The detective agency-style game has become fashionable in recent years, with the rise in popularity of the Phoenix Wright and Professor Layton on the Nintendo DS and 3DS. These series have even been the subject of a well-received crossover game, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. However, they are both very distinctive in their own particular styles and do not venture far from them. The Phoenix Wright/Apollo Justice strain of games mix detective work, defense attorney work and interrogation with a side order of mysticism and superpowers. Professor Layton is a quainter sort of game, going for a Ye Olde England feel combined with fiendishly difficult puzzles. As a result, fans of the series may be gasping for a game that offers up a more novel experience. Aviary Attorney, while clearly borrowing heavily from the Turnabout/Ace Attorney series, does just that.
It is set in 19th century France, where rumors of anthropomorphic rebellion and the overthrowing of the monarchy are rife. As well as instability of leadership and murderous plotting – which you will deal with as defense lawyer/investigator Jayjay Falcon and his assistant Mr Sparrowson – there are more light-hearted plot elements, such as receiving expert advice from an elephantine chocolatier (no, seriously, Lander Hagelslak the chocolate shop owner is literally an elephant) and playing blackjack with a portly walrus. The game gives you a birdseye view (sorry) of the decadence and struggle at both ends of society in a formerly aristocratic France, albeit with the characters taking the form of members of the animal kingdom.
The art and musical style of the game cannot be faulted. It is based on the work of 19th century French artist Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard Grandville (J. J. Grandville for short), who produced caricatures in a distinct style consisting of fine lines drawn purely in black ink, which often lent humanistic features to members of the animal kingdom, such as owls wearing haute couture. His art style and drawings are really done justice in the game, being brought to life in a humorous but faithful way. Furthermore, the soundtrack fits like a glove, with the use of “Le Carnaval des Animaux” suite from French composer Camille Saint-Saëns. I laughed out loud particularly at the use of “L’éléphant” whenever Lander was on-screen, since it has a similar effect to flatulent tuba noises following a haughty, rotund character. Overall, the visuals and soundtrack of the game are rich in character, drawing the player into a lively and turbulent era of French history.
The gameplay itself is simple yet effective, and also quite distinct from the aforementioned stylistic predecessors. The game is based on a calendar system, with each story-line taking up a set number of days. At the beginning of each day, you can select which area of Paris you wish to visit from a map, in an attempt to progress the story. Certain areas will swallow an entire day if visited (as shown by a clock next to the name of the area), so you have to be strategic and consider which are likely to unearth vital evidence to leave you in as favorable a position as possible come court day. Predictably, it is much more obvious which areas should be visited in the earlier investigations; furthermore, you have an entire 21 days in Act 3 to explore at your leisure and pursue sub-plots if you so desire.
In addition, some cut-scenes can be triggered on one specific day only; these are optional, but tend to provide a lot of important back-story for the plot. This gives the player incentive not to speed through the game and blindly click around locations, but instead to keep their eyes peeled for these one-off events. It’s also useful for those who are back-tracking and exploring other plot avenues, as they don’t even have to skip through cut-scenes; they can simply choose not to trigger them in the first place.
The activities which the protagonist gets up to during the plot are varied and interesting. The meat of the game consists of investigating crime scenes, questioning potential witnesses/alternative culprits, and then cross-examining witnesses in court. The investigation element is actually slightly disappointing, since it involves waving your cursor over the room in question until something is highlighted. Once nothing more can be highlighted, you’re done. This makes it very difficult to miss clues, which should surely be a significant obstacle to representing your client in court and therefore provide some source of challenge within the game.
The interrogation element is stellar. With certain characters (who shall remain nameless to avoid spoilers), you can even push them too far with your questioning and result in them refusing to cooperate, similar to L.A. Noire (though in Aviary Attorney this is not dependent on whether you have evidence to back up your assertions; you can simply frighten away characters by being too forceful). It is also quite satisfying to trigger a seemingly dull conversation, only to discover it actually gives you the information required to move the story along. Furthermore, the opportunities to interrogate seem to present themselves more frequently than inspecting crime scenes, so the good most certainly outweighs the slightly tedious.
Specific days in the calendar will be your court days, when your client comes before a formidable judge, prosecution barrister and jury. Witnesses will be called by the prosecution, which you will be tasked with cross-examining. This involves reading an abridged version of the witness’ testimony, with a few key phrases highlighted; you are tasked with selecting phrases which seem inaccurate and explaining to the court why the statement was suspicious. If you choose incorrectly, instead of winning favour with the jury, you will be suspected of stalling for time and risk tanking your case. Cross-examine the witnesses properly, and your defendant will be found “not guilty”.
