There have been a surprising number of animal detective-based pulp noir games released in the last few years, and once again I find myself reviewing such a title: Chicken Police - Paint it RED! from Hungarian developer The Wild Gentleman. This title may look humorous at first glance due to the use of anthropomorphic animals as characters (it should be said that there is, in fact, a good solid dose of humor to be found in here) but this is a sordid tale of sex, lies, and murder rated Mature 17+ by the ESRB.
The game takes place in the 1940s in a city called Clawville. As absurd as it sounds, Clawville is what you would get if you combined Zootopia with Sin City. Clawville was founded by a group of forward-thinking animals who dreamed of creating a utopia where predator and prey could live together in harmony. However, even the noblest of intentions can be led astray, as Clawville is now a den of excess and debauchery, rampant with crime, poverty, and an omnipotent gangster ruling from the shadows. Enter Sonny Featherland, one half of the legendary Chicken Police. After a falling out with his partner, his wife and child abandoning him, and being suspended from the force, Sonny is content to spend his days at the bottom of a whiskey glass in his rundown hotel room while waiting for his upcoming retirement. That is until one fateful New Year’s Eve he returns home to find an Impala named Deborah waiting for him in the dark, with a plea to help her mistress find out who has been sending her threatening messages. There is a small catch: her mistress is Natasha Catzenko, performer/owner of Clawville’s fanciest club and the girlfriend of Ibn Wessler, who just happens to be the most influential gangster around. As cynical and jaded as Sonny is, he can’t help but investigate when his ex-wife Molly’s name is brought up.
After deciding he would need backup for something this large, he brings his ex-partner back into the fold. Marty MacChicken is as big and brash as he is gun-crazed, and he is the perfect foil to Sonny’s disenchanted old drunkard shtick. The back-and-forth between two buddy cops makes for some entertaining dialogue and situations. Whereas Marty is still young and a bit naive, Sonny is much older and experienced, not to mention still sharp as a tack, despite his drinking habit. Chicken Police is chock-full of every detective film-noir cliché you could imagine, but it is all done in a way that feels more like a loving homage than a thin veneer pasted on by someone who did a quick Google. There are many genre references to be found, Raymond Chandler being the most prominent. Besides the obvious Big Sleep quote in the intro, you can also find a bookstore named Chandler’s and an old falcon private eye going by the alias “Filmar Low”, which is an obvious reference to Philip Marlowe, one of the most famous and prolific characters of the hardboiled detective genre. My favorite though has to be the posters in the back of Czar Club that slightly change the title of real movies and animalizes them.
Chicken Police is a visual novel/point n click type of game with some investigative elements thrown in. Most of your time will be spent speaking to people, collecting clues, and interrogating suspects. There are usually four options to rely on when gathering information from the various wild characters you’ll meet during your adventure. Look doesn’t do much except give you a bit of color commentary. Speak is the one you’ll be using most; it allows you to converse with the NPC. Ask allows you to ask questions about specific topics, which are usually unlocked while speaking with the NPC. Question is where the real detective work comes in and can only be used in specific scenarios. When questioning a suspect, a clipboard pops up with their basic information, what your impressions are of them, and your detective meter. Asking questions will give you new impressions of the suspect, opening up new lines of questioning. Sonny will give you hints to help guide you in the right direction. Your detective meter will go either up or down after each question, so asking the wrong ones will eventually empty your meter and cause a game over. At the end of the questioning, you are graded on a 5-star scale, with the highest rank being Legendary Detective. The worst rank is named after Frank Drebin, Leslie Nielsen’s notoriously inept police detective character from The Naked Gun series. You’ll be fine either way as long as you don’t get a game over; the ranking is just for achievements and bragging rights. At certain intervals, you’ll be tasked with putting together the clues you’ve gathered so far to recap and figure out where to go next. There are also a few segments with a shooting mechanic to break up the monotony and add some gameplay variety but they feel shoehorned in. For example, The Big Sleep featuring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall becomes The Big Sheep featuring Hannibal Bogen and Loisa Bandicoot.
The overall presentation of Chicken Police is absolutely fantastic. The visuals are mostly black and white with a splash of color in certain places for dramatic emphasis. The character models held me in a combination of equal parts fascination/abject terror. They are more or less real live human models with photorealistic animal heads attached. I both love/ hate it hahaha. It’s cool and unique for sure. The entire cast is full of interestingly varied and eccentric characters that are wonderfully voice-acted. They each have their own personality quirks and mannerisms, like the weasely Ibn and his wiseguy act, or the creepy lisping of the snake-like insane asylum doctor Quetzal. They breathe life into the game and make you want to converse with them. Except for Bubo, fuck that owl. I love the era-appropriate late night, lounge-style jazz music. It lends a wistful air to the atmosphere: it provides the perfect backdrop for clutching a whiskey glass in one hand while staring bleakly out of a high-rise window across the rain-soaked vista of the bustling city nightlife. I had such a blast with this gem that I was disappointed when it was over. I already know I’ll be doing another playthrough in the future to clear up some achievements so I can firmly recommend this to visual novel/hardboiled fiction fans. There isn’t much left for me to talk about, so let me leave you with a quote from Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye:
“To say goodbye is to die a little”.
So until next review, see ya around, gumshoes.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 9/10
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