Chinatown Detective Agency’s anachronisms are just the start of its charms

There’s chaos in the shadows of 2032 Singapore, but in order to get to the bottom of the conspiracy behind it, Chinatown Detective Agency‘s owner Amira Darma will have to travel the world.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about General Interactive Co’s Chinatown Detective Agency is how it uses technology that we know and understand, while also making it all deliberately look anachronistic, or at least outdated. The hud is like a personal organiser, you have a phone on you at all times, and typed search boxes are still the main way you interact with Singapore’s National Library archive. Robots and machines clutter the free spaces and alleyways in this city, people wear glowing visors while reading and you can hack an entire city’s infrastructure, but at the same time people still smoke cigarettes, people wear scarves for fashion or to keep warm and filing cabinets still line office walls despite advanced digitisation options being available.

Frankly, I think it’s charming, and it doesn’t stop there. The art-stye is clearly referencing back to an earlier Point & Click heyday, but mechanically there’s a lot going on. Puzzles require you to do real-world research outside of the game while others are full cyphers, others still are twists on classic panel puzzlers. All in all, it actually feels as though the puzzle element fits better with what we’re used to seeing in ARGs or the fun, little puzzle envelopes or tabletop puzzle boxes.

I’m definitely a little sceptical about games which make you step away from the game themselves in order to solve puzzles (although that might be a resting resentment from old anti-piracy methods employed many years ago), but I think that Chinatown Detective Agency‘s comfort in its anachronistic setting actually eased the scepticism.

Puzzles and setting aside, I was compelled by what I got to play. The story was quick to introduce a decent variety of characters, mystery and a need to carefully manage your time — a really solid combination for a game which toes the line between cyberpunk and film noir settings. There’s also a lot of signs of a deep level of care and attention throughout the development, characters are believably voiced and the number of areas you can explore are very carefully limited despite the potential scale of the game.

Chinatown Detective Agency releases for PC and Mac early next year. In the meantime, there’s a free prologue available on Steam.

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