Brok the InvestiGator: Punch and Click Adventuring

It’s been a good few years since the point-and-click adventure was a “mainstream” part of gaming now. That’s not to say the genre is dead, mind — more that these days it tends to be the exclusive preserve of smaller, independent developers rather than big studios like LucasArts.

And those games from smaller, independent developers aren’t in any way “lesser” than the games from the golden age of adventure games, either — in fact, in the case of games like Brok the InvestiGator, they represent what would have been the natural evolution of the genre if the mainstream hadn’t become so obsessed with gritty photorealism and cinematic open-world experiences.

In short, Brok the InvestiGator, whose Prologue chapter is presently available for free from both Steam and at the time of writing, is something very special indeed. And it deserves your attention. So let’s take a closer look!

Brok the InvestiGator is the creation of Fabrice Breton, a developer perhaps better known online as Cowcat Games. Breton has previously made something of a name for himself in the indie sphere by putting out considerably enhanced console ports of Diabolical Mind’s pixel-art action games Riddled Corpses, Xenon Valkyrie and Demon’s Tier, but has also been flexing his own creative muscles in the world of adventure game development with his previous work Demetrios: The Big Cynical Adventureand now Brok.

Brok the InvestiGator unfolds in a futuristic world in which humans have been replaced by anthropomorphic animals. The exact circumstances under which this happened haven’t yet been revealed, but the implication from some of the promotional materials so far is that solving the mysteries at the core of the full game may shed some light on this side of things. In the meantime, all you really need to know is that everyone in this game is either a colourful animal that wouldn’t have looked out of place in an ’80s or ’90s Saturday morning cartoon, or a robot.

Brok’s world is not a super-nice place. Everything appears to be permeated by a purple mist known as the Haze, and prolonged exposure to this can be dangerous. Through a quirk of fate, our eponymous alligator protagonist has found himself immune to the effects of the Haze, but everyone else is obliged to remain indoors as much as possible and depend on their daily supply of government-issued pills to counter the possible effects of this mystery pollutant.

The privileged few in Brok’s world are known as Drumers, and live beneath a dome that protects them from the Haze; the remaining population are forced to live outside in the slums, attempting to eke out a living for themselves in a world that is literally falling apart around them. Brok once lived the Drumer’s life with his wife until an unexplained accident claimed her life; since that time, he’s been living in the slums with his adoptive son Graff, trying his best to make ends meet by operating as a private investigator and handyman.

The bulk of the Prologue chapter consists of Brok attempting to solve a new case given to him by a client known, rather ominously, as Sin. The case seems relatively straightforward — Sin has lost his gun, and as a police officer, failing to get this back in a timely manner will lead to unfortunate consequences — but over the course of Brok’s investigations a variety of interesting things start coming to light, both about the case and about the broader context in which these events are unfolding.

Gameplay in Brok the InvestiGator unfolds in two distinct “modes” — in Adventure mode you move Brok around the various areas you visit and interact with hotspots, while in Action mode you are able to jump and attack.

In both cases, the control scheme for the game adapts to fit the device you’re using — play using a gamepad, for example, and you can take direct control of Brok in the Adventure sequences, interacting with hotspots by walking up to them, while using a mouse allows you to click on the hotspots and interact with the world in a more traditional “point and click” manner. Doing this often rewards you with inventory items or conversation topics you can address with the various characters. Sometimes you even acquire clues that you can use in the “interrogation” sequence towards the conclusion of the chapter, in which you need to correctly pair up scraps of information you have collected in order to get the truth out of a key witness.

The puzzles throughout the game are designed in such a way as to provide mental stimulation without either being overly obtuse or insultingly simple, and a well-implemented hints feature means that getting stuck should be kept to a minimum. The latter is particularly worthy of note, since it provides another optional metagame in its own right; each location hides three collectible “ads”, which are the currency you spend to unlock hints. There’s absolutely no obligation to go searching for all these if you don’t feel like it, but if you do, you’re rewarded by the option for a bit of a helping hand when you encounter a tricky puzzle. It’s worth noting, though, that the hints only ever give you one way to solve a puzzle with multiple solutions; finding any alternative approaches is up to you!

