Card Detective Review – Investigative Deckbuilding

Card Detective is a short and sweet little mystery noir where players investigate an industrial accident through investigative journalism. Though the game is charming and has some inspired and creative ideas, several drawbacks and lackluster localization keep it from its full potential. While I wanted to love this game, I was mostly left frustrated by my experience, wondering what could have been.

I want to begin by discussing a huge positive the game has going for it: The art style. The art presented in the game is phenomenal and super appealing. The comic-style panels depicting the story of the investigation are great visual reads. Character designs, especially those of the protagonist, are simple but appealing and memorable. Even though I can vividly recall the looks of certain characters, I was never even able to learn their names for reasons I’ll get into later.

Card Detective Panels
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

The card gameplay is also clever, utilizing a collectible card battle game style of mechanics and logic puzzles to give you multiple avenues toward victory.

Each interrogation is depicted by a card battle, the goal of which is to discover which statements the suspect is speaking are true and which are false. To do so, you use the point value of your cards, which are modeled as famous interrogation techniques, to whittle down the “health” of the suspect’s lies. Doing so reveals how many true or false statements there are and hints at the order in which they’re placed. You can then either use logic to identify the order of the statement’s authenticity or deplete all of the suspect’s ‘health’ to have them revealed for you.

Card Detective Interrogation 1
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

It’s definitely an interesting mechanic and one that plays to the card game’s strength more than the interrogation side. There is no reading your suspect’s expression or nervous ticks like in, say, LA Noire, so the interrogation aspect of things is meant to be more of an immersive backdrop set around the card game mechanics. Unfortunately, the game can fight its own immersion.

The game often chooses to pair the playing of a card with a bit of text interaction between the protagonist and the person she’s questioning, a sort of ‘cutscene,’ if you will, that pauses the playing of the card and any other player actions until it’s finished. While it goes without saying that this rather slow exchange can significantly draw out a level, it’s even more frustrating that these exchanges are almost always recycled dialogue.

One particularly egregious example I often saw was, “Is this how your name is spelled?” “Yes, yes.” Another was: “Regardless of your innocence in this situation, we will find out.” “How can I make you believe me?” Though this dialogue was surely added to help immerse you in the feeling of being in an interrogation when it just kept repeating itself over and over again, it actively challenges that immersion. The only purpose these interruptions served to the gameplay was just that: Interruptions.

Card Detective Deck
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

The game can also, at times, be completely unresponsive. I don’t mean it crashes or anything. For example, I would just click on a card and play it, only to briefly sit there before realizing nothing happened. I had to replay more than a handful of moves because clicking the “activate” button didn’t seem to trigger anything.

Another issue the game suffers from, which severely hindered my enjoyment of the title, is localization. The game is translated from what I believe to be Simplified Chinese, and I assume the dialogue is much more effective in its native language. Unfortunately, the subpar quality of the translation made for a challenging reading experience, a significant issue in a visual novel-type game that relies heavily on written dialogue, particularly when there is no voice acting

Have you ever tried reading something, and the choice of words and the literal nature of the text makes you sort of zone out until you realize that you only have a vague understanding of what’s going on? That is exactly how the dialog in Card Detective’s English translation reads.

There were times when I only had a vague understanding of the story, supplemented hugely by the visuals from the comic panels. The poor quality of the translation makes reading the long, extended scenes of dialogue in Card Detective difficult, and I often found myself in a haze or completely zoning out and only capturing a vague understanding of what was going on. It’s like the story was clear, but all of the dialogue between characters was like static on a television set, white noise I couldn’t latch onto no matter how hard I tried.

This is a problem because dialogue is a massive part of the game.

Card Detective Interrogation 2
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

To make matters worse, there was often so much dialogue that the page didn’t have space to display it all. Often, I’d find myself clicking a bit too fast, and a new dialogue bubble would pop up to cover an old one, meaning if I didn’t properly process that information or wanted to give it another read, I was out of luck. If you’re playing the game with auto panel progression, you’ll likely not pick up anything. Since the auto progression is so fast, I sometimes would find dialogue being covered up/replaced as I read it.

It also made trying to learn the mechanics a surprisingly difficult task. The long-winded tutorials were surely filled with deep and detail-oriented explanations of the mechanics, but I couldn’t get anything out of them for the life of me. It took a few failed interrogations and stumbling through a few successes before logic kicked in and I was able to figure out exactly what the victory conditions were and what cards were allowed to interact with what.

Card Detective is not a long game. I would say its 4.99 price point is pretty fair, on the verge of generous on behalf of the developers for what you get from it. In that amount of time, the game focuses on telling one pretty detailed story, along with a few side quests that are mostly you solving arguments between friends or couples. Unfortunately, that short run time didn’t stop me from discovering there is no autosave feature.

Apparently, the game does not autosave at all, or it didn’t on my end, even in spots where it really should have. I somehow thought that the game would autosave after every interrogation, considering how long and impactful they were to the story. I was pretty far into the game when I discovered this was not the case, and I had no choice but to start over from the beginning.

I don’t think it’s unfair to say that any modern game, no matter how small or simple it may be, should have an autosave feature—especially one where you can’t skip the cutscenes or tutorial.

The Final Word

Card Detective features some fantastic art and interesting card game mechanics portrayed through an immersive investigative experience. However, poor localization and lackluster or missing quality-of-life features hold the game back from reaching its true potential, especially in the English version.


6

Try Hard Guides was provided with a PC review copy of this game. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the Game Reviews section of our website! Card Detective is available on Steam!

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