Somewhere along the line, Goin’ Downtown took a detour on the way to its English-language release. This futuristic sci-fi whodunit debuted in Germany in 2008 and took nearly three years to be localized, no doubt due to its original publisher, The Games Company, going bankrupt in the meantime. Fortunately, Kalypso Media finally picked it up and saw it through to completion, although only in downloadable, subtitled form. Even with these limitations, many will be glad they did, as it’s a stylish-looking adventure with an impressive atmosphere and setting, user-friendly interface, and a compelling mystery premise that can make for quite a ride. The downside is, its rather bare-bones plot development and overly simplistic gameplay will have you speeding through to the end in no time.
Goin’ Downtown begins with a jolt – literally. A man is strapped to an electric chair moments before death, leading the game’s protagonist to reflect back on the dramatic events leading to that point. (Maybe one’s life really does flash before your eyes right before you die?) Once a rising star of New York City’s finest, Jake McCorly’s career as a cop has seriously hit the skids in recent years. It’s the late 21st century, and police are paid strictly through rewards for arrests, but Jake can only wallow in the misery of his wife’s death. A holographic news report details the increasing disappearance of prostitutes, but nothing can shake Jake’s apathy until an explosion outside his high-rise apartment sends him out to investigate. Finding a beautiful call girl named Rose unconscious in the street, Jake shelters her while she recovers. But when Rose goes missing under suspicious circumstances several hours later, the wheels of a much larger mystery are set in motion, finally rousing Jake to action.
Wheels are an important part of this adventure, as you’ll zip around between locations on a motorcycle. All events occur within a small inner city radius, from the police station to various homes and factory warehouses to Fat Franzy’s bar. A slick quick travel map can be called up just about any time, which shows a miniature of the city and any destinations Jake can drive to at that time. But the impressive visual presentation doesn’t end there. The locations themselves are done in a wonderful hand-drawn comic fashion with cel-shaded characters. Backgrounds aren’t overly detailed, but they’re richly coloured and nicely designed with little touches like wall graffiti in the Red Light District, a lotus pond in a Chinese mall, and blurred streams of traffic racing below Jake’s pad. There aren’t many cinematics or ambient animations, but character actions are generously displayed, from Fido the robodog performing tricks to an Itchy & Scratchy-like cartoon playing on TV, although we probably could have done without watching Jake relieve himself. Character models are quite blocky and the shadows are distractingly heavy, but each one is distinctively designed, whether the mohawked paramedic, the pink-and-blue-haired junkie, or the pony-tailed child pickpocket. Non-interactive characters, on the other hand, appear as featureless moving background props, which is surprisingly effective.
Just as important as the artistic quality is the futuristic vision of the world itself. This is a society much like our own, full of elevators and key cards and old-fashioned guns, yet advanced enough to create an immersive urban sci-fi atmosphere. Jake’s apartment comes complete with a personal ATM (where can I get one of those?) and an automated “TeleDoc”, which offers personal psychiatric advice (forget the bank machine, where can I get one of THOSE?!!). Elsewhere, you’ll encounter finger chips and thumb scanners that log all relevant personal details for 70 years, weapon detectors, and a Cerebro-like simulation room where you can recreate and interact with recorded personal events. It’s a good mix of present fact and future fiction that keeps the story grounded in reality but refreshingly different, like the use of mobile handsets for stationary “ComStations” to make phone calls and access police files, now necessary due to electromagnetic pollution from excessive cell phone use.
Not all of these Big Brother-ish technologies would be welcome, which highlights the grittier side of Goin’ Downtown. This isn’t a relentlessly bleak, dystopian future, but it does involve a raw, edgy storyline that doesn’t shy away from unpleasant realities, like prostitution, drug abuse, rape, and murder. Apart from the odd bit of bad language and sexual innuendo, there’s nothing here that could be considered offensive to anyone, but the game does deal in mature themes. Of course, a murder mystery without some dark content wouldn’t be much of a story. The powers-that-be care little of the fates of hookers, so Jake is on his own to investigate Rose’s case, against his chief’s wishes. This gets him into a variety of scrapes and shady tasks, from committing identity fraud to finding substitute drugs for an addicted informant, devising makeshift poison darts, and finding the appropriate outfit to attend an upper-class sex party. Jake has some friends whose help he enlists by performing favours, such as setting the crime lab technician up with an escort or testing Fat Franzy’s booze for toxins, but he soon makes some enemies as well, who have no qualms about shooting, capturing, or pummeling him senseless.
Despite the occasional violent encounter, Goin’ Downtown is a traditional adventure in all respects. A context-sensitive cursor allows you to examine items with a right-click and interact with a left. Just like the developer’s recent Simon the Sorcerer adventures, Jake will intuitively run to any point clicked far away and walk to those nearby, though you can double-click to instantly exit. Each location consists of only a couple screens max, so you never have much ground to cover, though the screen scrolls in some of the larger areas. You’ll acquire numerous objects as you go along, all stored in a hidden inventory called up by mousing over the bottom of the screen, where you can select, examine, and even combine items for use. There are quite a few optional hotspots, though rarely do these yield any comments of interest. In general, any item showing a “use” cursor will be important at some point, though not necessarily. Even the highlighter designed to show only relevant objects (the “G” key; “H” reveals all hotspots onscreen) displays some that are never used, like a shooting range, a skull, and an elevated railway. This gives the impression that a larger adventure was originally planned and then scaled back to its current version.Continued on the next page...