I can’t help but to feel that Chinatown Detective Agency is going to be one of those games that players will either love or hate. The gameplay mechanics feel divisive, with players not only expected to micro-manage the financial and time-based aspects of being a detective, but also do a bit of REAL investigative work outside of the game. It can be overwhelming and it’s easy to see how players could get frustrated fast.
Personally? I was ALL IN and had a blast playing, with the unique investigative elements making me feel more involved in the experience than a lot of other modern detective games.
Check out some screenshots down below:
Chinatown Detective Agency puts players in the role of Amira Darma, an ex-cop who has changed her career path to that of a private investigator and set up her own business in the depths of Singapore. With an old friend in the police force helping set her up with cases, she’s been kept pretty busy too, with multiple clients to work for throughout the game. It’s up to you which one you decide to work with full-time, but with a deeper and darker conspiracy going on behind the scenes in Singapore, you’ll find yourself exceptionally busy no matter who’s bankrolling your work.
The cases you undertake in Chinatown Detective Agency are brilliant. At its core, it feels a lot like a point-and-click adventure; players will explore a variety of 2D environments, interact with NPCs to gather information, and unravel clues in the environment. It’s also possible to use your phone to call other characters, keep track of messages, purchase tickets to travel across the globe when necessary, or look through previously obtained information and clues, with plenty of options in place to ensure players are kept busy in their investigation.
They’re competent mechanics that ensure that you’ve got everything you need to get to the bottom of the mystery… well… as far as the in-game action is concerned, at least. See, whilst Chinatown Detective Agency gives you plenty of clues and a starting point for each case within its gameplay, players are actually expected to do their investigations OUTSIDE of the game. This means using the likes of Google or Wikipedia to search for any information that the game requires, with all sorts of topics coming up that’ll demand a fair bit of investigative work. Sometimes, it’s as simple as typing a specific key word into Google and finding out what it leads to, but other times you’ll find yourself going deeper and deeper in your research in order to work out a TINY bit of obscure information. Sometimes it’s easy and you’ll get the answer quickly, but other times you’ll spend ages looking through a wide range of websites in order to find the solution.
“I loved getting actively involved in the investigation and having to rely on more than just the information that the game fed me, with the satisfaction of physically finding the answer I was looking for giving a massive rush of joy.”
It’s brilliant, unique, and without a doubt the best thing about Chinatown Detective Agency. I loved getting actively involved in the investigation and having to rely on more than just the information that the game fed me, with the satisfaction of physically finding the answer I was looking for giving a massive rush of joy. Sure, there are plenty of times where it’ll take a couple of clicks to get the answer you need, but when you find yourself going down a digital rabbit hole? It’s rewarding and makes you feel super clever. A lot of the harder puzzles to unravel come with the game’s optional objectives so you don’t necessarily have to solve them if you don’t want to, but come on… what kind of private investigator would you be if you left questions unanswered? With multiple cases on offer driven around these mechanics, I got completely hooked into the game.
I will admit that some of the puzzles could get a bit TOO elaborate though, with players having to jump through plenty of real-life hoops to get the answers they need (as well as do a fair bit of clever thinking to know where to look in the first place). I took pride in playing through the game without using a walkthrough, but man, there were PLENTY of moments of frustration where I felt completely clueless as to what I needed to find. It can be overtly cryptic, with some puzzles lacking that trail of breadcrumbs required to get the ball rolling in your investigation.
For the most part, though? It’s great, with the engaging puzzles and investigations offering a real sense of satisfaction when you solve them. Just make sure you got plenty of charge on your phone and a pen and paper handy before playing… you’ll need them.
Check out some screenshots down below:
There’s a lot more to Chinatown Detective Agency than simply solving cases though, with players expected to manage the financial side of the detective agency. Not only does travelling or interacting with some NPCs cost money, but you’ve also got to pay your bills – if you miss too many bill payments, you’ll get a game over. You can also expand your office and hire in additional help which costs money, so ensuring you complete cases in a timely manner and earn the funds to pay for your business is imperative to your success. It’s a neat mechanic that ensures you work to a budget, with the reward of completing each case feeling especially significant when you put the cash to good use.
Keeping track of timing is equally important, with it possible to miss events in-game if you take too long or aren’t in certain places at the right time. This puts players under pressure to solve puzzles quicker, make sure they travel to the right locations (which can be difficult when it’s up to you to work out where you need to be), or simply make sure they complete the case in the allotted time. It was something that was hit-and-miss for me; whilst the pressure or working around a clock added a believable sense of tension to the experience, there were also a handful of occasions where I felt like the time-limit hindered the enjoyment I had from investigating clues. It’s something that you’ll get better at judging the longer you play and it does add a cool sense of realism to the experience, but don’t be surprised if you find the clock working against you on plenty of occasions too.
Outside of the gameplay, I was a big fan of Chinatown Detective Agency’s presentation, with the environmental design superb and oozing with atmosphere. Whilst the UI can make the game screen look busy, it’s still easy to appreciate just how good everything looks. The top-notch writing and voice acting gives the game a stronger cinematic presence too, with it clear that a lot of work went into the overall presentation of the game.
Chinatown Detective Agency Review
Chinatown Detective Agency is a thrilling puzzle-solving experience that’s clever and creative in design. I haven’t played anything quite like it before, but it hooked me in completely; I loved solving each case and seeing just how deep into the investigation I could go. Sure, there were some frustrations along the way, but those moments were alleviated by the pure satisfaction of finding the right answers.
I have no doubt that the game won’t be for everyone, but I loved it. There’s a lot going on in Chinatown Detective Agency between the investigations, financial management, and timekeeping, and it all comes together nicely to make for a memorable sleuthing escapade.
Developer: General Interactive Co.
Publisher: Humble Games
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC