Brok the InvestiGator shows how the modern adventure game can thrive

Brok the InvestiGator markets itself as a “punch and click adventure” — a hybrid of beat ’em up and classic point-and-click adventure game. In essence, it’s combining two genres that, for a long time, were regarded as “dead” and showing that not only are both very much alive and well in 2022, but that they can work well together with one another.

The supposed death of the adventure game following the late ’90s can be attributed to a few things: spiralling development costs for narrative-based games, changes in the supposed tastes of the broad market and, of course, the rise of the Internet.

The latter’s influence might not be initially obvious, but consider this: prior to the appearance of sites like GameFAQs making walkthroughs for games easily accessible to everyone, adventure games would often take weeks or months for people to figure out for themselves; with a handy walkthrough by your side, however, it quickly became clear that a lot of these games were no more than two or three hours long, which didn’t really fit with the way the market was going. People supposedly wanted bigger, better, value for money and all that sort of thing — and adventures didn’t seem to be providing that.

There were exceptions of course; there’s been a continuous trickle of low-profile adventure games appearing in the indie and “B-tier” scene pretty much ever since the mainstream triple-A side of gaming abandoned the genre, and some of these even addressed the issue of game length: Ragnar Tørnquist’s famous (and excellent) The Longest Journey, for example, remains one of the most substantial adventures out there.

Brok the InvestiGator

Brok, as a modern-day adventure game, recognises that today’s audience demands “value for money” from their games and, however unreasonable that might be, tends to ascribe said “value” using an “hours vs price” equation. The cheaper the game, the shorter it can get away with being — and generally speaking, anything over £10 better provide more than 10 hours of gameplay otherwise there’s going to be whingeing in the Steam reviews.

Well, thankfully, Brok will (hopefully) keep that type of person quiet, since at £17.99 it offers a good 20 hours of gameplay for your first playthrough — and then a bunch of time on top of that as you seek out all its different endings and alternative choices to make along the way. There’s a lot to enjoy in Brok, and, best of all, even if you’re using a walkthrough (or the built-in hints system, which is fuelled by hidden “collectible ads” you find around the game’s locations) you still feel like you’ve taken ownership of your experience because there are a lot of meaningful choices to make along the way.

So what is Brok? Well, it’s set in the far future, at a time where humanity as we know it today has seemingly been replaced by anthropomorphic animals — and yet all these animals still refer to themselves as “humans”. A great disaster occurred at some point in the past which left the majority of the Earth’s surface filled with deadly pollution, causing some people to take refuge in great domed cities, while others were doomed to live out their lives in the slums, dependent on government handouts of “Toxout” pills to survive the deadly Haze.

Brok the InvestiGator

Brok, as the main story begins, is a crocodile (or possibly an alligator — even he’s not quite sure) who is working as a private investigator and handyman in an attempt to support both himself and his stepson Graff. For reasons that don’t come to light until later, Brok and Graff used to be “Drumers” living under the dome, but now live in poverty and squalor in the slums. Brok is somehow immune to the effects of the Haze, which puts him in an ideal position to investigate things freely.

Brok’s first case in the game sees him contacted by someone named Sin, who needs him to locate a gun he lost. This acts as a good introduction to how the game works, as along the way you’ll have the opportunity to make a few meaningful choices that will become relevant later in the story. Not only that, but the way the entire case resolves — which is largely down to the way you choose to handle the situation when it reaches a climax — will have a major effect on things that happen later.

As you progress through the game, you are continually presented with a variety of ways to tackle situations. Not only do you often have a choice between solving matters with your brains or your fists — shades of LucasArts’ classic Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis’ multiple paths here — you also have the opportunity to get things very, very wrong and see what the consequences are.

Brok the InvestiGator

For example, one of the game’s chapters involves Brok investigating a murder case. There are a lot of clues to discover while searching the crime scene here, but it is possible to point the finger at a supposed culprit before you’ve found all of them. Not only that, even if you do find all the evidence, it’s still possible to point the finger at the wrong culprit, and the consequences for every possible choice are very different.

The majority of Brok’s gameplay unfolds in adventure mode, where you can either point and click at hotspots on the screen with a mouse, or take direct control of Brok with a gamepad or keyboard controls to interact with things by walking up to them. This latter option integrates better with the other aspects of the gameplay, so this is the recommended way to play — though if you prefer to kick it properly old-school point-and-click, you can do so. You can even turn the beat ’em up parts off altogether if you simply want a pure adventure!

When those beat ’em up parts do crop up, they’re well implemented. Like most good beat ’em ups, the mechanics initially appear very simple — you simply have an attack button and a jump button, plus a special attack button once you unlock it — but have a surprising amount of hidden depth to them. Many inventory items can be equipped as weapons that can be used to strike or be thrown, for example, and various button and directional combinations will unleash moves other than the basic punch combo.

Brok the InvestiGator

You can use food and drink items in combat either to heal Brok or to buff his attack and defence, but there are tactical considerations here: Brok needs a safe moment to actually consume the food or drink, otherwise it will be knocked out of his hand and he’ll have to pick it up again. This means you can’t just load up on consumables and brute-force your way through most confrontations — especially given that most of the consumables in the game cost money, and money is a somewhat limited resource.

I say “somewhat” because it is possible to grind to a certain degree in Brok; besides being an investigator, Brok also participates in illegal VR fights on a nightly basis, and his “manager” for this activity provides him with a convenient VR booth where he can go and train at any point. By training, Brok can earn both experience and money, so given enough patience you can buff up our hero quite considerably and give him a decent bit of cash in his pocket to play with — though like most things in the game, this is entirely optional.

Beyond investigating and fighting, Brok will also have to interrogate various characters during important moments in the story. This aspect of the game makes use of a somewhat Ace Attorney-esque system whereby the characters will converse, and you will have to use the clues you’ve gathered during your investigation to press the subject further or point out contradictions in their testimony. For most of the game, there’s no penalty for attempting to pair up or press the “wrong” subjects during these interrogations — though there is a climactic confrontation towards the end of the game where you do only have a limited number of opportunities to make mistakes.

Brok the InvestiGator

And that’s not all. Besides investigating various matters as Brok, you also have the opportunity to play as his stepson Graff. While Brok is off doing his thing, Graff is trying his best to pass an exam that will allow him to become a Drumer again. This is split into several different “Trials”, ranging from a simple quiz on the society as depicted in the game to a rather more elaborate “escape room” situation — plus a science fair.

Graff constantly faces opposition, both from his own self-doubt and his class rival Klay — and, as should be clear by this point, the way in which you interact with Klay will have notable knock-on effects later in the game. Graff’s sequences are interesting in that they tend to be rather smaller-scale and more self-contained than Brok’s sections; he’s also a lot weaker than Brok so is best off avoiding combat, and he doesn’t have the opportunity to interrogate people. Instead, he has to rely on his wits in the here and now, making for some interesting puzzles to solve and challenges to overcome.

Probably the highlight of Brok is its extremely well-crafted setting. There’s a real sense that this is a world that extends beyond the boundaries of what we see in the game itself; a world with a real sense of history, not all of which we get to learn in a single playthrough.

Brok the InvestiGator

It’s also a world that is chillingly, hauntingly plausible; Brok’s world is the natural end point of a society obsessed with technology and convenience — and one in which the growing gap between rich and poor was never addressed. Using this setting as a backdrop, Brok manages to cover a variety of pertinent topics to life in 2022: reliance on tech; what automation means for the workforce; classism and a refusal to understand how others live their lives; discrimination; and what happens when those who are supposed to be protecting the public actually only have their own interests at heart.

Covering subject matter like that, it would have been easy for Brok to feel preachy, but it skilfully sidesteps this by presenting a variety of perspectives on the situation using its various characters. Both Brok and Graff are presented as characters who are trying their best in difficult circumstances, albeit in different ways — and this often leads to heartbreaking personality clashes and arguments between the pair of them. But there are others who seem to be thriving amid the challenges that this dystopian society offers — for better or worse.

The game is presented extraordinarily well considering the relatively small scale of its development team. The backgrounds are colourful and detailed, and the cartoony sprites atop them are well animated, with excellent lip-synced close-ups during conversations. Music and voice acting is top-notch, too, with the latter worthy of particular praise for the sheer amount of emotion that is packed into the delivery as the story proceeds on its rollercoaster ride of revelations.

Brok the InvestiGator

There are a few minor nitpicks here and there. Some characters’ voice actors mispronounce the odd word, for example, suggesting that they could have done with a bit more direction; this usually occurs with words that have been coined for the game’s setting such as “Drumers” (pronounced “Drummers”) and “livies” (pronounced “lie-vees”, as in “live shows”).

There are also a couple of sequences where the script is inconsistent about things that occurred in the past, too; there’s one moment, for example, where initially an event under discussion was supposed to have unfolded nine years ago, yet in a subsequent line it is referred to as having happened four years ago. (Edit: Apparently this has been fixed in a patch, along with a few other text issues.)

These are a little jarring when they happen, but they’re infrequent enough that they can easily be ignored — and perhaps could be fixed in a patch.

They really are minor nitpicks in an otherwise extraordinary interactive narrative experience, though; Brok is a fantastic modern adventure game with a ton of replayability, some fascinating characters and an upsettingly plausible setting.

The colourful, cartoony presentation might lead you to expect a silly, comedic adventure — but Brok has been designed as a much more thoughtful, mature affair than that. There are moments of levity, for sure — even some moments of genuinely laugh-out-loud humour — but for the most part Brok is a game that has something meaningful to say, and it successfully delivers that message in a compelling and fascinating way.

Brok the InvestiGator

Whether you’re an adventure game veteran from the ’90s or a younger gamer who simply enjoys narrative-centric experiences, Brok is a title you shouldn’t miss. It’s a textbook example of the passion independent developers bring to their projects, and how that passion, when leveraged correctly, can produce not only compelling narratives, but also excellent video games.

Brok the InvestiGator is available now for PC via Steam and Console versions are on the way for all current major platforms.

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Pete Davison
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