Hot off the heels of the backers build of Gamedec a couple of weeks ago comes a demo for another detective game. I’m not complaining though: over the past few years I’ve grown very fond of storylines featuring private investigators, hidden clues and devious crooks.
Gamedec gave us a glimpse into the future with an isometric look at the end of the 22nd century, where criminals exist in both the real and digital worlds and you’re never quite sure who to trust. Now it’s time for something completely different. The Wild Gentlemen are going to transport us back to the black-and-white 1940s, where detectives present a hardened exterior to hide a damaged core, well-dressed femme fatales hang out in velvet jazz clubs and everyone is shrouded in a haze of smoke and suspicion.
That’s not all though: this title contains a whole host of weird and wonderful anthropomorphic animals, and looks like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Instead of your standard human characters, Chicken Police is described as an ‘Orwellesque buddycop noir adventure’ and features poultry detectives, equine bartenders and rodent mob bosses. The developer says it was inspired by film noir movies such as The Big Sleep and Double Indemnity, along with classic adventure video games like Snatcher and Grim Fandango.
The story is set in the city of Clawville, where predator and prey having been living alongside each other in an uneasy peace for almost a millennium. Sonny Featherland and Marty McChicken were once legendary PD partners but, since their last case a decade ago where they almost ended up killing each other, time hasn’t been kind to them. The former is now a burnt-out alcoholic ex-cop who spends his days in an abandoned hotel while the latter hides behind the façade of a star-detective.
On the night of New Year’s Eve, a mysterious female impala visits Sonny with an errand which ties back to a dark corner of his past he’d rather forget. There’s only one chicken he can trust with something like this and so the partners now find themselves thrown back together – on a case which is stranger and more dangerous than anything they’ve ever encountered before. The demo took me just under two hours to complete and shared the first ‘television’ episode of their adventure.
With a narrative and characters like this, it would have been so easy for The Wild Gentlemen to go down the comedy route and make use of a cartoon visual style. But instead they’ve given us something almost unexpected and I must say that Chicken Police is one of the best-looking games I’ve come across in a long time. The use of black-and-white artwork combined with real photographs gives the title the perfect noir atmosphere, and the original jazz score suits it perfectly.
It’s also worth mentioning the voice-acting here: it’s so good. Kerry Shale does a fantastic job of bringing Sonny to life as a cynical detective and I could listen to that voice all day. Even if you’re not a fan of narrative releases, I’d recommend checking out the section where Jules de Jongh sings as Natasha Catzenko; it’s both funny and hypnotising at the same time, and the cinematic effects used here to convey the chicken’s infatuation with the feline temptress are just what you’d expect from a noir film.
I guess it’s hard to create a game with poultry protagonists and not add in some fowl jokes, and for those who like puns there’s plenty of clucking humour here. It’s subtle though and cleverly highlights the tensions between the races who call Clawville their home. For example, Chief Bloodboyle clearly favours the dogs in his police department and frequently uses derogatory chicken-related terms when talking to Sonny and Marty. It’s a good way of bringing current social issues to the forefront through satire without making them too obvious.
As for gameplay, it’s a mixture of several narrative genres. The story is told through visual-novel-like scenes where you’re able to speak to other characters and ask them certain questions, and you can also click on items in the environment to examine or pick them up. Chicken Police is clearly going to be a dialogue-heavy adventure but at no point during the preview did I find my attention wavering. There’s just something about the characters which means you give them your focus, and I wanted to find out what happened next.
Towards the end of the demo, I experienced one of the game’s mystery-solving detective sections when I had to interrogate ratty mob-boss Ibn Wessler. More open questions at the start of our conversation enabled Sonny to form impressions of him and determine him to be secretive and quick-tempered. This then helped me figure out the best questions to ask next and each right choice increased by Detective Meter, before I received my questioning rank and was graded as a true detective.
I went into the demo unsure of what to make of Chicken Police; I mean, it’s not every day you come across black-and-white titles featuring protagonists with feathery heads and beaks but human bodies and mannerisms. But two hours later and it was added to my wishlist immediately. The interesting contrast between these crazy characters and what’s shaping up to be a mature storyline brings us something completely different and it kept me on my toes throughout – and I’m a complete sucker for noir detective games.