Chicken Police is the title of one of my favourite YouTube clips. It’s an un-doctored home video that, by chance, captures a backyard brawl between two tumbling pet bunnies being brought to an immediate halt by a pair of pet roosters, who seem to assert their authority on the situation with the world-weary expertise of veteran lawmen from a detective drama. It’s a charming scene that viewers connect with because imagining cute, fluffy animals in gritty, dramatic scenarios are fun.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence then that Chicken Police is also the title chosen by Hungarian developer The Wild Gentleman for their very first game – a point-and-click-adventure-slash-interactive-novel unashamedly borrowed from the pulp thriller section of the library.
Though unusual, the use of anthropomorphised animals in parody noir is not new. From Jim Henson’s Dog City, to Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, through Sam & Max and Philbert (the show-within-a-show fronted by Bojack Horseman), a wealth of existing cultural material in this vein tells us what we’re in for before the title credits roll. Gumshoes, guns and animal puns, right? Well, yes. But, while the story that slowly unfurls as players navigate the mean streets of Clawville as Chicken Police’s feathered protagonist – burnt-out ex-cop Sonny Featherland – is little more than a series of movie tropes acted out by stereotypical characters, it is rendered with such care and attention as to transcend mere pastiche. The writing, voice acting and art direction on display here are all so rich and beautifully rendered, that they make Chicken Police a vital entry into the genre that it’s paying homage to in its own right.
Quite simply, there’s more quality and detail in the execution of Chicken Police than you’d have any right to expect from a debut indie game. The most apparent is the script. Dripping with character and brought to life with aplomb by a voice cast bringing its a-game across the board, it incentivises players to progress from scene to scene, just so they can hear the next little atmospheric nugget of dialogue from an actor expertly smashing their performance out of the park.
Yet, for all the talent on display in the vocal booth, Chicken Police’s unique visual aesthetic is perhaps the main reason that this love letter to hardboiled detective films of the 40s and 50s will linger in your memory, even after you’ve heard all eight hours of dialogue. Grafting richly animated photo-realistic animal heads onto human bodies and setting them against intricately detailed backdrops, all poured with a grainy black and while filter marks every location as a work of art. Occasionally this gritty greyscale environment is punctuated with a Sin City-esque snatch of bold colour, highlighting details such as a femme fatale’s enchanting green eyes or the soviet red signage of the club she sings at, to potent effect.
Building Chicken Police from such simple yet effective visual building blocks throughout ensures even mundane character interactions come to life, and especially elevates cutscenes. In these, beautiful comic book vistas of the down and dirty city at night serve as backdrop as our feathered hero’s darkly poetic internal monologue charts his journey through the game’s tale of ever-escalating violence and intrigue and its fully-realised and believable alternate world.
Chicken Police is not completely without its issues. While the primary game mechanics of L.A. Noire-style questioning and interrogation are deep and smart for being formed around that note-perfect script, the item combination puzzles and on-rails shooting mini games which sporadically interrupt the narrative flow feel lightweight and clunky by comparison.
You may also encounter frustration at the control layout (at least as it’s been translated to the Switch). The cursor with which you scour the game’s 30-odd scenes for clues feels sluggish and imprecise at times, while scrolling through options and items might require thumb-stick, d-pad, shoulder buttons or some combination of the three – depending on context in a way which never feels natural or intuitive and cries out for some touch screen functionality. The ability to calibrate these controls, or to adjust the volume mix (which often has one straining to hear dialogue over the uniformly excellent moody jazz soundtrack) would be welcome additions to Chicken Police’s sparse settings options.
In reckoning, though, such concerns are firmly forced into the back seat of the vintage car as players are driven deeper into a story that quickly gets under your skin and grips you till the bitter end. Like the “one last mission” that tempts a washed-up private eye out of retirement in service to a beguiling temptress, Chicken Police is labour of love. And, if you have even a passing interest in film noir, or in brilliantly acted interactive drama in general, you’ll likely love Chicken Police too.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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Chicken Police – Paint it RED! Review
Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 9/10
Replay Value - 7/10
User Review( votes)
A stunning indie debut and a beautifully realised love letter to film noir, Chicken Police is a cult classic in the making.
- A note-perfect tribute to film noir.
- A unique and beautiful art style.
- More than 8 hours of brilliantly acted dialogue.
- Clunky on-rails shooting sections detract from the story.
- Occasionally bewildering controls.
- A lack of calibration options.