There’s nothing quite as satisfying as solving a mystery that places puzzling riddles and forks in the road at the fore, and this is what you get with a point-and-click adventure. It’s a genre that looks back to a simpler time in gaming, pointing and clicking your mouse around to navigate, find clues, and chat with NPCs. Chinatown Detective Agency embraces all of these qualities whilst allowing you to embrace your inner private investigator (PI) with its cyber-noir adventure in the heart of Singapore.
Heavily inspired by the Carmen Sandiego games of the 80s and early 90s, Chinatown Detective Agency imbues similar gameplay mechanics, humorous dialogue and compelling crime-solving. In terms of looks, though, Chinatown Detective Agency is more like games of yonder, reminiscent of titles such as Overboard!, a whodunnit, and indie puzzle sim Papers, Please. In Chinatown Detective Agency, you meet your clients, solve the puzzles they bestow upon you, and strive to run a successful business.
I enjoyed playing Chinatown Detective Agency, though I can’t help but feel a little wanting when it comes to bringing point-and-click into a more modern setting. Whilst the pixelated graphics and simplistic gameplay was nostalgic, it flew a little close to being like anything I’d played before. The narrative had depth and was a credit to the game, but the puzzles felt a little repetitive with a lack of journey to seek clues for myself.
Nice to meet you, Amira Darma
In Chinatown Detective Agency, you are Amira Darma, an ex-cop-turned-private investigator running your own small office out of, you guessed it, Chinatown. Set in 2036, you’re thrown into Singapore as it crumbles down amongst a struggling political landscape while big corporations battle over ownership to dictate citizens’ lives.
From the offset, you’re approached by clients and ex-police colleagues who want to hire you to do their dirty, and not-so-dirty, work. You follow leads, investigate evidence, and study persons of interest all whilst solving puzzles such as tile-matching and deciphering numeric-alpha codes. Chinatown Detective Agency truly has all the ingredients for a perfect point-and-click adventure with great voice acting, ambient music, and impressive, animated pixel art to boot.
The shining neon lights of Singapore’s subway
One interesting way of navigating Chinatown Detective Agency is its neon-lit subway system, travelling between stops such as the Civic District, Bukit Timah and Geylang (all legitimate areas of Singapore). A short load screen of the subway doors closing each time I travelled transported me to new locations with promise of new puzzles. Unfortunately, exploring these places are limited to a couple of options necessary only for the task at hand.
That said, you could also travel around the globe, much like the Carmen Sandiego games, boarding a plane to fly between destinations. Unsurprisingly, with such a mechanic in play, a large part of the puzzles in Chinatown Detective Agency were related to knowing where in the world you’d need to travel to next. There’s also a time crunch in the game, so if you book a flight at a certain time, you need to board that flight T-minus three hours beforehand, or you miss it entirely. This was a fun mechanic, as you have to be mindful and organised if you are going to run your agency well. Same goes for paying your rent — you actually have to pay your bills or you’ll lose the game.
Fortunately, and perhaps a little unfortunately, there were limited options when it came to travelling from Changi Airport, so you can occasionally deduce a destination thanks to the process of elimination. With point and click games, there’s a certain lure around the frustration of not knowing the answer to a puzzle. But there isn’t enough challenge with Chinatown Detective Agency.
Solving puzzles in the real world
Chinatown Detective Agency promises “real-world research” that will find you “not just playing a detective, but becoming one,” with the web tab in-game throwing you out of the game window and into your own internet browser to look up a quote, a code, or even a simulator for a machine to run your numbers through. This was exciting. I wanted to feel like I was running my own agency, and with puzzles asking me to do my own research outside of the game, I was immersed in this innovative concept.
Although, playing on a MacBook Pro was not a good mix with running Steam alongside the browser , as it caused some slowdown. I ended up using my phone instead, which I’m sure many players will opt to do so they don’t have to close their window and, more importantly, they don’t have to close the evidence that they’ll most often want to copy text over from to search.
