A hard-boiled point and click murder mystery, Chicken Police swaps the humans for the animals and colour for black and white. But is it a poultry offering, or a baker’s dozen? Don’t count your chickens just yet, read the Finger Guns Review:
I’m not sure that up until now there’s been a game more precision aimed at me than Chicken Police. Animals that think they’re human – Check. Noir mystery with detectives and femme fatales – Check. Story-driven, dialogue-heavy and single-player – Check. All it’s missing is some cyberpunk and I think it would have ticked every box I have.
Even just booting it up and soaking up that 1930s jazz on the menu screen, it’s pretty clear what you’re about to get from Chicken Police. I’d been waiting for this one ever since it was announced, pawing over each trailer, each little piece of info and hoping, crossing my claws, that it would be good.
An old-fashioned hard-boiled point and click adventure, in Chicken Police animals have taken the places of the normal noir cast. There’s dialogue to kill for, a murder-strewn story of dames and detectives, and a murky investigation into the seedy heart of a corrupt city. It’s going to be a good one, I can feel it in my wattle.
Counting down his 121 days until retirement, investigator Sonny Featherland is one half of the legendary Chicken Police. His ex-partner, and still on the force, is Marty MacChicken, a rooster with no respect for authority and an itchy trigger finger, but he’s got Sonny’s back.
Set in Clawville, a seedy beastly LA in the gangster-fuelled 1930s, Chicken Police starts like all good detective stories, with an innocent dame arriving at the barely lit office of a down-on-his-luck detective. The dame in question is an Impala named Deborah Ibanez, looking for Sonny to investigate some threats against her mistress, one Natasha Catzenko, a feline fatale from the best noir films. Natasha is a well-known singer at the Czar Club, and the girlfriend of famous rat gangster Ibn Wessler. Throw in the name of his long-estranged wife and it’s hard for Sonny to turn down the job, but thinking things could get rough due to the boyfriend, he enlists the help of his old partner Marty MacChicken. Only trouble is last time they worked together was last time they spoke, New year’s eve years before, when Marty shot Sonny. And it’s not long before they discover a body.
It’s a setup that could have come from the best noir films and novels, like the Maltese Falcon, or The Big Sleep. The story is told through hard-boiled narration each time you click an item or investigate a character, almost as if it’s being read from an original Raymond Chandler novel, just one that he happened to populate with animals. This is from the first meeting with Ibanez standing next to the blinds in the office – ‘She stood in the darkness. The light painted stripes on her body. It whispered secret little things that were never there in the first place, but she was no zebra.’ Chandler would have been proud.
A game with this much fully-voiced narration lives and dies on the strength of the performances, and by the wild furry gods, the lead voice artist Kerry Shale is absolutely sensational. The best detective drawl I’ve ever heard, it’s perhaps the videogame voice work of the year.
The investigation takes our duo across the city, from seedy dive bars to high-class clubs, from brothels for the rich and famous to the dirty docks where bodies can be dumped. It’s pretty adult in tone, with plenty of swearing, murder, and brothels, so this isn’t one for the kids. The dialogue and exposition manage to mix in lots of lore and backstory of social and economic decay and set up a real atmosphere in Clawville that is on par with the source material.
If you thought Zootopia had an issue with its carnivores versus herbivores, then Clawville has it beat. Insects selling their larvae to expensive restaurants as food, corruption on the police force, bodies turning up every day, and animals lying to each other every night. The plot and the step by step of the investigation could be argued to be pretty linear, without much chance to allow for you to discover things in a different order, but that does also mean it’s hard to get stuck and things flow nicely.
When you hard-boil it down, Chicken Police is and old-fashioned point and click like the classics of the genre. Click on an item and Sonny will narrate about it in his detective drawl and how its mixed up with better times in the past, or how it might connect with the investigation. Before long Marty is at your side giving his quips and thoughts and discussing every item with Sonny, and the whole thing just starts to take on a life of its own that I have rarely seen in a point and click. Usually a genre with a lot of silent down-time and thinking and item combinations, Chicken Police does away with that, and instead veers much more towards visual novel territory.
It’s also the most novel-like visual novel type game I’ve ever played, because of the prose-like first-person narration. Conversations are handled with two or more character’s artwork on either side of the screen which the genre is known for. But there’s plenty more to do than just listen to conversations.
Click on a person and you have up to four options gaining in severity. Look just delivers Sonny’s or Marty’s thoughts on the person in question, while Speak instigates the scripted portion of a conversation with that character. You can then unlock Ask, which will allow you to start asking questions from a list of topics to do with things you’ve heard and clues that have popped up in previous conversations or in this one. And finally some characters need to be grilled, and the last option is Question, more of an official Chicken Police business type questioning.
