Detective FBT is on the case
In the town of Twin Lakes, a mirror-verse known as Darkside occasionally breaks into our reality and paranormal beings appear – and commit crimes. Who you gonna call?
Answering the call is McQueen, a dogged and dumbfounded Detective, who, alongside his indifferent and occasionally criminally minded partner, Officer Dooley, work for the Darkside Squad, investigating cases involving the paranormal crimes. Usually begrudgingly.
A pixelated point and clicker, this is a LucasArts game turned up to 11. The pixel look, the point and click interface, the simple but effective plotting and progression, and the wink to the audience are all grand but it’s even more than that. It’s not just busting ghosts, it’s busting at the seams with gaming in-jokes, tv/movie gags, random events, jokey puzzles and self-aware humour; McQueen is committed if confused, while Dooley just rolls with it and looks for things he can steal/ways to get out of work. They’re a great act, out of their depth and annoyed at events that get in the way of birthday parties or cause them to work late. It’s like The X-Files set in Twin Peaks but the cops are Dante and Randal from Clerks.
The cases do wildly swing from short and sweet to a bit of a drag, but there’s always something worth persevering for. In the first case, Malice in Wonderland, McQueen finds himself investigating a missing child, Occult rituals, and passageways to the Darkside, which ends with McQueen wondering "what sort of paperwork covers this mess". If only he knew what was coming next.
There’s 9 cases to play through, including 3 bonuses unlocked if you complete the main 6, and while you can bash it out in an afternoon it’s the kind of game you go back to for a bit of fun every now and then. The cases are self-contained, although often contain references to each other and there’s little in the way of an over-arching storyline. McQueen just rocks up, finds Dooley trying to get out of doing any work, and we’re off.
The best thing is the logic of Darkside doesn’t always make sense, but McQueen soon gives up trying to figure it out, while Dooley cares even less. But it does make sense to us, as seasoned adventure gamers. Except when McQueen uses stilts to evade zombies, that was a new one. One case, set in a subway station has them fliting back and forth between the real world and Darkside, and both sides have disgruntled, delayed commuters to deal with. McQueen needs to get a key from one side to the other but his Darkside double refuses to let him leave with evidence. Cue McQueen handing the key to a tentacle living in the Darkside toilet, flushing it then checking the real-world loos for the key. Clever little puzzle and got a Day of the Tentacle reference in. Nice.
There’s some great set-ups to the cases too – Dooley returning library books (where he tries to bribe the librarian to avoid fines) leads McQueen to idly using a Viewfinder only to to see the ghost of Enid Blyton alongside classic Gothic writers, while a visit to Dooley’s Scout Troop draws McQueen into a Loch Ness-style mystery – while he’s being followed about by the impressed troop of kids. Others include chasing around the precinct after escaped Gremlins, helping Santa deliver presents, and renting a VHS from ‘Indian Burial Ground Video Rentals’… It reminded me of Cartoon Network’s The Regular Show.
I enjoyed this more than Thimbleweed Park, another pixel point and click also released in 2017 – that had better pedigree, coming from ex-LucasArts devs, but this has the edge. It’s irreverent, smart, surreal, and doesn’t act like its dining out on its heritage. It’s just here for fun and there’s loads of it. it’s like a season of Mighty Boosh where Howard and Vince end up as coppers. It’s just great. It works as a retro pixel point n click, and as a modern comedy.
The only crime being committed here is Darkside Detective not being available as an App. I’d love to hang out with Dooley and McQueen on the commute, the cases are perfect little timewasters. Developers Spooky Doorway are a tiny 3-person team but this has out-matched all the AAA adventure games claiming to be ‘retro’ that I’ve played recently. And thankfully, McQueen and Dooley return in A Fumble in the Dark – it’s on my wishlist, but this is one of the few times I might even stretch to full price. A great game.