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Chinatown Detective Agency: pixel PI

Earlier this week, I mentioned how crowdfunding campaigns are like buses. You wait ages for one that’s worth backing to come along and then multiple projects arrive at once. This happened to me at the end of Match when I made pledges to two on Kickstarter on the same day.

The second of these was Gamedec, a cyberbunk isometric RPG by Anshar Studios that I’ve had my eye on since wishlisting it back in August. Players take on the role of a detective who investigates crimes in both the real and virtual worlds but there are no simple cases: your clients could be working alone or they could be as corrupt as your suspects. The thing I liked about this campaign is that it never judges your actions so that pressure I normally feel to make the best choices in video games might be lessened here.

The first project I chose to make a pledge to that day however was Chinatown Detective Agency by General Interactive Co. I’ve mentioned before that I really like detective releases and it’s obvious from the blog just how much I adore point-and-clicks and pixel artwork, so it was one which called out to me immediately. I’ve now had the opportunity to play the short demo available on itch.io and, based on the 40-minutes I’ve seen so far, I don’t think I’m going to be disappointed.

The story takes place in a world which is influx as the global economy nears the lowest point of its decade-long collapse. Singapore stands as the last refuge of order but even here the government is in chaos, and private investigators are the first call for those who able to afford some semblance of justice. This is where you come in: the awesome Amira Darma, once a rising star at INTERPOL but now a freshly-minted detective based in the heart of Chinatown, and you’re about to get your first client.

Chinatown Detective Agency is inspired by the classic Carmen Sandiego games and will take players on an adventure across the world in hot pursuit of criminals, witnesses and clues. The Kickstarter page reveals that its setting was influenced by Blade Runner, The Da Vinchi Code and Black Mirror, and shares that the cases you choose to investigate as Amira will matter. Do you side with the shadowy underworld informant or root out corruption for a junior politician?

The demo covers the first case. After breaking into the Botanical Gardens at night by hacking the maintenance gate through a simple matching task, I met a client who works for a ‘special group of people with a wide range of interests’. One of its members has had millions of dollars stolen from their company and they understandably want the thief and their money tracked down. So off I set on my investigation, with nothing more than a strange text message as a clue.

Each piece of evidence collected affects the outcome and many puzzles require some real-world research to resolve. The first step in my investigation was to discover the historical person behind a certain phrase and enter the answer into a database. The developer says that although most of the main quest can be finished entirely in-game, solving side-quests will require genuine investigation such as checking encyclopaedias and scouring maps. You’re not just playing as an investigator – you’ll have to become one.

A detective can’t work alone though and you’ll find yourself making contacts, building a network and maybe even hiring some staff. I was introduced to one potential employee during the demo who eagerly helped me find the information I needed to solve another challenge. Chasing down leads and gathering evidence may pay the bills but the protagonist isn’t just a private investigator: she must also be a businesswoman, and that means keeping your office running smoothly and your staff happy.

Thanks to my new contact, I was able to interpret a secret message which involved me deciphering it using a number code and then entering the correct letters on my keyboard. The next step was to book myself a flight to London for the right date using the in-game HORUS system. The title is going to feature over 30 real-world locations including Toronto, Rio De Janeiro and Athens, and each will have sub-locations where you’ll be able to meet other characters and check out more objects.

After heading to an apartment in Canary Wharf, my client contacted me to warn that the suspect isn’t just an overpaid accountant – he also served in the special forces. It was time to bust out Amira’s gun when it became obvious that a diplomatic solution wasn’t going to be possible. You have a choice of where to aim and so it’s possible to kill someone, but you can also try to fire at their hand or arm if you’d rather apprehend them. You’ve got limited time to take your shot though and you’ll automatically kill your target if you wait too long.

Chinatown Detective Agency, apartment, Amira, detective, gun, aim, hostage, crosshairs

As the time came up on my 40-minute session, I was told to get some rest and find something good to eat. The Kickstarter page confirms that Amira’s energy and focus will crash if she forgets to take a break, causing her Endurance meter grind to a halt. You can replenish yourself by visiting the city’s best hawkers for a local dish but remember that nothing comes for free: ‘Some items can turn a budding new detective into a down-on-their-luck bum in the space of a meal.’

I was also told that the first case wasn’t as simple as it first seemed. It turns out that the heist wasn’t the suspect’s idea and he’d received instructions from someone else who was proving to be elusive. Could this possibly be the Fractal Killer hinted at in the campaign details? With a final request to call my client once I was ready to go deeper down the rabbit hole, I found myself wanting to get lost in the chaotic future of 2032 further. I can’t wait for this game to be released early next year.

At the time of writing, Chinatown Detective Agency has reached over 80% of its £32,360 target. You have until 28 April 2020 to become a backer so why not check out the Kickstarter project for more details? You can also give General Interactive Co. a follow on Twitter to show your support and stay up-to-date on their progress.

Kim View All

Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.

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