I don’t think I have to elaborate when I tell you that I spent a lot of time playing video games at home in 2020.
Shamefully, that’s a statement that applies to just about every year; but more than ever, video games were one of the precious escapes from the seemingly never-ending barrage of nightmarish scenarios that we’ve collectively experienced in the past year.
Nonetheless, it was a pretty good year in the world of video games for those of us stuck at home and needing distraction from the hellscape outside. I’m still trying to work my way through a backlog of 2020 releases, which is why this review for a game I started playing back in November is only just being published now.
Yes, there were plenty of top-notch AAA titles to be enjoyed in 2020 – but there were plenty of brilliant indie games that went under the radar, too. Chicken Police is one such game, and without a doubt, it was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year.
Chicken Police is the first game by indie studio The Wild Gentlemen, a small group of developers who formed in 2018. They describe Chicken Police as an “Orwellesque Buddycop Noir Adventure”, and that’s honestly spot-on. Imagine Phoenix Wright meets Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, and throw in some excellent writing and voice acting for good measure – that’s Chicken Police, and it’s an incredibly impressive debut game.
This noir tale is lead by Sonny Featherland, a jaded, alcoholic chicken detective who finds himself reluctantly dragged into a complex and deadly case by the classic femme fatale. Much to his chagrin, Sonny must team up with his ex-partner Marty McChicken to uncover the truth behind the devious plot.
Together, they were once known as the legendary Chicken Police; but conflict between the pair ended with a long hospital stay for Sonny and bitter resentment on both sides.
For those familiar with classic film noir cinema and pulpy crime paperbacks, the major beats will be familiar – but instead of relying on broad genre parody, Chicken Police has a remarkably compelling cast of characters, and a cleverly devised fictional world for them to function in.
The art style is eye-catching, and not just because it’s black-and-white. Each character you’ll meet is some form of anthropomorphic animal, rendered realistically but with human bodies below the neck.
Remember the weird duck person in a suit from David Lynch’s infamous PlayStation 2 advert? Imagine that, but surprisingly less creepy. It works much better than you’d ever imagine, and thanks to fantastic work by its voice cast, the citizens of Clawville are all uniquely interesting enough that you’re likely to find yourself speaking to them as much as you can to unearth more clues and detail.
Solving the many mysteries of Clawville will require you to explore various locations across the city, questioning suspects and collecting physical clues. There’s an enjoyable system of interrogation, where you’ll need to pay attention to the suspect’s personality in order to determine the best line of questioning. The writers have done a good job in ensuring this system is consistent; I never found myself just blindly selecting options in the hopes of advancing through the plot.
Overall, it took me roughly eight hours to complete Chicken Police. That’s with plenty of interaction with all the characters, exploring all the locations and occasionally bumping my head against a particularly clever puzzle.
It’s an incredibly entertaining and pleasantly compelling narrative-driven game; one that’s self-aware without smugly winking-and-nodding at the audience. That’s not an easy feat, but The Wild Gentlemen have clearly made great efforts to create a world that can make you laugh out loud without sabotaging its narrative.
It’s a well-contained story, but like any classic paperback crime novel, there’s always a new client needing the services of a detective of unusual methods – and hopefully this fine-feathered fowl gets another round.
Chicken Police was reviewed on PC with review code provided by Handy Games in return for an honest review. It’s now available on PC, PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo Switch.