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Aviary Attorney Impressions: Bird-Brained Lawyering

Caw blimey

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Ooh! Aviary Attorney‘s out now [official site] – I played the demo back at Rezzed in the spring and I’ve been looking forward to seeing how the game turned out ever since. The basic info is: it’s a legal investigation/courtroom game in the manner of Phoenix Wright, with beautiful character illustrations by 19th century French caricaturist J.J Grandville.

I believe there are four cases and possibly a bonus episode thanks to a Kickstarter stretch goal so I’m just under halfway through. I’m going to give some basic impressions (sans case spoilers) but I think if you’re intrigued by the description you might like to go in without even knowing that much so here’s a few lines break and you can decide whether to continue reading.

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Right.

So the most obvious thing is the Phoenix Wright comparison and you will see a lot of similarities if you’ve played that series – the collecting of evidence, the chatting with witnesses, the courtroom cross-examinations, even some of the character dynamics are all familiar elements, not too far removed. So far, for me they do enough with that template to tell Aviary Attorney’s own story, though. The humour is different, for one thing – it’s pun heavy and the incompetence/drunkeness of the leads lends more of a farcical air. There have also been moments of bleakness which I hadn’t expected.

I would say that the execution of the various elements has less finesse. That’s not to say they’re not decent, it’s just that Phoenix Wright sets a really high bar and this is a £18,917 Kickstarter-funded project. Here you’ll find shorter cases, less complex cross-examinations, smaller evidence pools and so on which reflect the differences in development situation.

Something interesting, though, is that with Phoenix Wright I think you have to visit all of the locations, triggering various advancements in the plot or collecting evidence and testimony. Here you have locations to visit but often key places are marked with a clock. In that case they take a whole day to visit so you need to pick carefully to make the most of the time in the run-up to the trial.

If you pick wrong, or at least sub-optimally, it seems like you can end up lacking a piece of evidence at trial you might want. I know from the Kickstarter blurb that you can fail the main case. I haven’t done that myself BUT, to give a deliberately vague example, in the second case there was the option for a further development in the case if I could present a particular piece of evidence. I didn’t have it and pretty sure I knew where I might have found it if I’d made different choices in the investigation phase. Things ended… unsatisfactorily, but the game takes that into account and continues.

I’m not sure how I feel about that yet – whether I want to go back and fix things after I’ve finished the game or whether I’m going to have a “canon” playthrough, no matter how bleak it gets. I think it might depend on how the rest of the game plays out. At the moment I want to fix things but it might be that the point of failure is one I want to keep in my story rather than being a phenomenal bird lawyer. I’m also curious to see how some of the character backstories are added. Hints have been dropped about JayJay Falcon’s past and I’m eager for answers…

This is not a verdict because, as I say, I’m only halfway through but I’m really enjoying myself so far, and I love the use the dev team have made of public domain works – most obviously the scanned and edited Grandville illustrations, but also the music from composer Camille Saint-Saëns. I wish I hadn’t left my Grandville comic books back in London now – I’m itching to re-read them off the back of this!

Aviary Attorney is out now for Windows and MacOSX via Steam.

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Philippa Warr

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