“Well of course I want to help you track down my daughter’s killer, detectives. But first I need you to search this room for my wallet, my briefcase, and my pineapple."
That’s the problem with grafting a real story onto a hidden object game – they tend to make very little sense.
Close in on a suspect’s hideout and Special Enquiry Detail basically has you spend a few minutes picking up trinkets in their apartment before you try anything as mundane as an arrest. By the end of the second of the game’s twelve chapters you’ll feel more like a maid than a police detective.
The game seems undeterred by this dissonance between narrative and form, as you attempt to unravel the murder of a teenage girl by sorting the domestic detritus of New York City’s most untidy residents.You’re a maverick, but dammit you get results!
So, playing as detectives Turino and Lamonte, assigned to the newly formed Special Enquiry Detail, you’re tasked with tracking down the killer of Carmody Phelps in a faintly silly but totally straight-faced tale of murder and betrayal.
With strict orders to get this mess cleaned up quickly and discretely, you’ll be interviewing suspects, examining evidence, and taking on a little bit of light forensic science – in between bouts of tidying, of course – as the game’s story plays out.
There might not be anything particularly clever about the tale that Special Enquiry Detail has to tell, but it’s serviceable and delivered a charmingly earnest manner. Imagine an interactive episode of Murder, She Wrote and you’re won’t be far off.You’re a couple of loose cannons, but dammit you get results!
The core gameplay is almost entirely based on hidden object-finding with the occasional puzzle thrown in for variety’s sake, meaning that whether you enjoy the game will largely come down to how much you enjoyed Where’s Wally books as a child.
Eventually, though, however loyal a fan you are of observation gameplay you'll feel a sense of grim inevitability upon arriving at a new game location, knowing full well that you’re in for five minutes of foraging for pencils and paperclips before you can pursue the narrative justification for your presence.
It’s moments like these where the discrepancy between narrative context and gameplay can become unintentionally hilarious. On two separate occasions, I ignored the victims of gunshot wounds – their life-force draining away before my eyes – because I hadn’t yet finished my scavenger hunt of their rooms.You don’t play by the rules, but dammit you get results!
Special Enquiry Detail’s puzzles are, almost universally, terrible. Thankfully, you’re never more than a short wait and a button press away from a spoon-fed solution, but this system wouldn’t be necessary were it not for the glitchy and impenetrable nature of many of the game’s riddles.
It’s hard to strongly commend any aspect of Special Enquiry Detail’s gameplay, but somewhere between the clichéd characters and moments of unintentional humour it all comes together to make a very charismatic game.
Much like the aforementioned Murder, She Wrote, there might not be narrative ingenuity, dramatic flair, or shocking revelations, but the slightly low-rent charm of it all somehow draws you in. Special Enquiry Detail is never a slick game, and that’s part of the reason it’s such a likeable one.