Skip to main content

The RPS Advent Calendar 2022, December 5th

How do you exclude something from a web search again?

If you want to know what the fifth game is in the Advent Calendar you're going to have to open a web broswer and search for a name, date, and specific location, using only this pixelart rendering of a piece of real-world art.

Get ready to flex all your knowledge of how Google search terms work with Chinatown Detective Agency!

Doesn't Chinatown Detective Agency look lovely in action?Watch on YouTube

CJ: It's a the rare game that tasks you with periodically putting it aside to stretch your book learnin' and search up some real-life information. That's exactly what Chinatown Detective Agency does, though, posing stumpers such as identifying stamps from around the globe, or figuring out a message using number sequences and library books. It tickles your little grey cells – je suis désolé, Monsieur Poirot – in a way that other games don't or can't, connecting the near future mysteries that cross the path of titular Chinatown detective Amira Dharma to our own existence. In case you can't tell, I really like it.

Point and click adventures from back when I were a lad often used to veer into silliness and baffling obscurity with their puzzles. I still remember spending weeks resisting the urge to check a cover-mounted tips book for any bloody clue at all on how to properly muck about with some crab fishing pots in Indiana Jones And The Fate Of Atlantis. Chinatown Detective Agency knows it exists in the glistening, connected future, and just lets you Google stuff. Thing is, this feels like genuine research a lot of the time.

Chinatown Detective Agency's futuristic Singapore is a dangerous place.

Some of the best games I've ever had the pleasure of being sufficiently brain-boggled by have demanded the need for a pen and paper to scribble copious musings on. CDA – can I call you CDA? – slots neatly in amongst them, like a Wordle on the third go. Amira's a fairly likeable blank slate to beam your self-perceptions onto, which helps drag you into the seedy cyberpunk world. It feels like glimpsing a possible future. I don't want to spoil any of the cases, because you should at least give the game a go sometime, but they touch on issues we all already face such as energy poverty, hugely corrupt elites, and even the odd drone assassination.

What a lovely, heartwarming recommendation at Christmastime, eh? Set all the weighty global shenanigans aside though, because I think my favourite part of Chinatown Detective Agency is managing the business. You have to select cases for Amira, weighing up the powerful people you might piss off against any financial reward if you solve the case. You have constraints that are recognisable and uncomfortable enough to make solving cases seem appropriately urgent, such as paying the bills. On the flip side, you do get to travel and see the world while you're working.

The easiest way to summarise CDA is Carmen Sandiego 2037, but that obscures its depths. Looking for something to occupy your noggin? Or even a game to rope family members into helping you with, while you're all high on roast turkey over the holidays? I know a little business in Singapore that'd be glad to have you aboard. Just keep your nose clean.

A side-by-side comparison of China Town Detective Agency before and after changes to the lighting design
The same park in CDA during the day (left) and at night (right)

Alice Bee: I want to add a couple of points to everything CJ has raised here. the first is that Chinatown Detective agency looks and sounds fantastic. A full voice cast is often a luxury in point n click mysteries, but the cast of CDA do a wonderful job. The different pixelated backdrops, meanwhile, are gorgeous, and cities look different during day or night. It's a detail I appreciated.

The second point is that, AI learning being what it is, whe you play the game now you have to add -"Chinatown Detective Agency" to the end of your Google search, or else you'll just get guides and exact answers.

Read this next