A game called Chicken Police, especially one that looks like this, is a hard thing to simply ignore. This black-and-white 1940’s-style noir adventure game is set in a gritty city full of anthropomorphized animals. The style is absurdist and striking. The protagonists are photorealistic rooster heads attached to human bodies wearing trench coats. A feline nightclub singer in a slinky black dress seeks their aid. Sleazy raccoons and rats dress like gangsters, while a police precinct is run by dogs, birds, porcupines, and of course, chickens.
I find it hard to believe that anyone would see a screenshot of this game and not be curious at all. It’s a hilarious concept. One that—once I started playing it—I realized was more than a joke to be taken at face value. Chicken Police is funny, yes, but it is also set in a fully realized world with a rich backstory.
The moment-to-moment gameplay is similar to a point-and-click adventure game, but the puzzles are few and far between. It may be more fair to compare it to a visual novel, as the majority of the game is just the cast of characters all talking to each other. That said, while the entire game has subtitles, it’s worth mentioning that all the dialogue is fully voiced. The voice acting is hit-or-miss, but it’s faithful to the kind of noir stories it’s inspired by.
You play as Sonny, a furloughed police detective and one half of the infamous Chicken Police. When a visit from a popular singer’s assistant puts him on the trail of a case that seems to involve his ex-wife, Sonny reaches out to his old partner Marty for help. The two rekindle their partnership and take to the streets to figure out why the singer, Natasha Catzenko, is receiving mysterious threats.
The story takes an hour or two before it even begins to simmer. Early on, the purpose of the case remains unclear for far too long. If not for all of the fun animal personalities, puns, and chicken jokes, I would have lost interest completely.
Eventually, the plot begins to move along, and it does have some decent intrigue for a bit. It’s hard to forget this whole game is sort of a gag, but it does exist in a fully fleshed-out world. Chicken Police’s city of Clawville has a rich history and lore, and the game hints at other locations like The Hive—a slum full of insects—that would be fun to visit if there’s ever a sequel.
Where the game lost me—outside of those dull opening hours—was in how it relishes in cheap mystery genre tropes. Its twists and turns rely on tired portrayals of mental health and dissociative identity disorder that storytellers can’t seem to escape from. Worst of all, when the game allowed me to select the twist as one of my interrogation answers a full chapter before the twist was revealed, it told me my answer was wrong.
Perhaps worse though, were the moments where—despite being more visual novel than point-and-click adventure—Chicken Police fell into some of the annoying traps of the point-and-click genre. It only happened a few times, but I hit a wall where I didn’t know how to progress the story. In one instance, it meant backtracking to an unrelated location and examining a specific piece of the background for clues. In another, I couldn’t roll credits until I methodically clicked on every last part of the environment and talked to each character multiple times. These moments were deep, disruptive potholes in an otherwise smooth ride.
Chicken Police gets a lot of mileage out of its visuals, cast of characters, and world-building. It makes a first impression that’s hard to deny, and the developers clearly swung for the fences with the premise. And outside of a few weak moments, the presentation is incredibly polished.
That said, it’s hard to deny that the core plot and mystery of the game isn’t very satisfying. This is a shame, because it’s a huge piece of the puzzle to fumble, when so many other elements shine.
Still, for a game where the entire premise is essentially a one-sentence joke, Chicken Police is a surprise. It doesn’t fire on all cylinders, but it has a lot to love. Most of all, it charmed me enough that I was glad to see the “to be continued” message pop up at the end. I just hope a sequel can tell a more unique story.