|The Marina Bay Sands still dominates the Singapore skyline|
|Reviewed by:||Mark Goninon|
|Developer:||General Interactive Co.|
|Release Date:||8 Apr 2022|
|Time played:||11 hours|
Where in the World is Amira Darma?
Throughout my life, I've always had a keen interest in geography, probably the reason I aced the subject at school for a couple of years and why it's my favourite category in Trivial Pursuit. My youth was spent poring over atlases and world almanacs, so I developed a love and appreciation for cartography and geography at a young age. It also couldn't hurt that two of my favourite edutainment titles growing up happened to be the games Nigel's World (where you play a Scottish photographer taking pictures across the globe) and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Deluxe. Later games tended to veer off the formula set out in the the original 1985 release or the 1990 re-release so my interest in the series faded at least until I heard of General Interactive Co.'s Kickstarter campaign asking for funds to complete a new game called Chinatown Detective Agency.
Chinatown Detective Agency had a promising premise: a cybernoir point 'n' click adventure inspired by the Carmen Sandiego games of the 80s and 90s set mainly in Singapore. I'm a fan of noir, cyberpunk, point 'n' click adventures, Carmen Sandiego and Singapore (having visited there many times) so it's no surprise I backed the game and it was successfully funded on 28th April 2020 thanks to 1,647 backers raising S$ 82,012. The game made our 10 Most Anticipated PC Games of 2022 list and after waiting a couple of years the game was finally released in April.
In Chinatown Detective Agency you play the role of a Singaporean private investigator called Amira Darma in 2037. You'll be given cases to solve that will take you to different cities around the world. In order to figure out which cities in the world you must travel to, you'll often be given clues or hints which you'll need to insert into a search engine like Google in order to reveal the answer. There are three main clients that can employ you and when you choose one of them you will progress the main story which is more or less linear. You can, however, replay the game working for other clients to experience a slightly different story but the end game will be very similar (albeit with different companions at your side).
|Like the Carmen Sandiego games, Chinatown Detective Agency will have you travelling around the world|
Authentic Singapore, lah
I've visited Singapore several times in my lifetime and it feels like the developers have nailed the look and feel of the city state: every place you visit feels like the near-future version of a real location in Singapore and station stops all correspond to real stations on its Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) network. The authenticity is also evident in the voice acting especially when you hear the Singlish accent of detective Justin Koh (voiced by Colin Tan).
Google as a Game Mechanic
Chinatown Detective Agency effectively implements what made games like Carmen Sandiego so addictive: it's basically a geography quiz where your success and failure will have consequences. In Carmen Sandiego, going off the trail one too many times would result in you losing your suspect, although it appears the only downside in Chinatown Detective Agency is you losing money (although sometimes you'll have deadlines you just have to meet and if you don't, you'll need to restore the game). Figuring out the correct city to visit in the world is an addictive gameplay loop, especially with me, which is probably why it's the first time in a while I've managed to finish a game in under a week! That doesn't happen often so it's definitely a game that keeps you on the edge of your seat, keeping you captivated as you travel the world solving one mystery after another.
The gameplay in Chinatown Detective Agency does have its drawbacks though: I feel that the game is somewhat inferior to Carmen Sandiego when it comes to how you go about deciphering clues. While in Carmen Sandiego you had to rely on the knowledge you learnt through the game to assist you with figuring out where to go next, in Chinatown Detective Agency you use a search engine to find your answers (and not an in-game search engine, I'm talking about alt+tabbing out of the game and opening up a browser window). While this might not be much of an issue yet, eventually Chinatown Detective Agency walkthroughs and solutions will work their way up in the search results and reading them will be almost akin to cheating. It kind of takes the challenge out of working these things out yourself although with a few puzzles, you'll definitely need help from online sources unless you happen to already have knowledge of Sumerian mathematics or cryptography. It's a double-edged sword.
And yes, I can understand that when the original Carmen Sandiego games came out, almanacs, encyclopaedias and such were released on CD-ROMs and Wikipedia wasn't even a thing yet. So, it wasn't as easy to find answers back then as you can now. And maybe that's why the developers went with the approach they did: people use the Internet to find the solutions to all their problems nowadays so why not have the player find solutions using Google? But, as mentioned, search results will evolve to eventually have the game solutions at the top and I don't really feel any smarter when solving the puzzles after finding the answers on websites. Sure, it makes me a proficient procurer of Internet information but it's a bit different to feeling like a geography guru like you did with the original Carmen Sandiego games.
|One of your potential clients in the game is Madam Tiger Lily who runs a "health club" in Geylang|
Misleading Clues and a Very Buggy Release
Chinatown Detective Agency is still a relatively new game so some of the issues I mention here are probably fixed, but they need to be mentioned as the state the game was in upon release made it almost impossible to complete it, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the game has an issue with its lack of flexibility when it comes to saving progress. The developers have assured its fans that they will investigate the ability to save your game during missions because at the moment, the game only saves after completing missions, even if you attempt to manually save the game. Considering some of the puzzles can be quite time-consuming, you may end up losing progress as a result and having to restart the mission from the beginning next time you open the game.
The game was also released with several bugs. Some bugs were minor such as Steam Achievements being incorrectly awarded to players for merely completing the first mission (when in reality they had to travel the world many more times instead). Other bugs made the game almost impossible to complete, such as puzzles with misleading clues meaning you had to use the in-game hint system to give you the correct starting point to solve the puzzle.
Then there are graphical glitches and audio bugs such as the wrong audio clips playing, volume that lacks normalisation during conversations, conversations switching between being fully voiced and total silence, character sprites walking in the wrong direction, incorrect mission text, the list goes on. It seems the game could've benefited from more time spent with quality assurance.
Branching Narrative and Multiple Endings
One great thing about this game is that there are three very different clients you can choose to work for full-time. Having the player choose which path in the narrative to take increases the game's replay value as the story turns out slightly different depending who you help as you're effectively choosing your supporting cast for the end of the game. Best of all, the game has an epilogue that takes into account the choices you made, which means different endings.
The Steam version of the game has 16 Steam Achievements you can earn. There are no Steam Trading Cards to collect.
Chinatown Detective Agency manages to channel what made the Carmen Sandiego games addictive experiences resulting in a captivating, authentic look into a dystopian, near-future Singapore and the world in general. The game also encourages multiple playthroughs thanks to a branching narrative and different endings based off your actions.
My experience with the game wasn't the best though as it was released with many bugs including those that made puzzles more challenging than intended. Also, having players use Google to search for puzzle solutions is a double-edged sword and solving puzzles this way doesn't seem as satisfying as employing geographical knowledge to hunt down V.I.L.E. agents for A.C.M.E.
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