When it comes to considering Insecticide, there are several important factors to juggle. On one hand, the game is not a traditional adventure by any means, delivering a full-fledged “action-adventure” exactly as advertised. On the other hand, it’s not like other action-adventures, either, alternating as it does between completely distinct action levels and adventure scenarios rather than blending the elements together. The good news, on a third hand, is that the classic adventuring portions provide some solid entertainment, while the bad news on its opposite hand is that the platforming and light shooting sections are little more than weak, uninspired filler. Then again, on still another hand, the game would be obscenely short without them, since it’s only half a game (or “Part 1 of 2”) to begin with, though on the sixth and final hand (thank goodness we’re not spiders), the finale is soon to come, so PC players looking for the full Insecticide experience won’t have long to wait.
That Insecticide largely succeeds in its time spent adventuring should come as no surprise given the pedigree of its developers. Crackpot Entertainment is yet another spin-off studio from former adventure giant LucasArts, and the combined talent and experience from those genre glory years by the likes of Larry Ahern, Peter Chan, Peter McConnell, and Mike Levine (not to mention Sierra ex-pat Josh Mandel) clearly shows. Unlike fellow alumni Telltale Games and Autumn Moon, however, Crackpot opted to branch beyond its point-and-click roots, to decidedly mixed results. The ambition is commendable; the execution… not so much.
In case the title didn’t give it away, Insecticide is all about bugs. Dead bugs. Preferably not you, though you’re a bug, too. Humanoid-like insects have replaced people as the dominant race, and despite their superior survival instincts, they seem to spend a lot of time trying to kill each other. Players control police detective Chrys Liszt, a young female cop with an eye for detail, a hair trigger, and a mysterious past, though not necessarily in that order. Along with your grizzled partner Roachy Caruthers, you’ll lead an investigation into a murder at the Nectarola soft drink company. Over the course of eight chapters, the case will take you deep into Troi’s seedy underbelly (or perhaps in a downtown bug metropolis, that’s just the regular belly), from your cubicle at Precinct 47 to a two-bit diner to the local wharf, with plenty of ledges, highwires, and box piles in between.
If you’re squeamish about bugs, rest easy, as there’s little gross-out factor in Insecticide. The graphics are highly stylized with a cute, almost cartoonish look that defies its otherwise-repulsive subject matter. Think A Bug’s Life, not The Fly. This is especially true of the fanciful characters that range from stick bugs to beetles (rhino, not dung, thankfully) to wasps. While many of the goons you face in the action levels have generic models, all the key adventure figures are uniquely designed and brought to life with fantastic voice acting and a strong script. Whether the elderly Nectarola matron Quinbee, Chrys’ weapon-obsessed colleague Bloombug, or the hard-boiled, cigar-chomping Chief Chigger, the supporting roles are mainly clichéd but memorable in a deliberately noir-themed way. Unfortunately, many feel underused in this initial instalment, though presumably we’ve not seen the last of them. The dialogue is rarely laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s filled with bug gags and has a silly charm that keeps the mood light throughout. Chrys herself is buggishly attractive, with large, bright green eyes and finely-coiffed antennae, and her vocal performance is perhaps the strongest of the lot, which is important as all of her investigative monologues are fully voiced as well.
If there’s a weakness in the game’s design, it comes on more of a technical front. The 3D graphics are clean enough but very basic and underwhelming. Perhaps this stems from the game being simultaneously developed for the Nintendo DS, or from an attempt to keep the download size low for the PC version, but failing to better maximize PC capabilities hurts the overall effect. Fortunately, the game offers widescreen support and runs smoothly at adjustable resolutions to accommodate a range of system specs. I’ve heard complaints about excessive darkness in the game, but I experienced no such issues, so apparently mileage varies on that front. A few other minor… umm… bugaboos make their presence felt, however, like the highly pixelated cinematics to corners cut on animations to atrocious lip syncing. The latter is most prevalent, as the characters continue to move their lips well after the dialogue ends, making Insecticide feel like a cheaply-dubbed martial arts movie, albeit one accompanied by a great jazz soundtrack.
Whether in adventure or action modes, the game handles with a standard mouse-keyboard combination. Maneuvering Chrys freely around the environments is easy enough, though there’s no native gamepad support, which is an unfortunate oversight. Movement is a bit faster in the action levels, but there is only one default speed at any given time, and it’s never quite fast enough. You’d think with an extra pair of legs that Chrys could step it up a bit, but she’s intent on taking her time.Continued on the next page...