In the year 2050, Earth’s climate change peaked with a cataclysmic rampage of weather disasters—the global population wiped out by tornados, hurricanes, etc. You are Thomas, an ex-Private Eye. Despite your success, the new world forces you to become a drifter, seeking shelter and food as the weather continues to worsen, eventually (it can be surmised) culminating in a new Ice Age. However, even a dead world can bring up old grudges…. Are you excited? I was. However, you—like me—are soon to be sorely disappointed, as Investigator is a deeply flawed game which suffers heavily from poor transitions, ridiculous cinematics, and much more.
Without spoiling too much, Investigator places you at an abandoned military base seeking out shelter from the ever-decreasing temperatures. Your final goal? To reach Bunker U-17, where it is rumored survivors of the cataclysm have taken up residence. Along the way, however, you continuously run into someone from your past as a Private Investigator—someone who feels you deeply wronged him and demands retribution. Throughout the game, you will be caught again and again, with no possibility of shaking this nearly supernatural pursuer. This premise is the basis of one of Investigator’s main weaknesses. You see, Investigator is what many gamers disdainfully refer to as a “walking simulator,” and while I find the genre to have its merits, I found the lack of agency in Investigator to be rather disheartening. Here we have a game that centers on survival—not only from the forces of nature—but also from an unrelenting psychopath, yet every “escape,” every “pursuit,” we have no choice in how things play out. Instead, every part that could present a choice is ripped from us, playing the scene out entirely through cinematics. This wouldn’t be such an issue if the game didn’t try so hard to present the illusion of choice. Life is Strange succeeds with the illusion of choice because we feel our decisions make an impact on the characters, even if they don’t impact the game itself. Dear Esther succeeds without the illusion of choice because it presents itself as a narrative which plays out as you find relevant locations, thus putting place and purpose together. Investigator, on the other hand, offers the illusion of choice only to deny you any agency once you get to the climax of a scene. Not only does this infuriate me as a player, but it also entirely undermines any fear the game may otherwise invoke. What is there to fear if there is literally no fail state? If I screw up, the game saves me. If I don’t screw up, the game puts me into the exact same situation anyway. This leaves jump scares as the only real source of horror left, and the jump scares that are included so painfully out of place and obvious that they achieve nothing. All in all, if you’re expecting anything from Investigator in terms of gameplay, prepare to be disappointed.
Design is where Investigator gets interesting, if only a little. As mentioned before, the game relies heavily on cinematics, including major cut scenes between every scene. In a way, it feels like AdroVGames tried to pull a Quantic Dream, and the cinematography is actually pretty damn good. During the cut scenes, you become aware of an overarching artistic vision, one which emphasizes both the loneliness and the beauty of this new, feral world. However, the cinematics compose a huge portion of the overall game (I estimate around 25-30% of my time playing was spent watching), and I often found myself wondering why the devs didn’t make a cgi-animated film rather than a game.
As far as sound is concerned, much of the in-game soundtrack is fitting, if generic. It similar to Amnesia: The Dark Descent, with the understated moodiness presenting a minimalist statement along the lines of “Why are you here? No man should step foot here.” The music used for cinematics, on the other hand, feel incredibly out of place. They present a sweeping, uplifting tune promising an epic journey into the unknown rather than a desperate search for shelter, which only further fueled what I can only describe as the “goofy” nature of the game. Ambient sound is the best example of sound design in Investigator. The scratching sounds of stuff moving about in bunker tunnels and the close howling of wolves are legitimately unnerving, though that does wear off once you realize these don’t actually constitute real threats. (On a side note, wild animals are actually terrifying. Why haven’t more games used them? Look at Miasmata as a simple example) Overall, sound design ranges from okay to terrible.
Visually, Investigator is nice to look at. The fidelity’s not all there, but it looks pleasing enough, and the world building helps make everything look much better. Outside segments are filled with tall vegetation which can largely obscure your vision. Buildings are dilapidated, with some of them collapsed down to one side. The world truly feels devoid of humans, which is honestly a pretty sizeable accomplishment. Visually, the only flaw I can really point out is character models. Models look fairly cartoony, and animations are stiff, adding to the goofiness I mentioned previously. In addition, spiders (a frequently encountered creature in this game) are often just upscaled, including a colossal one the size of a football field. Needless to say, making a small model bigger while using the same textures is a surefire way to make your creatures look ugly (and not in a good way).
Investigator has a lot of issues. Beyond what I’ve already talked about, the transitions between levels are often abrupt and even nonsensical, and major plot points are often brought up only to entirely ignored for several levels (thus leading to a highly inconsistent narrative), and the ending sequence is just awful. However, while Investigator is mostly not good, it does hold a bit of promise. With time comes experience, and AdroVGames’ presentation for Investigator was interesting enough for me to be willing to give them another chance once they’ve learned a bit more about game design. Until then? Investigator may be worth a try on a discount, but don't expect anything special.