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‘The Detail: Episode 1 – Where the Dead Lie’ – Video Game Review

Adventure Gaming was all but dead until Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead: Season 1 revitalized it with a new focus on choices made that altered the story. And now, Telltale isn’t the only name out there working on fantastic, immersive stories where choice is the gameplay. Meet The Detail by Rival Games Ltd. whose comparison to Telltale Games was inevitable, but the two are about as closely related as saying Skyrim and Modern Warfare are similar because they both use first-person perspectives.

Set in a modern-day city run rampant with crime, The Detail is the story of an old, jaded detective, Reginald “Reggie” Moore, struggling to keep up with the times, a reformed criminal, Joe Miller, who will protect his family at any costs, and Katelyn Hayes, a rookie beat cop trying to prove she has what it takes. Juggling characters is a highly effective tool in The Detail‘s arsenal. Not only did switching up characters from scene to scene keep the game feeling fresh all the way through, but it provided a different perspective on events. This includes bringing players along for moments that the other characters would have otherwise missed. Katelyn is the least used and the character I didn’t have that good of a feel for, but I have a feeling Episode 1 is just the start of her story. The stars of the game are Joe and Reggie who are given these great scenes that humanize them early on. Joe’s interactions with his daughter and the opportunity to make up a bedtime story with her being one of my favorite moments in the entire game (my story consisting of wizards, contractors, and redecorating, because that’s how I roll). It’s moments like this that made me care about these characters and made me genuinely worried for their lives as I progressed in the game and got them in over their heads. After all, with multiple player characters, what’s one or two dead?

But, what about the choices? Rival Games hammers home from minute one how important the decisions you make are and manages to walk that fine line between fantasy noir and real-life consequences. Within minutes of starting up the game, I found myself in an interrogation room as Reggie with the sleaziest of criminals, a man who the game made me hate in such a short amount of time. I try to question the guy to get information that could save lives all while he’s taunting me and the game nags at me to turn my bad cop routine into a nightmare cop routine. Those choices popping up are purposely tempting, anger gnawing away at Reggie’s mind. In my case, I snapped. I slammed the criminal’s face into a table and set forth a cascade of reactions that affected the rest of my game and I doubt are going to go away heading into Episode 2. Now, not every choice in The Detail has such a wide-reaching scope, but Rival Games set the tone of hard choices, consequence, and walking the fine line between getting results and doing the right thing immediately. That opening scene informed my entire gameplay, heavily affecting the way I played both Reggie and Joe, because I had in the back of my mind the idea that one wrong move could ruin their lives.

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What sets The Detail apart immediately from other Adventure Games is the comic book look and feel. The story is told largely through minimally animated panels, like a motion comic, and encourages that feel with the symbol to move forward being the start of a page flip at a corner of the screen. Dialogue bubbles and narration fields tell the story while composer Tommi Hartikainen’s haunting and perfect score is the only sound you hear. The sound design on The Detail is one I’m torn over. On one hand I was more aware and tuned in to Hartikainen’s tracks than I’ve been for just about any Adventure Game, which set the noirish tone better than any line of dialogue could, but on the other I really missed sound effects. The game does provide sound effects, comic book style, visually, but there were a few moments where the report of a gun or the sound of someone’s footsteps as they ran away would have better hooked me during action scenes.

Which is the thing The Detail struggles the most with. All of the game’s interactions are through the mouse. During a conversation you click on one of a set of choices. Otherwise, trailing the mouse overtop of an interactable item causes it to be wrapped in a yellow circle with the options to interact with it presented as a wheel of choices that will be familiar to any Adventure Game player. This works great for puzzles, investigations, and the calmer scenes, but when the lead starts flying, this system is clunky. The choices I made during action scenes I didn’t feel an ownership over. I wasn’t aware of all of my options, and I made snap decisions because it was the first clickable item I could find in the time allotted. Now, maybe that’s not a bad thing. In the heat of the moment, would you be able to rationally examine all of your options, or would you go with the first idea that comes to mind? Had I had better control over the characters, I might have viewed it as a feature, but as it stands there’s too little information in what should be the games’ most tense moments.

Backing up, this game is called The Detail, not “Shoot ‘Em All.” Investigation is a core element, and the games’ system for making choices works beautifully here. By not displaying prompts, it’s all about what you, the player, notices on the screen. While I’m still not sure if it was possible to miss anything (or indeed if I missed any evidence that’s going to bite me in the ass going into Episode 2), I received an immense sense of satisfaction when I made a connection and found a minor clue that helped to give Reggie his next lead.

The Detail Episode 1 – Where the Dead Lie is now available on Steam for $5.99 here with an Episode 2 already in the works.

Story: 9.5, Presentation: 8.5, Gameplay: 7.0, Overall: 8.5


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