As someone who teaches law for a living, there were one or two aspects of the trial section which I found quite jarring, but it is obviously designed the way it is for the sake of gameplay. For example, the characters suggest during dialogue in Act 1 that you’re tasked with proving the innocence of your defendant; of course, “innocent until proven guilty” is a cornerstone of criminal law. This clearly wouldn’t work with the mechanics of the game, as it would make the defense’s job too easy; it did make me chuckle nevertheless. It would have been cool to work in this reversed presumption as a symptom of the systematic corruption which the ruling classes are being accused of. It was just a tiny missed opportunity, but not something that disturbed me too much.
There is a much larger criticism that must be directed towards the game – one which is so monumental that despite all of the overwhelming positives I’ve detailed so far in my review, I’d strongly advise you to hold off on buying the game for the time being. This big issue is that the game is not finished. I don’t mean this just in the sense that some of the mechanics are unpolished or seem rushed; if you follow a certain path in the game-play, it leads to a screen which states that this part of the plot is still under production and that you must wait for updates in the next couple of days.
I am generally quite impatient and intolerant when it comes to games being released in a buggy, piecemeal fashion. I’m not the biggest fan of DLC, and I’ll only really stomach bigger bugs in programming when we’re talking about an MMORPG or similarly large-scale game, though I rarely play these types of games anyway. However, I can distance myself from my own initial reactions and realise that the game market has moved on to become quite supportive of add-on packs, season passes, and the like. I have even come to accept the Early Access option offered on Steam, through which development companies can release games (and still charge high prices for them) while fully disclosing that the game is still in beta mode. At least it is made very clear what you will be getting when you hand over your hard-earned cash, and you have the choice to nope out of there on quickly realising that you might have to wait for various modes to be accessible (as was the case with Super Cane Magic ZERO).
However, Aviary Attorney was released on the 23rd December as a complete game. You have to read further between the lines to find out that it is still not finished. What’s more, the promised updates have yet to materialize. This is somewhat understandable, what with it being the Christmas period, but I would rather Sketchy Logic had simply delayed the release for a month or so and given us the final product in one go, albeit quite late. I do have some sympathy with the urge to stick to deadlines as closely as possible, and at all costs, but they still didn’t need to make promises that they couldn’t keep.
Regarding the bugs, some of them are quite substantial and interfere with enjoyment of the game significantly. The game will spontaneously freeze/fail to load the dialogue options for seemingly no reason on odd occasions. These instances appear to be spontaneous, and therefore unavoidable, at least some of the time, since retracing my steps and visiting the same locales in the same order did not trigger the same crash. One consistent bug concerns saving: saving the action wherever you are (rather than reloading from the start of the day) currently does not work, although it is supposed to be an option. According to updates from the developers, the ability has been disabled for the time being, to allow them to fix the bug properly.
This, combined with the game locking up, means you can sometimes be sent back to the beginning of an exploration-intensive day through no fault of your own, which is tremendously frustrating: it is a perfect storm in terms of bugs coinciding with each other. Given that this is a fairly basic, point-and-click adventure, I feel that at the very least grabbing some volunteers from Twitter to bug-test in beta really isn’t something that should have been out of the question. We, the consumers, should not be bug-testing without our knowledge, having handed over money for what we expect to be a complete experience (particularly because of the simple nature of the game).
The current price of Aviary Attorney is 12,74 Euros (reduced from 14,99 for the game on its own). This is still too much for a simple visual novel-style game that is fundamentally broken and incomplete. When it’s running well and you’re still in the thick of the story, it is steeped in atmosphere and I would feel comfortable recommending you try it at some point. However, being pulled away from the action through being told that the route you have taken is not finished yet ruins the experience.
Furthermore, I would discourage you from giving your money to publishers who think this is acceptable, because the backlash for selling an incomplete game without warning should be identical to the backlash for selling any other fundamentally defective product without a disclaimer. Do not encourage this practice by reacting to such tactics warmly or generously; it is lazy and unnecessary. Yet I believe that in this case it was simply a failure to react properly to overshooting deadlines, rather than a malicious attempt to release a mess of a game and demand money for it, so I would still recommend that Phoenix Wright and Professor Layton fans in particular give this a try – just not yet. Keep it in your Wishlist on Steam and keep an eye on further updates.
Gameplay - 4/10
Plot - 4/10
Design - 7/10
Superb Idea, Poor Execution
Unfortunately, I cannot give this game a high Gameplay or Plot score, simply because the incompleteness drastically affects both of them. However, I suspect that I would revise my review score to be much higher once I am satisfied that all of the kinks have been ironed out.