Action mode, meanwhile, is used in a few specific situations. Firstly, it can be used any time you want to try and use physical force to resolve a situation — breaking boxes, battering down a door and suchlike. Secondly, there are a couple of sequences through the game that feature very light platforming elements, allowing Brok to climb to otherwise unreachable locations by hopping on top of ledges and boxes. And thirdly, there are a number of combat sequences throughout the game.

Battle scenes in adventure games aren’t anything new — LucasArts’ two excellent Indiana Jones adventures both featured fist-fighting sequences, Sierra’s Quest for Glory series was as much RPG as it was adventure game, and Dynamix’s Rise of the Dragon featured full on Rolling Thunder-style action sequences at several points in the narrative — but Brok’s implementation of combat feels fresh and slickly implemented.

Rather than using abstract or clunky mechanics that the engine wasn’t really built for, Brok’s fighting is designed around the principles of classic arcade-style beat ’em ups. Brok can move around the environment freely, attack with a combo and unleash various special moves using combinations of directional inputs and the attack or jump buttons. He can also block attacks, recover in mid-air from a knockback, use various implements to attack and even consume items to heal himself. And, as the game progresses, he will level up, with each increase in level allowing you to increase his maximum health, attack power or ability to charge up his super-special move.

If you’re a traditional point-and-click adventure fan and the prospect of hammering an attack button fills you with horror, don’t fret; the game can optionally be played in a mode where the combat is skippable, so if you’d rather focus exclusively on taxing your brain rather than your reflexes, you can do so. Brok the InvestiGator is designed to appeal to a variety of different player types rather than require that everyone play it through in a single, fixed way.

To further support this inclusive feel, there are generally several solutions to various situations you find yourself in over the course of the game. These tend to be roughly divided into “wits” or “fists” approaches, meaning you can figure out a clever (and sometimes underhanded) way to achieve something, or you can punch something until it falls over to quickly resolve the situation without having to think too hard. Be wary, though; your actions have consequences, and the way in which you approach the game’s various challenges can have an impact on your relationships with other characters — and even whether or not they survive until the next chapter.

Pleasingly, at the conclusion of a chapter — or indeed the Prologue release — you get the opportunity to see a chart of all the possible branch points that got you to where you are. If you haven’t figured out the alternative approaches, they’re not revealed to you in detail, but you are at least given an indication that there was another way of doing things. On top of that, Internet connectivity allows you to see how your choices matched up with the rest of the player base; this encourages replays as you attempt to explore some of the less-worn paths down which the narrative can proceed, and perhaps end up with a different starting point for the next chapter.

Brok the InvestiGator is shaping up to be a wonderful adventure game that anyone with a taste for narrative-driven puzzling should check out. It features an well-crafted, compelling setting with some great characters — and some fantastic voice acting — and an intriguing narrative setup with the potential for some real emotional engagement. The writing is witty and amusing when it needs to be, but Breton also clearly knows when to dial things back and treat situations with the appropriate amount of gravity. This means that the game, while genuinely amusing in places, is most certainly not drenched with the many layers of irony that all too many Western narrative games seem to favour at the time of writing. And thank heavens for that, say I.

The full release of Brok the InvestiGator is a while off as I type this, but you can check out the Prologue for free right now on Steam or A Kickstarter campaign will be starting in early 2021, too, so if you’re keen to help what looks set to be a fantastic modern take on the adventure game genre reach fruition, be sure to keep an eye out for that.

For now, though, as a longstanding adventure game fan from back in the “good old days”, I can offer Brok the InvestiGator a hearty thumbs up, and I sincerely hope it ultimately finds the recognition and respect it deserves.

More about Brok the InvestiGator

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