Review: The Detail

By Owen Faraday 12 Feb 2015 0
"I want you to get excited about your life," says Detective Doctor Phil. "I want you to get excited about your life," says Detective Doctor Phil.

The Detail is a police procedural adventure that wears its influences like a badge. It's channeling NYPD Blue and The Wire just as hard as it can, but the end result isn't a tribute as much as earnest, po-faced fan-fiction.

Every character in the game is a care-worn cop show sawhorse. The first of the game's dual protagonists is a grizzled veteran homicide detective who--wait for it--is getting too old for this shit. The other guy is a criminal who's gone straight, but once he thinks he's out -- they pull him back in. It gets worse, I'm afraid.

Not paying attention during the long prologue? Don't worry -- none of this ever comes up again. Not paying attention during the long prologue? Don't worry -- none of this ever comes up again.

I'd love to recap the basic plot of The Detail for you, but I'm having trouble piecing it together despite having played through the whole first episode one-and-a-half times. Here's the best I can do: In our fair (but fictional) American city, a made guy has been whacked in what appears to be a drug deal gone wrong. Detective Too-Old-For-This-Shit leans on his partner's confidential informant, who gets dragged into an underworld meet-up that turns into a fateful shootout. I think. Human trafficking is alluded to at some point, and maybe child porn? The story is striving to be a delicately wrought spiderweb but ends up being a bowl of spaghetti.

The Detail is in such a hurry to rifle through this plot and introduce us to all of its dozen-or-so characters that it doesn't take the time to establish any of them clearly. There's a Big Scene where one character is killed -- but the game has completely neglected to give us any reason to care, or even any agency in the death. The Detail is often a non-interactive slideshow, and when it does bequeath a choice onto us, it fails to help us weight our decisions.

At one point, the detective gets into an elevator with a character I've never seen, and we're instantly asked to choose whether or not to be a jerk to him. I have no clue who this is, but he's wearing an American flag lapel pin and his expensive-looking suit and haircut frame a look of utter smugness. I bet this is the internal affairs guy, I said to myself, reaching into my mental manual of cop show stereotypes. Sure enough, he is.

Season 2 is also my favorite Wire season, thanks. Season 2 is also my favorite Wire season, thanks.

In the penultimate scene, Detective Getting-Too-Old-For-This-Shit screams incoherently about liberals to the police chief and is immediately rewarded by being named head of the Major Crimes Squad, a department the chief invented right that second. It feels like a power fantasy you'd find posted on a doomsday prepper forum, but no -- this is The Detail. When the writing isn't incoherent, it's bland, which is fatal for a Telltale-style adventure game that lives and dies by the quality of the script. Characters make psuedo-profound observations about how tough life is on the street, or make utterly banal small-talk that would have been put to much better use adding weight to the skeletal plot.

The game's presentation depends almost entirely upon the visuals -- there's no sound effects whatsoever, and the game's soundtrack ranges from pretty decent interpretations of Law & Order incidental music to strange impressions of the Godfather score arranged for electric balalaika. What stops The Detail from being completely meritless is the hand-drawn art, which aims for a dark Frank Miller look and mostly hits the mark -- but even that serves as a reminder of how deeply unorginal this game is. You've seen every single element before somewhere else, executed more capably.

Cue "Yackety-Sax". Cue "Yackety-Sax".

Developers Rival Games have their hearts in the right place, but with plot and dialogue have been lifted from TV Tropes, one-dimensional characters that you'll immediately forget, and gameplay that mimics Telltale so hard it even apes the terrible quick-time events, this game is an unfortunate miss. There's multiple plot lines and multiple protagonists here -- and none of them work. It's hard to dismiss the feeling that this could have been a much more accomplished game had it narrowed its scope a little bit.

The Detail is often nice to look at, but it's a game that most adventure fans can safely skip.

Reviewed on iPad Air.

Review: The Detail

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