The Detail: Where the Dead Lie – What We Think:
Rival Games has only released the first of five chapters, so any review of The Detail: Where the Dead Lie is doomed to be incomplete. Fortunately, what’s available so far is very, very good, though you still might want to wait for the rest of the story before making a decision.
The Detail is a noir-themed adventure-game-as-graphic-novel that emphasizes narrative and character over difficulty. The primary player character is Reggie Moore, a hard-boiled detective investigating a gangland murder with the exhausted air of a man who’s seen it all before. A rookie cop and a reformed gangster round out the trio of protagonists.
The press kit claims influences ranging from LucasArts, Westwood, and Telltale adventure games to HBO’s The Wire, all of which is brought together in the guise of a comic book. And in fairness, most of that source material is reflected in the game.
I Feel Like we’ve Met Before
That’s also why it (mostly) works. Nothing about The Detail feels terribly original, but it’s reasonably well-executed and never boring. More importantly, the studio has learned all of the right lessons from the media that it draws on. It’s an adventure game stripped to the essentials, wisely eliminating everything that does not directly advance either the narrative or the characters.
The dramatic tension – as well as the game’s core hook – relies entirely on the choices that you make throughout the game. Those choices determine not only the course of events, but the personalities of the characters at the center. Are you the kind of cop who cuts deals or plays hardball? Are you a businesslike criminal or a violent one? You get to decide who these people are in a way that’s more complex than the reductionist dichotomy of good vs. evil.
It lends the weight of consequence to every beat. You always move forward with the sense that going down a different path would yield drastically different results, adding depth to a story that otherwise plays out in a relatively straightforward fashion.
The rest of the game’s components are a bit more inconsistent. The Detail uses a lot of noir tropes – the aging escort, the twice-divorced cop, the reformed gangster, the depraved child molester – and it occasionally veers dangerously close to cliché, even if it never quite gets there. Much of the gameplay involves exploring flat scenes, clicking on glowing objects, and searching for MacGuffins, with characters that sometimes feel like paper cutouts dragged across a green screen.
“What’s the matter? You look like you’ve been on a hayride with Dracula.”
Having said that, the artwork is by no means bad (the game actually has a wonderful visual style). Sometimes it’s just noticeably better than at others. The peaks are exceptional, including a pair of visually stunning action sequences that play out primarily in black and white silhouette, and the more routine investigations seldom match that level of involvement.
The gameplay and dialogue, however, are always good enough, which allows the intermittent leaps towards excellence to shape the overall tenor of the experience.
Where the Dead Lie isn’t the greatest story ever told (at least not yet), but it is enough to generate interest in chapter 2, which is really all it needs to do. The Detail is a solid exercise in genre fiction with an excellent grasp of interactive storytelling, and I look forward to seeing how it plays out across the remaining chapters.
Watch the trailer for The Detail below: