PC, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, Free
To say that Occult Crime Police is like the Ace Attorney doesn’t do the similarity (Apollo) justice. If you told me it was written by the same team, I’d believe you. And I mean all of this as the very highest compliment. While the game is unquestionably borrowing wholesale from Shu Takumi’s creation, it does it so well that you cannot possibly complain. Capcom should immediately give developer Eggcorn Games’ Cameron Woodard and Sam Santillan jobs.
Occult Crime Police is about life-battered sheriff, Miranda Warren, called in to investigate a murder in her small, sleepy town’s army base. She’s haunted by an incident from her past, plagued by a peculiar crew of co-workers, and having to outwit the FBI to solve a case they believe is cut and dry. But, you know, silly. And as much as I would normally condemn such a thing, this review is unavoidably going to be a series of comparisons with the Phoenix Wright games, because it openly (favourably) invites them in its every moment. I mean, heck, you can even show everyone your badge for bonus gags.
If you’ve played any Ace Attorney game, I barely need to explain a thing. It’s what is now called a visual novel, plus light adventure elements, where your primary role is piecing together a crime by talking to everyone about everything. The dialogue is delivered with the trademark bleepity-bleepity-bleep sounds (something for which, I’ve discovered, there is no games industry term), swoosh-thwack-brrrllllling! noises, and the suddenly slumped shoulders of its animated cast as they mumble a demoralised aside to the player.
It even achieves that same sense of being ever-so-slightly outside the world around it. There’s an online influencer who’s met with the same incredulity as anyone encountered by Phoenix Wright, while authority figures are inevitably overconfident bumbling fools, their success inducing shaken heads by the core cast.
The list goes on, and is comprehensive. At a certain point it has you interrogating witness statements (albeit outside of a court) for contradictions, presenting your evidence to prove them. Characters grab their heads and start flailing about when their claims are disproven, as KER-THWACK / DDSHHH sound effects play. When people have ideas there’s the familiar P-LING! as the music suddenly stops or abruptly changes track. The words “WITNESS” and “STATEMENT” slide in from either side of the screen, while “INTERRO” and “GATION” fly in from above and below. If you present incorrect evidence, you lose a small amount from a horizontal meter at the top of the screen. It even does that bemusing thing where despite not picking up evidence, you also have the items in your inventory to present to people. Look, it’s an absolute and complete rip-off, in every conceivable way. And I’m delighted about that.
There’s something else the Ace Attorney games do that was, until now, completely unique to them: they never condemn their eccentric non-player cast, no matter how ludicrous or grotesque they might be. Instead, it is always the ridiculous character who condemns Phoenix, or Apollo, or whomever the game might be about. It’s a fascinating approach, where these pantomime monstrosities always have the upper hand, meaning what could easily become sneering, cynical games instead maintain a vital innocence. The protagonist is always bewildered, beleaguered, their darkest thoughts contained as internal monologue, ensuring the player’s sympathies are with them, without undermining others. It’s a hell of a skill, and it’s one understood and repeated by Occult Crime Police.
So if this is going to be nothing but comparison, for which I apologise but can think of no other route, where does it fall short of Capcom’s wunder-series? Definitely in its UI, which is oddly primitive in places, strange little green boxes that don’t quite contain the words properly, starkly different from the perfect presentation of the AA series. And, at the other extreme, the sound effects are way too similar to its source material. In many cases, identical, which I wonder might be part of the reason this game is free. Perhaps they were a little afraid of attracting Capcom legal attention if they were selling it?
And, yes, of course: it is too similar. I’m not talking about the comprehensive lifting of almost every element, because great ideas should be borrowed, and they’re not charging money to muddy those waters. But I wish they could have innovated themselves. Clearly, there’s a huge amount of talent in this two-person team, and I really wish they would have applied that to take the concept somewhere new. I would love to have seen them include some fresh ingredients that Takumi would find himself wanting to steal back. (The “PERSUASION” feature is the closest, but it’s also very similar to much in AA.)
There are, however, some blisteringly good lines of dialogue. The influencer, Paul Chritude, explains at one point that he’s writing a “fake apology.” When questioned on this he explains it’s vital to write a blatently false apology, so everyone online can call you out on it, then you write your genuine apology and, “everyone is impressed with you for taking the criticism, and your apology goes viral.” And throughout, despite thousands upon thousands of lines of dialogue, I only spotted two typoes – that’s genuinely extraordinary for a two-person team.
This is many hours long, with all the twists and turns you’d expect given the inspiring material, despite being confined to just one main location. And yes, I guessed those twists ahead of time, but I was pleased to be right!
Oh, and you’re probably wondering about the name! Why is it called Occult Crime Police? Um… Yeah… I’ve got nothing.
This is, as I think I’ve exhaustively established, a comprehensive rip-off of Ace Attorney, but without any of the negatives that come with being derivative. It’s a more progressive game, less convoluted, and certainly lacking the absolute colourful mayhem of a Phoenix Wright case. But damn, it delivers. And heck, it’s free.