I recently reviewed a pixel noir game starring anthropomorphic animals called Backbone. I loved the visuals and the writing but ended up let down by the story, which took a sharp left turn in the ninth inning and concluded in a disappointingly abrupt manner. Even more recently, I began playing Chicken Police – Paint it RED!, and I immediately recognized a similarity between the two games. Of course the visuals and gameplay style are different, but it was not lost on me that both games star animal detectives trying to uncover a secret in a dystopian society that resembles our own. As such, I had high hopes for Chicken Police from almost the moment I booted the game up. I hoped that it would scratch the noir mystery itch that developed since Backbone let me down, and I’m pleased to report that, for the most part, it has. Chicken Police also stumbles somewhat as it crosses the finish line, but the overall journey is enjoyable and the characters are a lot of fun to get to know.
As you might have gleaned from the game’s title, Chicken Police stars two rooster police detectives who get drawn into a mystery involving a beautiful feline songstress who has been receiving threats from an unknown party. Santino “Sonny” Featherland and his partner Martin “Marty” MacChicken — the titular Chicken Police — are estranged after an incident many years prior, but the two come together for this one last case before Sonny retires from the police department. Their investigation takes them all over the tumultuous city of Clawville and has them interact with many interesting characters along the way. By the time they solve the case, the two have mended their relationship and discovered some shocking secrets about the city’s underbelly. The answer to the mystery is interesting and not remotely what I was expecting when I began the game, but the pivotal moment where you confront the bad guy is ultimately underwhelming and doesn’t resolve in a completely satisfying way. Still, I found that I truly enjoyed the dynamic (and banter) between Sonny and Marty, and seeing them work slowly back to a good place was worthwhile, even if I felt the mystery needed a little more oomph at the end.
Throughout your investigation, you run into many Clawville residents, representing a variety of animal species. I was impressed that the game doesn’t stick to more mundane, domestic animals, but rather includes a selection of exotic species as well. The in-game lore, which is surprisingly extensive, plays with this — and with the predator/prey dynamic — to create a larger world outside of Clawville. You don’t ever really leave the city, but it’s interesting to see hints of the wider universe the developers have crafted, even when it doesn’t directly impact the main narrative. There were a few lore drops that I expected to become more relevant to the story, but ultimately, this is a good, old-fashioned detective mystery and not a tale about overthrowing a dystopian regime.
The characters themselves are fun to talk to, in large part thanks to the excellent (and full) voice acting across the board. Sonny, in particular, perfectly captures the kind of hardboiled detective you’d expect to hear in a game with this kind of setup, and there are a lot of other great performances from the supporting cast. Visually, characters can be…well, interesting. Every character is essentially just an animal head on top of a human body, but while this works for some characters — like Sonny and Marty, who wear full jackets and gloves — the effect is a little weird with others. Seeing a character who has an accurately depicted antelope’s head but then an equally accurately depicted human woman’s body (complete with skin, fingers, cocktail dress, etc.) takes a little getting used to. Don’t get me wrong — it’s a fairly unique aesthetic to be sure, and it’s at least mostly internally consistent, but occasionally there’s a disconnect between the head and the body that can be a little distracting.
In terms of overall presentation, everything is in black and white, save for a few scant elements of color here and there. Every location you visit is detailed and feels like it could almost have come out of an old movie. The atmosphere is also impressive — rain frequently pelts the city, lights flicker, dust follows passing cars, and the sounds of the city are ever present. Several cutscenes actually employ real footage in the background, with a blur and film grain that feels authentic, particularly as a backdrop to Sonny’s monologues. The music also perfectly matches the look and setup of the game; moody jazz with brass and strings, playful bops, and even a sultry vocal performance accompany the stylized visuals. No matter what you think about the rest of the game, Chicken Police definitely sells the classic noir feel it is going for.
As for gameplay, this is a linear point & click narrative adventure, with a few minigames and puzzles thrown in to mix things up. Most of your time is occupied looking around the still environments and clicking on points of interest to hear dialogue from Sonny and Marty. If you’re not sure where to look, there is a handy eye icon you can click that will reveal every point of interest for you. You’ll almost always run into other characters as you explore environments, and you can observe them for bonus commentary, talk to them and ask questions related to your investigation, and even occasionally interrogate them to learn valuable clues. The dialogue is excellent, and there’s a lot of it to discover. Clicking on things multiple times and returning to optional areas after progressing the main story is often worth it for the extra dialogue you can uncover.
Interrogations involve using your notes and observations about a character to ask the right questions and find a key piece of information. You’re supposed to ask questions that match the focus Sonny gives you at the start of each section, but I often found that Sonny’s guidance was so broad or vague that selecting the “right” response wasn’t terribly obvious. Of course, it shouldn’t necessarily be easy to pick the right questions — you’re supposed to be a detective, after all — but let’s just say that I often ignored the focus altogether and just picked what looked like the most pertinent option. Most of the time, doing so got me through the interrogation just fine. You can fail these sequences if you do badly enough, but you can also retry them as many times as you want, and there doesn’t seem to be a penalty for performing at less than 100% other than some missed achievements.
After sleuthing out enough clues, you periodically return to Sonny’s office and try to put everything together so you can figure out what’s going on. You’re essentially making connections between people, pieces of evidence, and facts you’ve discovered; but just like the interrogations, sometimes it’s unclear what the right combination is and you have to resort to trial and error. The other minigames and puzzles are more straightforward, if occasionally a tad random. Controls are simple and responsive enough, but just like the interrogations, you can retry as many times as you like should you fail.
The overall experience of playing Chicken Police is pleasant, but there are a few glitches and annoyances that crop up. First, there are a number of typos in the in-game journal. Strangely, most of them are fixed when you click on them to get a more readable version. Speaking of this text, it’s a little awkward playing with a controller — at least in the iOS version — because everything you highlight flashes in a way that makes it difficult to read without clicking on it. This is perhaps a moot point, since you have to click on things in order to mark them as read, but it’s awkward enough that I decided not to use a controller after the prologue. Even when I clicked on everything in my notebook, I often ran into a bug that would keep a notification of unread items on my screen until I loaded a game save. Finally, the game offers three save slots, but there is no manual saving, meaning you must rely on sporadic autosaves. Needless to say, this can be frustrating when you’re trying to find a good place to stop.
Despite a few quibbles and an endgame that doesn’t hit quite as hard as I hoped, I enjoyed Chicken Police – Paint it RED! The characters are kind of the star of the show, and the fantastic writing and voice acting compliment the noir-style visuals. If you’re looking for a classic detective story with a unique twist, then you might be interested in the adventures of the legendary Chicken Police. Overall, it’s a clucking good time!