Chinatown Detective Agency Review: A Neon-Dripped Global Adventure

Chinatown Detective Agency is an engaging point-and-click adventure with gorgeous art direction that falls just a bit short.

Chinatown Detective Agency is inspired by classic point-and-click adventure games like those in the 1980s Carmen San Diego franchise. This time, though, the setting is 2037 Singapore in a cyberpunk aesthetic. Following a young private investigator named Amira Darma as she takes cases from different clients, Chinatown Detective Agency unravels a sinister plot that will take her all across the world.

With a solid narrative, standout visuals, and challenging puzzles, Chinatown Detective Agency is an engaging game that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Chinatown Detective Agency Review: A Neon-Dripped Global Adventure

Helped along by excellent voice acting, Chinatown Detective Agency focuses on a small cast of characters, choosing to (rightly) flesh them out instead of creating a sprawling cast that just fades into the background. Given that a Singapore studio developed Detective Agency, all of the voice actors sound native to the southeast Asia region, giving things an authentic feel.

The script and writing are superb as well. Amira herself is quite the sarcastic detective, and a few of her quips had me chuckling. She comes off as confident and smug but not obnoxious. Her clients and comrades are equally fun.

Tiger Lily, for example, is known for her rather promiscuous nature, and whenever she's shamed about it or condescended to, she fires off sarcastic barbs of her own. Another standout is Mei Ling, the local librarian Amira calls on for help during investigations. She has an incredibly bubbly personality that contrasts with the world's bleakness.

The pixel art gives Chinatown Detective Agency that retro feel reminiscent of those aforementioned Carmen San Diego games, but the equally beautiful character portraits add a sense of realism that juxtaposes it nicely. 

Let Me Google That for You

As for the gameplay, Amira solves a variety of puzzles and riddles to close out cases. These have you act as a detective and go on a real-world search engine to find the answers to questions posed in the game. For example, one case has a stone tablet with an ancient language on it. To decipher the message, I first had to research what the actual language was, and then translate it myself. 

In another puzzle, I was given pictures of Egyptian gods, and I had to slot them into specific holes with the correct descriptions. There's no encyclopedia or any other aid in Chinatown Detective Agency — you'll have to use real-world resources to come up with answers.

Some of the puzzles can be very challenging but deciphering them and figuring them out is incredibly gratifying. Fortunately, if a particular puzzle is too hard, you can always call up Mei Ling and ask her to either give you a hint or just spill the answer outright (for an in-game fee).

Chinatown Detective Agency also uses money and time as mechanics. There is an in-game 24-hour clock and certain places within Singapore can only be accessed during specific times of the day, adding urgency and tension. For example, if a client needs to meet Amira at the bar between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m., then you must wait until that designated time frame.

Luckily, you can fast-forward time whenever you want so it doesn't impede the flow of the game. The game mentions that if Amira misses a client's timeframe, money could be lost — or it could result in a game over. And though this seems to hint at side missions, I never found any. Implementing some here and there could have added to Detective Agency's worldbuilding, winding up as a missed opportunity.

Every time Amira solves a case, a client makes a payment. She uses the money to book plane tickets to solve certain other cases, as well as ride the train around Singapore for others. Additionally, whenever the first of the month rolls around, Amira must pay rent.

Further on, Amira can expand her office and hire new employees, though this aspect is woefully underutilized; you only get one other ally during the game. You'll be so inundated with money at a certain point that paying things off never becomes an issue.

Catching the Bugs 

Despite its many interesting qualities and mechanics, Chinatown Detective Agency is weighed down by its buggy performance. I came across a few game-breaking glitches during my review time. Towards the end of the game, an area wouldn't load up and the screen was completely black. I could still click and move Amira around — indicated by her footsteps — but that was it. 

The only way I was able to get around it was by receiving a different debug build of the game from the developer, which allowed me to skip that section entirely and move on to the next area.

There were also a few instances of the voice acting suddenly cutting off and sometimes the speech didn't completely match up with the dialogue. Weirdly, sometimes characters would have trouble spawning into cutscenes or they would walk into a scene backward.

Chinatown Detective Agency — The Bottom Line

Pros:

  • Great characters and writing.
  • Beautiful art direction.
  • Challenging and engaging puzzles.

Cons

  • Some underutilized mechanics.
  • Buggy performance and a noticeable number of glitches.

Chinatown Detective Agency is a unique game with a compelling story and fantastic art direction. Its scope is global, but the local Singapore setting feels authentic. The puzzles are just challenging enough so that they never feel unfair. Although, its buggy performance hampers the experience a bit.

What's also impressive is that Chinatown Detective Agency is able to utilize the cyberpunk aesthetic so common in Asian-inspired settings without being culturally insensitive.

[Note: Humble Games provided the copy of Chinatown Detective Agency used for this review.]

Our Rating
7
Chinatown Detective Agency is an engaging point-and-click adventure with gorgeous art direction that falls just a bit short.
Reviewed On: PC

Contributor

Published Apr. 15th 2022

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