Chicken Police: Paint it Red – Cluckin’ Hell
One hundred and twenty-one days. Just wait that out, Sonny Featherland, and you’re finally out of the detective game and into retirement. But what’s this? A young dame with a mysterious request for help from this grizzled old chicken? If it weren’t for a single name in this cryptic message, you wouldn’t be interested – but emotions are a fickle thing. It’s time to go see your old partner Marty MacChicken and bring the legendary Chicken Police back together for one last wild ride.
Argh, cluckin’ hell.
It’s impossible to see an image of Chicken Police and not have your attention immediately seized. Animal heads with human bodies, black and white overtones, tied together with 40’s vibes? Uh, yes please!
It’s a fascinating premise that’s hard to pass up. A hardboiled chicken detective gets sucked into one last mystery before retirement, filled to the brim with twists, turns and animal puns galore in this buddy-cop noir adventure. This is easily one of the most imaginative and original world settings of 2020 and will have you hanging on to every intricate detail about its history, lore and setting. It’s just a bit of a shame that the story being told is ultimately pretty boilerplate.
When it comes to noir detective stories, Chicken Police follows the formula down to every last trope. And I mean every trope.
This grizzled detective has given up on the world after a successful career at the city police department. He’s old and jaded, having pushed away everyone he cared for in the process. He comes across abrasive and misogynistic, but he’s “a good guy with a heart of gold”. Every other character falls into their allocated archetypes – the damsel, the informant, the asshole police chief, etc etc.
This extends to the story threads themselves. Twists and turns abound, shocking you to your core. Well, they will if you don’t see it coming. I’m not even that familiar with the genre as a whole, but I successfully guessed the conclusion about a third of the way in. Which should be impossible, given the bombshell revelations you should have no way of predicting happening. But, as I said, it follows all the tropes.
Structurally this is accomplished much like an adventure game. You’ll head to typical noir story locations – The police department, jazz club, brothel – and click on various parts of the environment for dialogue and the very occasional puzzle. The majority of the time will be spent conversing with other characters, either through straightforward dialogue, asking questions, or through the odd “interrogation”.
These interrogations consist of asking questions of a character to dig out information through following certain lines of questioning. It’s… honestly a bit hit or miss, and kind of ambiguous about whether you are performing well or poorly, despite some pretty heavy-handed attempts to get you to focus on a specific topic or push certain emotional buttons. It’s also kind of unclear whether it’s important to get them right or not, as seemingly key information that is gleaned from an interrogation comes up in conversation five minutes down the road most of the time. I aced some and flunked others, but it was hard to tell whether it had any effect on the story at all.
Thankfully, most of this is pretty nominal, as the character and voice work helps these issues feel less important. In the moment, line delivery is almost always cheesily superb. Accents are laid on thick, and the aforementioned puns are always good for a laugh. One particular back and forth in a diner over meat substitutes had me cackling.
That’s where Chicken Police truly shines – its people, and its world. This fiction that has been created… honestly. This shit is fantastic.
Every morsel of history and lore that was dropped at my feet, I slurped up with manic eagerness. Why are there certain animal people and not others? What’s the significance of the four species appearing on the city-state’s crest? What is Predation, and what occurred during the Meat War? Please, dive deeper into the divide between the Royalists and the Separatists! Apparently, humans did exist at some point, but have been gone for a long time now? How did these animal people come to worship their three particular Gods?
It’s all so bloody tantalising. An incredibly rich history, political system, power structure and collection of nations sit as background to the story being told. And it’s so much more interesting than the detective story at the forefront of Chicken Police. It not only draws you in, it engrosses you completely.
It’s almost like there are two separate narratives here. The first is the game we have, built from the kernel of an idea to create a detective noir video game. The second is this incredible world, necessary for explaining exactly why the hell chicken people exist but also expanding out into an incredible lore bible with hundreds of years of history and intrigue. They aren’t completely independent but do feel more parallel than intertwined.
It just makes me want different types of games exploring more of this universe. Give me the political thriller with the Game of Thrones-style backstabbing and intriguing character motivations. Show me the archaeology simulator, uncovering the truth of the Meat War and the circumstances that lead to the creation of synthetic meat. Grant me the RPG about Roachtown, diving into the systemic racism of this city, exploring the nature of the all-consuming fire that destroyed the entire city centuries ago.
A detective noir story is cool but is such a small slice of what could be. The possibility space is infinite, and the entire world is endlessly compelling.
Chicken Police sure is a ride, full of eclectic characters and dastardly deeds. It is what it sets out to be, which is fine – good, even – but its tantalising world only scratches the surface. It’s not fair to knock the game for what it isn’t, but boy do I want to see more of this world. I guess when a game leaves you wanting, that can only be a good thing.
Chicken Police was reviewed on PC with code kindly provided by the publisher.
When not playing games, Chris enjoys chilling with his Fiancé, cats and dog. He will probably never stop banging on about how amazing Outer Wilds is. Forever in search of the best Margherita pizza.
Chris writes on Latji Latji and Barkindji land.