Solve crimes and search for the truth in a city on the brink of revolution.
PC Release: December 22, 2015
By Ian Coppock
Video games are the best medium for people to test their wits. Unlike films or books, games’ stories can be changed by the decisions of the person beholding them. This makes them an ideal place for people to evaluate their smarts, as the right (or wrong) choice can have profound implications for the story around them. Aviary Attorney is a game that strives to be one such mental test bed.
Aviary Attorney (or Legal Eagles, as it’s fondly nicknamed by fans), is an episodic mystery game set in an 1848 Paris full of animal people. Protagonist Jayjay Falcon is an eagle-eyed (ba dum tsss) attorney who investigates crimes and solves mysteries with the help of his faithful sidekick, Sparrowson. Falcon’s lack of legal pedigrees makes work hard to come by… until a mysterious heiress stops by to ask for his help in investigating a murder! (Gasp).
Falcon agrees to take the case and immediately begins questioning witnesses and gathering clues. As the feathered duo edge closer to solving the mystery, they realize that the murder is a small piece of a conspiracy… one that imperils the whole of France! As Falcon, it’s up to players to navigate the treacherous waters of French high society and unearth the sinister plot simmering beneath Paris.
Aviary Attorney immediately draws the eye with its striking caricature artwork. The entire game was drawn by an artist who specializes in such illustrations (talk about a niche field). Everything in this game from the collar of Falcon’s coat to the ceiling of Notre Dame is sketched with extraordinary detail. The illustrations are then given a hint of sepia toning to make the image warmer than a conventional black-and-white drawing. The result looks like something worthy of the Louvre (or, at least, a hypothetical anthropomorphic art section of the Louvre).
There’s no denying the beauty of Aviary Attorney‘s drawings, but they come at the expense of character animations. Falcon blinks, and moves his beak while talking, but is otherwise stiff as a board. While it’s understandable that illustrations this intricate can only be moved around so much, that still leaves Aviary Attorney‘s characters feeling more like cardboard cutouts than living beings. That the characters have the same facial expressions no matter their emotions is also a bit weird.
Despite the aforementioned animation problems, Aviary Attorney‘s aesthetic remains enrapturing. The game sounds lovely too, with a soundtrack of romantic-era songs that are right at home in 19th-century Paris. Most of these songs are built on deep horns and delicate strings. Some characters even get their own theme that plays whenever they enter the scene (the Spanish fox’s medley is particularly bombastic).
Aviary Attorney‘s sound design is fleshed out with the audio details one might expect of an 1800’s European city. Wherever Falcon and Sparrowson go, players can count on hearing the background chitchat of the city or gentler sounds like a grandfather clock. Both types of sound come through crisply and cleanly. Aviary Attorney‘s close attention to sound design helps these stiff caricatures come to life.
Y’know what else helps bring stiff caricatures to life? Narrative. Aviary Attorney‘s story features many moving parts, some of which move more fluidly than others. For a start, the inter-character dialogue is solid. Each and every character’s writing is believable and fun to read. Sparrowson’s writing is particularly enjoyable; as Falcon’s assistant, he serves as the game’s main source of comic relief. His antics during the investigation provoke laughter just as they provoke fondness. Meanwhile, Falcon makes inroads with his own jokes and a heartfelt desire to see justice done.
Aviary Attorney‘s characters are memorable long after having played the game, but the narrative that these animal-people ply is much choppier. The first episode is all but completely disconnected from the rest of the game; the remaining three episodes circle a confusing drain of conspiracies, false identities, and way too many characters jumping in and out of the story. The occasional spelling error doesn’t make this narrative any easier to take seriously.
Exactly how difficult is it to keep track of Aviary Attorney‘s story? As previously mentioned, the first episode is a cut-and-dry murder case with a delightful twist at the end. The next three episodes dip in and out of a conspiracy that threatens the player’s senses just as much as it does 19th-century Paris. Though they have their moments, these later episodes suffer from slipshod pacing. The second episode is crammed with nothing but twists and excitement, but the third drags on bereft of either.
The fourth episode manages to pick up the third’s slack… at the cost of shoehorning an eternally confusing twist into the last half or so. The game’s character writing remains consistently tight, but the narrative risks throwing much of that writing at the wall in its scramble to wow players with a deep conspiracy story. Aviary Attorney‘s characters are great; its story is much less so.
To be fair, it’s not entirely the writers’ fault that Aviary Attorney feels messy. The gameplay certainly does it part to smudge the game’s proverbial ink. Aviary Attorney‘s gameplay doesn’t take a detective to understand: players simply visit locales around Paris, question suspects, and look for clues. The narrative progresses once players have formulated a hypothesis from all those interrogations and scavenger hunts. Falcon must then convict his suspect in court, overcoming enemy attorneys in a battle of wits a la the Ace Attorney series.
All of that sounds perfectly fine on paper, but many of Aviary Attorney‘s investigations are pockmarked with design flaws. For instance, some evidence is far too easy to miss, requiring absurd amounts of pixel-hunting and elaborate guesswork. This makes it easy for players to get bogged down in a grueling grind of trial-and-error, as they reload earlier and earlier checkpoints to get that one little clue that alters the entire storyline. The latter two episodes of the game are where this problem really takes hold; that puzzle about encountering a crook in an alleyway can choke on an expired baguette.
Aviary Attorney falls into that adventure game trap of letting critical plot points hinge on easy-to-miss objects. In that way, the game’s design feels dated and merciless. It’s difficult to take seriously a game in which the fate of Paris hinges upon the player’s ability to check vases for candy bar wrappers. The game’s concept of a detective uncovering what basically amounts to the French Gunpowder Plot is compelling; the execution isn’t. These problems lend a poetic irony to the name of the studio behind this game: Sketchy Logic.
Of course, gamers who like such strict adventure games as Aviary Attorney might find this talk of mercilessness attractive. Perhaps old-school adventure gamers was the audience for which Aviary Attorney was actually made. Even so, that doesn’t excuse some of the aforementioned design flaws or the story’s atrocious pacing. For anything that can be said about hard-as-nails 90’s adventure games, their narratives were (usually) good.
Much like an uncompromising detective, Aviary Attorney does not do middle ground. Its artwork, music, character writing, and system performance are great. Its gameplay, options menu and overarching plot, by contrast, need a lot of polish. Players who enjoy adventure games might come to Aviary Attorney for its vividly realized world, but they probably won’t stay for the convoluted plot that twists through that world. Oh well; at least players have Sparrowson to provide a few chuckles.
Video games are the best medium for people to test their wits, but Aviary Attorney is much more a test of patience than smarts. With that, this review is over. The prosecution rests.
You can buy Aviary Attorney here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at email@example.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.