"Where cultists crawl, where demons dwell..." The start of the game description for The Darkside Detective implies a far more sinister experience than what is actually offered. With a very retro, pixel-style aesthetic, players control Detective McQueen, head of the Darkside Division on the police force in the aptly named Twin Lakes City. Your job is to investigate all the supernatural goings-on in the city, through six short cases that gradually become spookier as you progress. Accompanying you is your rather incompetent yet satisfactory provider of comic relief, Officer Dooley.
Simple point and click mechanics make up the gameplay, with small locations like a library, cemetery, or subway station being the setting for the short but sweet investigations. The world is vibrant, which is impressive given how quickly the game is over, and each character you come across is full of life and you truly get a sense of each character's personality. Every case is fun to explore and interact with everything possible, from the plethora of books on the library bookshelves each with individual titles, to the multitude of items in the police evidence room, each with their own back story.
Spooky Doorway has evidently taken one angle and stuck with it; the hilarious lines from both McQueen and Dooley, along with the frequent fourth-wall breaks, make The Darkside Detective one of the funniest games to come out of the last year or so. Fans of the classic LucasArts adventures will feel right at home, while the humour is more on the nose in TDD, the wackiness and charming nature of the classics are found in every click.
Given that Spooky Doorway is just a five-person strong team, a lot of the challenge and depth found in most point and click adventure games is lacking here. Every case is disappointingly straightforward, with a lack of items possible to pick up and different routes to explore. It's simply a case of exhausting dialogue options with the few NPCs loitering about, combining a few items to conjure up a solution, then watching the rest of the cutscenes play out. There's next to no thinking required to complete any of them, and even if you do get stumped at any point, simple trial and error will provide you with the answers before too long.
There are a few mini-games that tie into the story and are simple to solve, and they don't feel out of place at all. One example is a pipe flow puzzle that has been seen in plenty of games before and will feel natural to anyone competent. It's also worth clicking and inspecting everything possible in each room because even though not everything is useful and can be picked up, there's nearly always a quip or joke that will come from McQueen and Dooley, which shows just how much passion went into the writing. Dave McCabe, who according to the official site was the sole writer for the game, deserves a special mention.
Interestingly, unlike typical point and click adventures, there's no walking animation for our entertaining duo. It means that things often just happen without McQueen actually going and doing it, but on the plus side, it saves considerable time when you can just flick from one screen to another without having to wait for the slow amble across the room. The cases are so small and contained that there's no need for fast travel either, as you can usually get from one side to the other in no time at all.
Another shout out needs to go to Ben Prunty, the fella behind the music in the game. It's very atmospheric, spooky at points, and really sets the scene for what's going on at that point in the game. He's also the man that was behind the wonderful soundtracks in FTL: Faster Than Light and Gravity Ghost, and his great work has continued here.
Other than any sense of challenge, the main notable omission is voice acting. It's understandable why it's been left out; small development team, first game, limited budget, etc. but a decent cast of voice actors would improve the dialogue tenfold, from the delivery of jokes through to the personality of the characters. There weren't any major bugs in the game, except for when the icon to pause/quit the game overlapped with a necessary inventory item, and the only apparent workaround was to use some finesse and click the very outside of the icon for the item. Not game-breaking, but very frustrating after the third or fourth time. There are a couple of spelling and grammar mistakes too, but there's still over two weeks before release at the time of writing, so assumedly they'll be fixed come launch.
The Darkside Detective's story is great; perfect to finish in an afternoon and one that will provide plenty of laughs, from the endless jokes to the subtle references. But as someone who holds classic LucasArts games like the Monkey Island series in high regard, the lack of challenge and out-of-the-box thinking is disappointing. For less than £10, if you know you're a fan of simple and witty games, The Darkside Detective is more than worth it. Just don't expect something that will keep you engaged for hours.