Platforms PC
Developer Rival Games Ltd
Publisher Rival Games Ltd
Release Date 28th April 2016 (Episode 3)

Disclaimer: Game key provided by PR

The Detail is a gritty crime adventure playing across three very violent, dark episodes. The first offering from Rival Games, I’d call it less a video game than an interactive Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-esque graphic novel. You lead several lead characters through a tale of corruption, vice and violence. Episode One (“Where the Dead Lie”) introduces you to your cast of police officers, crime lords, ex-cons and, of course, murder victims.

Right off the bat you can see the influence police procedural dramas and old-school action films have had on The Detail. The dialogue is both clichéd and entertaining, exactly what you’d expect of this narrative style. On the surface, The Detail appears to split its time between graphic novel styled story sequences and point-and-click adventure game environments. It becomes very apparent, however, that there’s not much of a narrative-to-gameplay ratio here so to speak. While I was initially excited to play a P&C adventure, this quickly waned as these scenes offered little in the way of puzzles and reduced the interaction down to several guided clicks of a mouse to conduct your investigation. This was worsened by the inclusion of a button that shows you anything relevant you haven’t clicked yet. This was by far the biggest, but not only disappointment, but I’ll get to that later.

Fortunately, the graphic novel sequences are well executed and visually exciting. There’s even quick time events of a sort, where your first decisions of The Detail will send your characters on one arc or another. The first characters you’re introduced to are rookie cop Katelyn Hayes and her training officer partner Scott Mason as they head in to check out a suspect in a child abduction case. During this intro sequence (in which you’re guided through the limited mechanics), things go a tad pear shaped when they catch their suspect red handed with an abductee – you have to act fast to save both the child and yourselves. I got a very real sense of danger for my characters at these moments in The Detail and got the feeling that the developers wouldn’t shy away from offing any of their characters at any point. The scene quickly shifts to veteran cop Reggie Moore, a bitter and jaded detective as he’s called to a murder scene by his partner Tyrone DeShawn.

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Here is where the excitement and momentum comes crashing to a halt. The Detail sets up what could have been a pretty decent point and click scenario, a crime scene for you to investigate, find clues and figure out what you’re missing, and reduces all this to a hefty amount of highlighted click points which do the investigating for you (after which, you’re introduced to your last major character, CI Joe Miller, criminal-turned-family man, dragged back into the seedy underbelly of the city). To begin with I thought I was in an adventure game but quickly realised the story progression was the focus and no time was to be wasted on silly deduction, investigation and item combining. No, no, no. The Detail wants you to speed through these bits, glean the information that’s needed and carry on with the narrative; this would be all well and good but these scenes take up so much time that the pacing comes crashing to a halt with each and every one.

While this is alleviated somewhat by the surrounding segments (of which I have no complaint), I would have preferred those player-controlled environments to have a little bit more difficulty about them… well, any difficulty at all. The fact that a button highlights all of the available interactions almost felt like an insult – like the game was saying “you can’t figure this fairly simple situation out, here – we’ll help”. Cheers, The Detail. Although some level of hand-holding wouldn’t have been so bad if I’d expected it, this was one of the more startlingly obvious cases I’ve seen in recent years.

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Not shown – obvious clickable interactions. But they’re there. Waiting.

The other part of the interaction comes in the form of conversations between your (anti-)heroes and whomever the story kicks their way; wives, prostitute-pseudo-girlfriends, fellow officers, snarky superiors, crime-lord ex-girlfriends, you name it. These were pretty well done in fairness. Here’s where the other story branches come into it. You make a choice, that’s where it goes – no turning back, and I fully commend the developers for this. The story can go in several fairly different ways, and the characters can develop (or not), survive (or not), or disappear completely (although I’m not sure if that was down to a choice or just irrelevance) all depending on a combination of choices during the conversations and comic-book sections.

These conversations also give you the opportunity to play your characters in different ways (very similar to Knee Deep) and this element of role-playing helped guide my own way through the story. Further hat-tipping goes to the developers for making your choices actually matter, and throughout my time with The Detail there were several “oh shit” moments at which I knew I’d messed up.

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Also violence.

The graphic novel segments are The Detail’s greatest accomplishment, however. The quality and authenticity of the comic-style art on display here is excellent, nothing would feel out of place in a Brubaker/Phillips story or, for a more mainstream example, the Batman: Noir series. Highly violent and expressive, this gets across the story and characters of The Detail far better than any other part of the game. The characters themselves are on their own fairly bland and stereotypical, but mash them all together with some decent dialogue and interesting story mechanics and they turn from being mostly one-dimensional to almost having real personalities – that is, until about halfway through Episode Two.

The first half of The Detail sets up and develops a great crime story, ripe with intrigue, scandal and political corruption. I was eager to see it through despite the frustrating elements, however once you hit the halfway point The Detail seems to stumble – before rushing to its conclusion as fast as its little legs will carry it. Episode Three in its entirety, even though it arrived a year after the second instalment, and every available storyline was either grabbed and smushed together or abandoned entirely. I’m not sure why Rival Games chose to do this, or whether there was much of a choice at all, but in all honesty this was the final nail in the coffin. I’m sure I could have changed the overall outcome in several significant ways with more playthroughs, but I found that I had zero motivation to do so.


Summary

The Detail does several things right – the TV style episodic nature and themes were very well done, including the nods to The Wire; surely a main influence, right down to the eponymous Detail being shoved in the basement. The graphic novel sections in pacing, artwork and general quality were outstanding and for any die-hard fans of the format I’d recommend taking a look. What lets The Detail down is the lacklustre, rushed second half of the story which felt shoed-in and the absolutely moribund point-and-click sections. As stated previously, The Detail isn’t a game so much as an interactive graphic novel, so why Rival Games felt the need to insert parts of the whole that appear like a game, act like a game but don’t PLAY like a game is a mystery to me. Combined with a few technical issues and you’re left with an experience even the excellent novel chapters cannot support.

4

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