‘Question’ opens up a minigame where you take control of Sonny’s questioning and need to pick the right question to keep the suspect talking. One might be timid, so you need to use coaxing words, one might be flippant and adept at lying, so try to catch them out with your question choice. Sonny will interject with clues as to the suspect’s mindset, but these are really just that – clues – it’s up to your own judgement which questions to ask. You can easily fail a questioning if you’re constantly belligerent or insulting, or take too many routes that steer away from the focus of the investigation. But you can also get every single question right on focus and earn achievements for each of these sections.
Left on the D-pad brings up your detective’s notebook, chock full of clues, personal info on every character, location, and connection, and an indispensable guide to everything going on. It’s hard to get lost despite the dense plot with this compendium at claw.
Right on the D-pad opens up your briefcase, which is essentially an item screen, although it’s relatively underused – this is not a point and click based on puzzles and combining items. The gameplay lies in the questioning and finding clues, rather than obtuse item puzzles.
Finally, a few times during the game the trail runs a little cold, but that’s not an issue. It’s an excuse to go back to the run-down office, collect together suspect photos, clues and items, and make some connections, literally. One thing every good cop show has in common – a good wall collage of all the suspects, and their links with each other, tacked together by pieces of red cord and pushpins. Chicken Police has you make your own small versions, piecing together the latest clues with suspects, making a connection by dragging the cursor from one to another, and then trying to explain that connection. It’s a pretty simple process, but it works well, and it’s just a fun thing to get to do every now and again. Makes you feel like a real chicken, err I mean, detective.
Chicken Police has a truly inspired style for its furry characters. It uses photograph avatars, human bodies with animal heads, which are literally photos of human actors doing the actions, with animated animal heads on top. What’s more impressive is how expressive and personable they all are, but I think that’s mostly down to the masterful voice work across the cast.
Otherwise, Chicken Police is made up of still screens detailing the dive bars, police departments, and seedy offices of the city. They have been created with a fantastic level of detail and life, and not only that, they feel like an animal has lived in them for a while, and experienced a recession or two. Be aware that some locales extend out beyond the left and right of the screen – the point is don’t get stuck trying to find an exit that is off screen like I did a couple of times.
Everything blurs and focuses with the action and dialogue, or you can turn on a light to change the scenery. It’s evocative and makes you feel like you’re in a noir caper immediately.
Chicken Police has a soundtrack of a dozen or so 1930s-esque jazz and ambient tracks that feel pitch perfect for gumshoe investigating round the city. There’s a jukebox at the local raccoon-run dive where you can listen to them all in-game, which is a feature I always like. And the world itself is never silent, with traffic and conversational ambience in any of the street or club scenes. Chicken Police breathes atmosphere into your eyes, but also your ears.
If I had to pick an issue with Chicken Police it would perhaps be its linearity. If you like a good story then this isn’t much of a problem, but modern video games often work best when there are multiple ways to find a solution. I would have preferred a few instances in the plot where you could find clues in a more roundabout fashion, or do a few less scripted things. Make some connections that feel a little more like I’d made them myself rather than finally hit on the right question to ask. The questioning minigame tries to do this, because there is more than one route through the questioning to the information you need, but I wanted more of this in other parts of the game.
Chicken Police clucks in at 10 hours of fantastic detective fiction, which feels like an almost perfect length. I was guessing the final suspect only half an hour or so before the roosters actually found the clues that backed up my theory and made the connections to prove it. Then it was on to the conclusion which was telegraphed enough that you could go back and search for some collectibles if you wanted before confronting your main suspect.
Of all that’s furry, Chicken Police is a phenomenal achievement, and I can’t cluck about it enough. It’s funny, well-written, atmospheric and clever, tells a poignant story that will have you enthralled and interested throughout its run-time and has gameplay that is perfectly linked with telling that same story. There’s no gimmicks, no superfluous item combining, or extraneous mechanics or survival elements here, everything has purpose tied in to the plot. For me, someone who is always happiest when a game has a deft plot, this was a boon on top of what was already a damn near perfect game.
I hope Chicken Police does well enough to spawn a few sequels, more cases from the in-universe Chicken Police novels, like the Philip Marlowe books by Raymond Chandler that it so clearly homages. I could happily play another adventure, a prequel back when the Chicken Police were famous, or one that follows on from this fantastic case.
A very special point and click visual novel, Chicken Police is the perfect hard-boiled detective game you always wanted, just populated with animals. Atmospheric and funny, with some fantastic writing and voice work, Chicken Police is one of the best indie games of the year.
Chicken Police is available 5th November on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PC via Steam (review platform).
Developer: The Wild Gentlemen
Publisher: HandyGames, THQ Nordic
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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