The Detail: Episode 1 – Where the Dead Lie Review

October 31, 2014 by

Though The Detail depends on subsequent installments to really make a name for itself, the the game is off to a very intriguing start. Read our review of The Detail: Episode 1 – Where the Dead Lie.

DeveloperRival Games
PublisherRival Games
Review Platform: PC (Steam)
Review Copy Provided ByRival Games
Release Date: October 28, 2014

The Detail is a story-driven adventure game akin to The Walking Dead. Borrowing thematic inspiration from The Wire and graphical inspiration from a variety of graphic novels and comic books, the game places you in the role of a bitter police detective and an ex-con turned state’s witness working to unravel a series of increasingly violent gangland killings. While the first episode is short, the moral decisions that must be made are appropriately difficult and the series is off to a good start.

Detective Reginald Moore is one of the game’s main characters. A jaded and deeply bitter police detective, he is called upon to solve the murder of an Eastern European gang leader. The problem is that the killing makes no sense: why did the head of a gang go alone to a drug deal? Desperate for a lead, Moore pressures a former member of the gang, Joe Miller, into providing him intelligence on the killing in the hope of finding a break in the case. Without giving any more spoilers, things keep going downhill despite everybody’s best-laid plans. This investigation is going to be a long-term problem…

The Detail Review
Collaring a suspect at the beginning of the game.

The gameplay works like a standard adventure game. You point and click on objects of interest, and when it comes to people, you can choose to look at them or speak to them. As one might imagine in a crime game, gathering clues is a vital part of the game, and the player is called upon at various points to offer hypotheses to his higher-ups about the nature of the crimes. The in-game graphics when moving around look a bit awkward at times, as your character seems to walk all over people’s shoes. The game’s cut-scenes unfold as scenes from a graphic novel, and the dark and gritty atmosphere is reflected in the game’s visuals. Frank Miller’s Sin City has its influence here.

While there were only two minigames I could play, I found them to be difficult. The mechanics were not very well spelled-out, and they’re timed exercises so the pressure is really on. There’s no opportunity to practice these either, meaning that you’ll be thrown into the moment with no real clue how to play the game. While I only had to do them twice, this is still a game in which your decisions and outcomes are supposed to have a long-lasting effect. It would be nice if I felt like I had a fair chance at completing the mini-games successfully.

The Detail Review
Moore and a fellow detective speculating about a murder.

The moral choice system in the game is the most interesting part, and as one might expect, the choices that are offered to you are very dark. Do you try and beat a confession out of a child rapist, producing tainted evidence in the process, or do you offer up a very lenient sentence in exchange for info on a missing victim? Playing as Joe Miller, do you tell your wife about the dangerous game that you’ve been forced into? The game’s developers have stated that they want to bring political considerations into the game as you’re forced to choose between satisfying superiors or bringing in sensitive cases.

So, how does all of this work out? The Detail is off to a good start, though I’m hoping that subsequent episodes will have more meat on their bones than the introduction. I finished my playthough in slightly under an hour, and while I’m going back to hit all the decisions I didn’t make the first time, this was still a very short game. I didn’t do quite as much crime-scene investigation as I had hoped for either, which is something that I would like to see more of in subsequent installments.

The big selling point of the game, the story and its moral components, are interesting and engrossing. I’ll admit that I’m a long-time fan of The Wire, so any game that tries to capture some of its feel is going to resonate with me. Still, it’s interesting to see a police investigation game try to capture some of its nuances, especially as the game moves toward a long-term investigation. I’ll be curious to see if the game moves toward managing the logistics of the investigation and how the results are presented to the police higher-ups. Likewise, the moral choices should have an interesting effect on the unfolding investigation, especially if Detective Moore is played as a truly compromised person.

The Detail Review
Joe Miller in a seedy bathroom. All part of the job.

As for the writing, it comes across as pretty solid. Detective Moore is definitely a stock grizzled detective, but you have some flexibility as to whether his sole goal is punishing the guilty or protecting the innocent. Joe Miller is the foci of our collective sympathy, as he is stuck between a past he tried to leave behind and a family he’s trying to protect. The supporting characters all have a little bit of color to them, and I hope that next episode will dive into greater depth as the detail begins to come together.

The short play time at this moment will likely be a turn off for some gamers, though The Detail definitely gets some points back for its low price on Steam, which appears to be $5.99. This game’s strengths will definitely be contingent on subsequent episodes upping the ante and bringing more content, but for now, The Detail is off to a good start.

About Zeb Larson

Zeb Larson is a history graduate student and avid gamer. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon, but will be relocating to Columbus, Ohio to begin his doctorate.