Detective Hayseed – Hollywood is a point-and-click adventure game by czech developers Zima Software and published by Mamor Games. The list of this year’s Oscar winners has been stolen, and, for some reason, President Obama himself wants you on the case, despite an apparent lack of qualifications, experience or even basic morals. You must puzzle your way through various Hollywood locations and movies sets to uncover what’s really going on and prevent a tragedy at the prestigious awards ceremony. But first you need to figure out how to get out of your own house.
At first glance, this game appears to be aimed at a younger audience. The art style is decidedly comic-book-like with the use of 3D characters on 2D backgrounds giving it bright and attractive aesthetics – the subtitle text is even written in comic sans. The voice acting is well done despite some far away dialogue which sounds as if it were recorded in a cupboard and some of the dialogue not translating too well into English.
The introduction tutorial and first few puzzles are broken down into easy to follow steps which could seem patronising to seasoned players, however, if you are unfamiliar with the mechanics of point-and-click style games I can see the use in this. The humour isn’t particularly sophisticated with some tongue-in-cheek jabs aimed at the USA and the importance of the Oscars to them and a variety of genitalia-related puns and mishaps. Even Steam has classified it with an ‘E’ rating. However, it’s not a game I would feel comfortable introducing to kids.
Firstly, the language used is fairly colourful and gets worse as the game moves forward. The setting of the puzzles becomes increasingly more seedy, including a bizarre encounter attempting to trick an obviously intoxicated woman in a police station into snorting some crushed up wall plaster disguised as cocaine so that you can get what you want form her, freeing an almost naked space captain from bondage restraints and bribing an actress with the threat of exposing indecent images of her to the press unless she talks to you.
The underlying themes of the game appear to be misogyny and thinly-veiled xenophobia, referring to the French as lazy and only willing to do something for a bribe, using terrible stereotypical accents for voice parts including a particularly ridiculous portrayal of a gangster rapper in a prison cell, and repeatedly alluding to women as useless, emotional eye-candy for men. Apart from when you need something sewn up by one of them, because obviously that’s what women do – sew things and cry.
At 6 hours of gameplay start to finish it’s relatively long for a game of this genre, however, a lot of that time is spent trying to work out which NPC you need to go back and talk to and at what point. This is particularly frustrating when in order to complete a task you need to ask a character you have previously exhausted all dialog options with to do something for you first. The fact that there is an achievement for completing the game in under 1 hour suggests that it’s not overly content-heavy once you know what you’re doing.
The hint system is helpful when you’re stuck, allowing you to show or hide a handy list of the basic things you’re currently working towards. Using the space bar or clicking the mouse wheel shows you which inventory items can be used in the current environment, and which environment items you can interact with. However, it’s still not useful for those speech-based puzzles mentioned previously, and most of the other puzzles are relatively straightforward to work out what you need to do. There are two items repetitively used for lock-picking, so if you try one and it doesn’t work it’s most likely the other one you need to get into a restricted area and most of the more obscure items are usually hidden in cache’s in the floor.
The story-line is fairly disjointed which is not helped by concepts which are introduced and then never seen again – for example, the opening tutorial uses a voice-over who introduces himself as ‘fate’ and makes quite a big deal out of it. This is the first and last time we hear from ‘fate’ in the game. The confused narrative and lack of character development make it difficult to actively involve yourself in the motivations behind completing the story-line, and the game instead becomes a lesson in solving the puzzles to get to the end, instead of trying to reach a satisfactory conclusion.
It seems as though Zima were trying to achieve a more adult Guybrush Threepwood in the character of Hayseed – an oblivious accidental hero with naive charm; indeed there is even a wanted poster with Hayseed on it at one point. However, Hayseed’s naivety comes across as arrogance or ignorance, and any heroism is marred by egotistical dialog, barring you from being able to get behind his cause or develop any affection for him.
It is unfortunate that Detective Hayseed – Hollywood stumbles at so many hurdles, as it is a game with a lot of potential. I would like to be able to pass off a lot of the moral undertone as ironic commentary on modern life, particularly in its blatancy, or even just a case of cultural translation failure. However, I feel like I would be making excuses for this casual reinforcement of discrimination we see far too often elsewhere and fail to call out for what it is. The discomfort I felt playing through, and the cringing reactions from others as I described puzzles and quoted dialog to them only further support my opinion.
Detective Hayseed – Hollywood is available to buy on Steam.