There’s also a get-out-of-puzzle play with librarian Mei Ting, whom you can call upon for clues or to solve a puzzle for you — for a small price. It's a handy addition, but I’m sure forums will fill up with resolutions once more players complete the game.
A futuristic narrative on artificial intelligence
One of the most impressive parts of Chinatown Detective Agency is its main storyline and the great voice acting that backs it up. Developer General Interactive Co chose to take on the huge topic of the humanisation and governance of artificial intelligence and drones. In a game that embraced its retro backward-looking design, it drove forward with a narrative that was joyfully futuristic with smatterings of sci-fi utopian vision. Unexpected, to say the least.
Mixed in with the narrative and puzzle-solving, there were a few shootout moments that prompt you to press "G" and use your crosshair to eliminate characters or incapacitate them non-lethally. But those opportunities to mix up the gameplay are rare.
A chance to replay the story
Chinatown Detective Agency lets you save only once you’ve completed a full mission. This was a little frustrating at times when I needed to do something else, but I knew that if I quit the game I’d have to start from the beginning of the mission. It autosaves at the end anyway, so offering the chance to save at the same time felt pointless.
However, when you load your game you can choose to pick up from the last finished mission, so you can replay an ending. I could replay any mission I wanted just to see how it would turn out in an alternate reality.
Early on I was given a choice between three clients to work for full-time. Each client came with their own narrative and puzzle type, such as finding the origin of lost artefacts, tile matching, or code deciphering. So, my choice was based largely on those two factors. This is a decision I could change up by revisiting old missions and redirecting my entire game.
Chinatown Detective Agency MacOS performance
Like most games on the MacBook Pro, there was a lot of fan whirring, especially when using the web icon for real-world research points. Fortunately, during my six hours of gameplay, it neither crashed nor lagged. Overall, the game was a very pleasant experience.
As far as in-game quality settings are concerned, there doesn’t seem to be any options for how you want to run the game, apart from the choice of screen resolutions. The ones I had available to me were 1280 x 720, 1920 x 1080, and 2560 x 1440. The option to enter windowed mode.
Chinatown Detective Agency MacOS benchmarks and requirements
For a point-and-click adventure with pixelated design, I thought I would try it out on a 2019, 16-inch MacBook Pro with 2.3 GHz 8-Core Intel Core i9 and an Intel UHD Graphics 630 1536 MB. It most certainly did the job. As with any Mac hardware, the newer the better, but with a retro single-player game, it feels as though slower systems could handle Chinatown Detective Agency just fine.
Chinatown Detective Agency is also available on Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC, but, for me, something felt incredibly nostalgic about sitting in the dark playing on my laptop just like I did with the browser-based text adventures of yore.
For MacOS, the minimum requirements are a 64-bit processor and operating system, MacOS X 10.8 or later, a multicore 2.4 GHz or better, 6 GB RAM, a minimum of 4GB Video RAM, 3GB available space in your storage, and any sound card.
Chinatown Detective Agency is truly splendid to look at and exudes the appeal of a point-and-click adventure with its relaxing gameplay and puzzle solving. I felt torn between wanting to be challenged more and thinking I should just enjoy the journey for what it is. Point-and-clicks are, after all, reminiscent of a simpler type of gameplay. Perhaps my thoughts have been skewed from the games on offer with next-gen consoles and higher performing PCs. Are we not in an age where we can enjoy kicking back and solving a few puzzles anymore? Absolutely not; of course we can. The pace just threw me off. Perhaps it could’ve offered a richer tapestry of puzzles.
I finished the game in six hours, which felt palatable, appropriate and pleasing as a length. But whilst I finished the game, it was only so far as the path I chose to take. With point-and click-adventures, the paths are plenty, and the completionist in me decided to have another try, choose another path and see if I could come to a better conclusion, made easier by the option to load after finished missions. My initial ending left myself and Amira in a state of existential crisis. An uneasy feeling, but one that is only a tribute to Chinatown Detective Agency’s ability to consume me within its story-telling.
If you’re into a retro, neon-lit, narrative-driven adventure, then Chinatown Detective Agency is for you.