Sometimes a Little League coach will let the scrawny, un-athletic kid pitch an inning just to give him the perspective of being a pitcher and wake him up from the doldrums of right field. Well, it turns out the FBI does the same thing. In Bureau – Agent Kendall, you play as the eponymous Kendall, a computer technician who has been temporarily re-assigned as a field agent to prevent groupthink and somehow magically become better at using a computer. I’m assuming Special Agent Mulder is now in charge of network security for the FBI too. The whole thing makes about as much sense as an episode of The Animaniacs played backwards, but that’s just the beginning.
The perplexing thing about Bureau – Agent Kendall is that it tries to walk the delicate line of being a competent detective game and a fan service pile of rubbish that teenagers would fawn over if nobody ever bothered to invent the Internet. On the one hand, the dialogue options are well written, the graphics are remarkably detailed and the game builds and then climaxes with a heck of a cliffhanger conclusion. On the other, it’s a skeezy, sexist fantasy where every woman is strapped with a pair of water balloons and bras have apparently been outlawed.
After a brief tutorial in which my “special partner” Agent Dale Kyler – who totally isn’t a pornstar – imparted some investigative skills, I was prepared to start solving some crimes. The first and only case in this adventure deals with a mysterious warehouse fire that destroyed a stash of expensive, rare hooch. The investigation takes place over a number of days, Kendall can speak with each suspect once per day, or she can retire home early to do a bit of extra research, which unlocks new dialogue options for the following day.
The conversations feel generally lively and interesting, and the game places an emphasis on researching the suspects’ backgrounds so that Kendall can worm her way into their psyches and convince them she’s their friend. The game also throws some Sega CD-era FMV choices at the player, where the screen flashes red and a decision must be made post-haste. At one point I tried to impress a suspect and made a remark about motorcycles that probably went something like “Me like when they go vroom vroom,” and the guy called me on my failed attempt at vehicular knowledge. The strobing red screen caught me off guard and I panicked, choosing to seduce the big lug. My “special partner” wasn’t too thrilled.
The conversations are fun, but the problem is that the game makes you choose what topic you’d like to talk about before arriving at the suspect’s location. It’s impossible to swap topics once the characters start chatting, and since you also can’t discuss two topics in one day, there were several times when I started the wrong discussion with the only person I actually needed to speak with that day. That meant I had to go home, do more research, chat with Kyler, get up, change the dialogue tree and then revisit the same person. It seems like something that could easily have been fixed by allowing multiple conversations or assigning the topics to the bumpers.
The dialogue problems are exacerbated by the fact that the game just feels sluggish. Unskippable cutscenes are sprinkled in between every sequence, such as each time you interview a person, go home to do research, or even get up in the morning. While they’re typically only a few seconds long, that time added up when I pulled up to the same house seven days in a row. Combined with the clunky menu system, the cutscene issue really disrupted the game’s pacing.
But even with its faults, there’s still a fun detective game buried in there. The different dialogue options allow Kendall to be a totally compliant, boring agent, or a sassy, snarky sleazeball. Agent Kendall might not be a great game, but it’s definitely an interesting one, and one that a larger studio would never touch. Check out the demo if you’re a fan of detective game or FMV games and aren’t afraid of out-of-control breasts.
Bureau – Agent Kendall was provided for review by Twisted-EdGames. It is available for 400 MS points ($5).