Considering the success of Telltale Games’ series, such as The Walking Dead and Tales from the Borderlands, it’s a little surprising that there haven’t been more attempts to break into the genre from other developers. Finnish developer Rival Games are attempting to leave their own mark on the genre, however, with The Detail, a noir-inspired adventure that takes players into a gritty world of crime, corruption and questionable decisions.
The Detail starts off with a Sin City-esque black and white graphic novel aesthetic, which seems an interesting and apt choice for the subject matter, especially as it presents a particularly unique look for the title. Unfortunately, this monochrome experience is soon disposed of for a full color palette, which is a little disappointing, especially as it highlights how unattractive the character models and movements are. Though it maintains a comic book style animation for the main game, character pop-ups during conversations are of a different style, and are reminiscent of the Bitstrips comics that were so popular on social media earlier late last year.
Through the course of the three episodes that comprise The Detail, you’ll mainly play as two characters, Detective Reggie Moore, and ex-con Joe Miller. Of course, this being a noir, Moore has a dark side, and Miller is trying to lead a good life but can’t quite resist the pull of the dark side of the law. These aren’t the only noir tropes that The Detail leans on, to the point where after a matter of minutes with each character, you can figure out where each of their narrative arcs is going to lead. The problem is that none of the characters are especially engrossing, and the one major twist that the game relies on for shock value relates to a character who is too minimal to even be considered on the periphery of the narrative.
Some of my disappointment with the narrative may be due to the fact that each episode of The Detail only lasts about forty-five minutes, which, considering the jumping between characters, doesn’t leave you with enough time to become invested in the motivations of particular individuals or consequences of their actions. You end up flicking between characters fairly often, which actually pushes the story forward quite well, and the switching mechanic is handled with a deft touch. Often, you’ll enter a conversation as one character and leave as another, leading to a fairly natural transition between narrative branches.
The Detail as a whole is a fairly passive experience. Alongside the previously mentioned conversations between characters, you are given control over a number of binary choices, such as kicking in or picking the lock on a door, or deciding to intimidate or strike a deal with a criminal who you’re questioning. I’ve often criticized the Telltale games for leaving the player with seemingly inconsequential choices, and The Detail is guilty of the same crime. You get a brief summary at the end of each episode of the choices you did make, but it never felt as if there were any real narrative changes that hinged on my decisions.
For the rest of The Detail’s runtime, you’re required to click on objects in the environment, or talk to NPCs to progress the story. There aren’t any real puzzles to speak of, and most of your interaction with the game consists of clicking on the correct environmental object to trigger a conversation that pushes the story forward. There are no real action sequences or fail states to be triggered, making for an experience more akin to turning pages in a book than playing a videogame.
The Detail also suffers from a number of technical issues, which vary from inconvenient, to frustrating, to ruining the sense of immersion entirely. For one episode I was left without background music or ambient noise, despite reloading multiple times and checking other episodes for functionality. On multiple occasions throughout the game, spread across the episodes, I was prevented from clicking on objects highlighted as interactive, even some which were required for the story to progress. Most jarring, though, were the incidents where character’s avatars were replaced with a large pink square, signaling the absence of assets. It’s disappointing for such a short experience to contain this many issues, particularly considering they weren’t isolated issues, and were spread over the whole series of episodes.
The Detail begins with a decent amount of promise, an interesting art style, an intriguing narrative, and a sense that not everything is as it seems. Unfortunately, the interesting art style is soon done away with, the narrative quickly turns into a by the numbers tale of police corruption and blurred legality, and you soon realize that you could have plotted each narrative beat within the first few minutes of the game. By the end of the experience, I was left with a general feeling of apathy, added to by the disappointing appearance of technical issues. While you could admittedly do worse than play The Detail, there isn’t any real reason to recommend it, and frankly, you could likely get a better, and equally interactive, experience from reading a decent crime thriller in book format.