Chinatown Detective Agency Review

Richard Walker

Chinatown Detective Agency is a throwback to the LucasArts point-and-click adventures of old, possessing all of the recognisable hallmarks that come with the territory. Characters are elegantly drawn with pleasingly chunky pixels, their slightly crude pixelated faces lovingly animated, and the puzzles can occasionally be horribly abstruse. Except, you'll find nothing here that involves combining seemingly disparate and incompatible items from an inventory; instead, you're expected to recognise the Fibonacci sequence or the ancient Sumerian language carved into a stone tablet. At times, developer General Interactive Co.'s game verges on the sublime, but for the most part it's an enormously frustrating and sloppily executed affair.

Sometimes, it's nice to hit the food market for a bite.

You play as Amira Darma, a former police hotshot turned private investigator, who operates out of a decrepit little office in Singapore. In the wake of a murky incident – the game opens with a jogger being murdered – you're initially hired by various parties to unravel cases, before becoming embroiled in something far deeper and complex. Everything starts off promisingly enough, the pixel art visuals reminiscent of vintage LucasArts games, like Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, or Indiana Jones and The Fate of Atlantis; the puzzles requiring a pen and paper to decipher. It's the stuff of point-and-click greatness.

As the story branches and offers the choice to work full time for shady chain-smoking fixer Rupert Zhou, femme fatale Tiger Lily, or government official Keeran Iyer, narrative intrigue develops, and the gratification that comes with carrying out real-world research to solve the game's array of smart conundrums is genuinely great. The game's various renditions of neon-soaked and decaying cities around the world, by artist Ricardo Juchem, are also fantastic, the vision of a dystopian year 2037 offering a glimpse at the sort of near-future devastation and calamity that might one day befall mankind. There are echoes of Blade Runner and its cyberpunk ilk here, and it's all wonderful – based on its opening missions alone, Chinatown Detective Agency seems like an easy recommendation.

And then things gradually veer off the rails, as more and more bugs rear their heads, conspiring to ruin what is otherwise an experience that's clearly been made with at least a modicum of care and attention, as well as a reverence for its various influences. Occasional instances of missing audio and dialogue are initially easy to ignore, but when they become increasingly frequent, and compounded by other glitches like flickering sprites or characters moonwalking into scenes backwards, Chinatown Detective Agency's list of issues grows more and more untenable. At one point, I was faced with a bug that rendered a puzzle impossible to solve, the Morse code that was supposed to be found in an audio log simply missing entirely.

On top of all that, there are times when the dialogue text doesn't match what's being spoken, or it's thrown entirely out of sync at random intervals. When the audio does disappear, and you're hitting 'A' to scroll through the text, it's also far too easy to accidentally make a decision without being given the chance to read it first – this happened to me during the game's final, pivotal choice, and ruined the ending I'd been working towards. On Xbox, the interface is shonky, too – an on-screen cursor would have been so much more elegant than having to line Amira up next to purple-outlined interactive parts of the scenery. When there are two objects close to one another, it can be a real pain.

Managing Amira's funds by paying her rent, booking flights to exotic locations like Kuala Lumpur, New Delhi, Osaka, Paris, San Francisco, and, erm, London, there's also a lot more to Chinatown Detective Agency than first meets the eye. There are times when you feel like you're really developing a case, slipping further down the rabbit hole as the plot unfurls, and small-time investigations give way to a grander, overarching conspiracy. It's quite evident that Chinatown Detective Agency has a lot to offer, and, as such, it's galling to see it laid low by small, irritating bugs and shoddy presentation.

It wouldn't be a cyberpunk future without loads of neon.

While some of its puzzles are a little too high-falutin for their own good, it's refreshing to see an intelligent adventure game that even finds time for a sly reference to The Simpsons (a character in a library reading “so I says to Mabel, I says...” out loud), and one that doesn't feel the need to hold your hand. While you can call your erudite library pal Mei Ting to help with a solution, nothing beats figuring things out on your own, and you're always left to your own devices, the game never assuming that you're too stupid (even if, in my case, you really are stupid) to grasp its more complicated mysteries. It's unfortunate, then, that Chinatown Detective Agency falls short of greatness. There's the makings of something truly special here, but the delivery has been painfully fumbled, and by the time the credits rolled and the sun had set on Amira Darma's journey, I was left feeling furious that the early promise had given way to something messy and bereft of the required polish.

Chinatown Detective Agency

Chinatown Detective Agency is a disappointing miss, that, with just a little more time in the oven, could so easily have been a compelling hit.

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Not only does audio volume randomly fluctuate, but sometimes it's missing entirely. When it does work, the voice acting is remarkably solid and the music is suitably atmospheric.


If, like me, you're enamoured with the pixelated style of classic LucasArts adventures, then you'll love Chinatown Detective Agency's aesthetic. Environments are gorgeous, too, but glitches occasionally spoil things.


While there's nothing fundamentally wrong with how CDA plays, the interface is shabby and inelegant on Xbox, making interaction frequently irritating. Juggling the LB and RB buttons for Amira's phone and the map/Horus flight/wait menus can be a mite annoying, too.


An overall lack of polish and frequent bugs conspire to mar what could have been a wonderful love letter to vintage LucasArts adventures. Instead, it's a missed opportunity - a shoddy and often exasperating experience.


A perfunctory list that requires resolving all three endings, finishing case threads for all three of Amira's main clients, and more. The 'Frequent Flyer' achievement, meanwhile, appears to be glitched. Seems about right.

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