IFcomp 2016: Detectiveland

“Detectiveland”: a pulp noir adventure with all the usual “hard-boiled PI” tropes.

“Detectiveland” is a pretty knowing take on the pulp noir genre of hard-boiled private detectives in the Prohibition era. It recognises its tropes and it adopts a rather humorous attitude towards them without actually mocking them. We’re here more to laugh with the tropes than to laugh at them. In addition, the presentation is delightful, with the typewriter font and the background music and the little snapshots showing the characters you converse with.

All interaction is done with point-and-click: the objects you can interact with have actions attached to them; and if you happen to be holding another relevant object, more actions might appear. It seems to be a natural progression of what the Quest engine seems to be doing–that thing where you click on an object and a menu drops down with available actions; but whereas all the Quest games I’ve encountered so far (not that many, admittedly) have also required manual text input, “Detectiveland” eschews it altogether.

The story is fairly basic: you start with three cases to solve, and once you’ve done that, a fourth one appears tying all three together. The characters involved are all pretty much cardboard cutouts, largely due to the limited interaction available with each of them. I think it might be a price we’ve had to pay for the streamlined interface. You can’t try anything unless the author has supplied the action. The map is a grid with significant locations at various nodes; and I don’t know, but that made the whole thing seem more “game” and less “story” to me. It’s a good thing the presentation is so flavourful, because the stripped-down no-frills game itself feels rather inorganic.

That said, some of the plot elements really are a bit over-the-top ridiculous. And yet they don’t cross the line into making one cringe.

I will say I was amused. It’s a fine diversion, and pretty forgiving in terms of what could go wrong. As breakfast, I might compare it with frozen waffles, toasted and garnished with fresh fruit, and topped with table syrup. It’s processed food at its very heart, but the garnishing makes it all better. And then black coffee, very strong. Because pulp noir means nights of cheap bourbon broken in the morning by black coffee from the corner diner.

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