The Detail PC Review
The success of the first season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead demonstrated that there is a big market for games with a focus on storytelling, bringing an interactive, cinematic, episodic approach to video games. It’s the transformation of the adventure genre, making a new spin-off of the classic point-and-click games of the 1990s. It was only a matter of time before other developers decided to tell their own stories this way. Last year saw us play with time as Max Caulfield in Dontnod’s Life is Strange, and now, The Detail, which to be fair, has been running since late 2014 when its first episode released, has finally got the final episode for season one, making it a great time for me to sit down with it and see how its three episode season has panned out for this crime drama.
There is no waiting around for the story to get its spring in The Detail. The first episode, titled Where the Dead Lie, opens with a classy black and white aesthetic, produced in the style of an animated graphic novel. There is no voice acting, and the scene has minimal sounds, it’s just simplistic still movement animation in its monochromatic visuals, yet it is expressively on point with the grimness that is to come. The two police officers are on the hunt for a child molester during this opening scene inside an apartment, and it’s from his arrest that we are eventually led into the main character, Reggie, a veteran detective who seems to not give a crap about the rules of the law, as he has become fed up with the lack of justice being brought down on the rise of criminal activity in his city – this is clear from the choices you are given when interrogating the opening’s filthy lawbreaker.
Developer, Rival Games, state on the Steam store page that “The Detail combines the emotional impact of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead with the themes of a realistic crime drama like HBO’s The Wire,” and that description sums up what the game is attempting to be. This is a game that advertises the idea of choice matters when coming to a player’s decision to change the outcome with a dialogue option. The problem here is that while these choices make minor situational changes to the story, for example, forcing aggressive behaviour on someone who doesn’t talk, resulting in everyone giving you the eye for breaking police rule, they, overall, don’t seem to effect the third and final episode of the game and the ending. This is an issue that has plagued similar games, but with The Detail, what seems to be the case is that the developers cut the story short, cramming what was initially a five episode season into the shortened third and final one. This spoils what could have been a potentially satisfying first season, capturing what is great about engrossing crime drama TV into a comic stylized video game, sadly, the ending feels abrupt and rushed, leaving plenty of unanswered questions when the game concludes.
It is a huge shame that it ended this way, since the story of episode one and two are captivating, seemingly building up a solid crime tale. It starts with the game’s development of the characters. Reggie isn’t the only playable character – the game switches between him, an informant named Joe, and an upcoming rookie cop, Kate, who is brought into the team when something happens to her in the story. This switching allows the player to see the story from multi perspectives and how each character is dealing with their current situation and the overall story arc on both sides of the law, while also manipulating your judgement when it comes to picking a choice when these characters are involved with each other. The writing can be cliché at times, but when it goes all out, the tale will take you to the underbelly of crime syndicates and what atrocities they are willing to do to be the top gang in the city – just don’t go walking into the back of a Chinese restaurant unless you are prepared to taste fried Asian face with your rice. The game doesn’t hold back on the idea of grisly punishment, but it does it all through the lure of imagination, rather than being a showcase for gore – there are minimal visuals of the terrible things that go on in The Detail, leaving it to the player’s thought to fill in the gaps.
As for interactions from the player, The Detail is made up of half comic book storytelling and half point-and-click exploration. There is a couple of very limited puzzle interactions to piece together a crime scene or find the unlock key for the door, but gameplay here is straightforward and demands minimal effort to walk and talk to people to progress the scenes. The Detail is made for people interested in story over interaction, but it is a huge shame that it leds to a unsatisfying end after spending four hours getting to know these characters, watching them being built in front of me, then just abruptly cut off when finishing all three episodes.
Ambient sounds or silence are often the only audio present. The occasional melody will play, but with no voice acting and the smallest amount of sound effects, this is, just like the visuals, a minimal approach to presentation. I do love how the game uses the monochromatic palette to represent scenes from the past, their thick style look fantastic, but some of the none comic book scenes, the parts that are made up for drawings for backgrounds and dialogue portraits, don’t appear as polished as those bigger, important comic book scenes, which are drawn with a clear conscious to adapt a cinematic viewpoint. The character movement is strangely alien, like Edgar the bug from Men in Black trying to act like a human, which stands out like a sore thumb against the frozen environment art.
Rival Games had a promising title on their hands with The Detail. It began with an enticing introduction, giving you a taste of the world and its characters, with a potential story that could truly shine as it progressed on. It was immersive and entertaining, but the hard work brought through in the initial two episodes feels all gone to waste. It was clear this story was going deeper than it eventually did, and it’s a disappointment that the budget cost became too much for the small indie studio, which has tarnished what could have been a fantastic crime drama in a video game format. What you have here is two thirds of a good show that has been axed by the television network, leaving the studio to sort itself out, bringing an end to the season early, except what was offered for a closure was a cop-out, robbing The Detail of a truly satisfying ending that it deserves.