by Tom Mackey
reviewed on PC
Continuing the murder investigation
Over the last few years there has been a huge hike in both the quality and mainstream acceptance of episodic video games. There has been something wonderful about the transition of this delivery structure from television to gaming. The experiences these games have provided have been for the most part exceptionally well focused on not just storytelling, but creating your own story as well. It is a shame then that so far, The Detail has failed to live up to its genre’s lofty promises. Episode 1 of The Detail I found disappointing but with the potential to grow into something more interesting. Only seeing a game a piece at a time, it is usually hard to lay down a complete review without having waited for and played the whole thing. So the only question that can really be addressed is, was Episode 2 better than Episode 1? In a word, no, and here’s why.
For those of you who missed Episode 1, you play as a veteran detective in an unnamed American city on the hunt for the perpetrators of a brutal gangland murder. Around you are your colleagues and a network of gangs all of whom you have to interact with and also occasionally play as to get to the bottom of the murder. It’s pretty much set itself up as a gritty cop drama with a branching storyline and supposed moral and ethical challenges.
Click, click, click...
There aren't really any puzzles to speak of in the second episode. I don't count clicking on everything until you reach a conclusion as a puzzle. You enter a level, click on everything you can until there’s nothing else, and then move on to the next. This would be easier to take if the point and click mechanics were well implemented or in any way intuitive, but they aren’t. Elements of the environment you can interact with are not always apparent and sometimes click detection is non-existent. It is not always clear where your next objective lies either, and I found myself at points having clicked on everything I could and still unable to progress. On one of those occasions the only way I could progress was by being forced to choose a dialogue option I did not want to select. In a game that is supposedly set up to let you choose your own path and make your own story, that is unacceptable.
But that is just the first of my issues with the story and the games presentation. There are the occasional quicktime events at crunch points in the story, but these are just as lacking when it comes to intuitive control. They add nothing new and if anything are slightly less challenging than those in Episode 1.
Dull and muted
For a game lacking any real depth in gameplay, story and presentation become so much more important to the experience. Unfortunately they don’t do enough to pull this episode out of the boredom it swiftly settles into. After the first episode I felt no real attachment to any of the characters, and with only an hour to spend with them that was hardly surprising. So I was hopeful that with Episode 2, I would get the opportunity to start really connecting with the characters. But this episode lasts barely and hour and jumps between characters too often for any real development to take place. It doesn't help that the characters present nothing new that we haven't seen before in countless cop dramas. We do get a glimpse of the thoughts of particular characters at points, but they feel cliched and unrealistic and don't evoke the empathy they’re clearly meant to.
In other episodic titles much of the attachment that you feel to the characters is built from the important and consistent choices you get to make for them. In The Detail these choices seem arbitrary and are, on occasion, forced upon you. Perhaps the consequences of choices made now will become more apparent in later episodes, but when you have to wait months for a new episode to arrive, the player needs at least some evidence that their input means something.
The presentation is the only thing that really stands out above everything else. But when I say ‘stands out’, I do so with certain caveats. The comic book style is certainly interesting, and well implemented at times, especially when used to convey how a crime went down during investigations. In a game where the other elements had more depth, this might be a perfectly acceptable way to present it. Unfortunately the other elements are so lacking, the presentation needed to be, dare I say it, a little less 2D. Levels are flat and lifeless with no depth at all and at points feel clunky to navigate. Even if your argument is that this is supposed to be a dark and bleak setting, it is still possible to give such a setting some personality.
The sound in this game is just as much at fault for the inherent lack of any depth in presentation. It is absolutely possible to help develop immersion in a world through sound, but again the game is a let down in this department. Throughout the episode, we are treated to the same muted soundtrack that was present in Episode 1. It does not seem to react particularly to events occurring in the story and is simply the only thing separating us from the silence that would otherwise envelop this world. This is such a shame, because a strong soundtrack and audio effects are usually instrumental in creating tension and mood in games. The Detail is lacking depth and immersion in every other area and strong sound design could have made a huge difference. Instead the soundtrack reflects exactly how the entire game feels: muted.
Shows little promise
There are still more episodes to come, so we can only hope they vastly improve on what we have seen so far. But I can’t help but think that after two of the five episodes, The Detail has already shown it’s true colours, and unfortunately they’re pretty dull.
Interesting comic book style
Uninteresting story, poor character development, lack of immersion, clunky gameplay