cop tale. Investigations pan out nicely and relationships between characters are believeable. The music, although it doesn't change much, definitely helps the atmosphere.
The two big issues I had with this episode were the occasionally hackneyed dialogue, and the odd animation used when characters move. The dialogue I can forgive as it is more than serviceable, and coming from a writer who doesn't appear to have English as a first language that's a pretty cool achievement. I would also be more willing to ignore this if the developer hadn't name-dropped The Wire on the Steam page and in press releases. It's a very dangerous game to invite comparisons to one of the best loved crime series of all time, and I went into the game with unfairly high expectations.
The animation is another matter. While the backgrounds and vignettes are impeccably presented, there's something a little off about the jerky way the characters move about, and the close ups on faces during dialogue don't match the level of quality shown throught the rest of the game (also the blinking is quite off-putting).
All told then, The Detail is a promising point and click adventure series whose ambition isn't quite matched by the execution. Props should be given for an original take on the genre, and for some really nice art. Despite the flaws, I did enjoy my time with this episode, and will definitely be investigating (arf!) the rest of the series, and I do hope that more people check it out. My advice would be to ignore the Wire references on the Steam page and enjoy the game on its own merits.
The Detail is available here.