The Detail: From the Ashes
The ending of The Detail’s first episode left all of the characters in a radically different position from where they began. Detective Reggie Moore and his partner Tyrone DeShawn were being assigned to a new taskforce, charged with cracking down on the worsening crime epidemic. Joe Miller, their informant, was in way too deep with the Kuchka Brotherhood, and needed a way out to protect himself and his family. And rookie Officer Kate had just watched her partner, Officer Mason, killed by gang bangers. All in all, it was a bleak finale—with plenty of potential to ramp up in the next episode.
And ramp up things do… sort of. After a short recap of the previous episode, From The Ashes tosses players in with a tense meeting full of threats between Joe and Kuchka Brotherhood leader Mikhail. It quickly establishes a sense of powerlessness, which seems to pervade the entire episode: all of the characters are stuck fighting uphill, struggling to make solid progress. But while all four main characters (Tyrone joins as a playable character in this episode) certainly see an escalation in their plot lines, it is more of a preparatory episode—Episode 2 lacks the punchy, dramatic shift in stakes that comes with the first episode. This is not necessarily a flaw—from a narrative standpoint, it does make sense to have a slight lull in intensity to allow for a more poignant build to action—but it does leave the episode feeling less action-packed and pivotal than the previous one.
But this also causes the internal narrative structure of From The Ashes to feel shaky. I came back to finish my playthrough on a scene with Reggie and, about five clicks and one minute later, was staring at the credits. Nothing indicated that we were building to a resolution; the events felt haphazard and uncertain within the overarching plot. Coupled with the fact that extra character Tyrone and expanded character Kate seem to have skimmed their screen time from Reggie’s allotment, it leaves all three of them with minimal progression; only Joe seems to have any substantial action.
The decisions still feel weighty; a constant sense of uncertainty followed me throughout the entire episode. I was never sure if I really had the right information, which keeps events intriguing and offers incentive to keep two save files handy. Indeed, I found myself ‘locked’ out of one part of Reggie’s story because I chose not to make him harass a suspect enough and missed information needed. After poor feedback on Reggie’s heavy-handed tactics in the previous episode, I thought it would be safer to try playing it by the book—which led to a situation in which he was forced (I literally could not progress without choosing this option) to pretend to hear a suspect flushing drugs in order to wholly illegally break down his door and search the place. And while it would have been nice to see Reggie let it go, the decision to break in feels completely in-character (and was pretty satisfying, honestly).
The Detail includes a post-game recap that players of Life is Strange or any of Telltale’s recent games will be familiar with. But rather than simply comparing your decisions to those made by other players, The Detail provides statistics on things like overuse of police force, infidelity, and other factors directly tied to the decision you make. It gives the decisions the player must make even more weight and significance; these aren’t just arbitrary concepts a developer through together, but researched and grounded situations that are dealt with in real life by real people.
The playable character models in From The Ashes are noticeably improved from the first episode, but this change is not standardised. It leaves NPCs looking out of place; the worst offender is an animated smoking guy standing out the front of a Northside 13 hideout, whose outline is jagged and showing image artefacts that clash with the otherwise nice visual aesthetic. As with the previous episode, there are a handful of occasions where specific sound effects would add to the experience, but the visual novel style and background music carry the load well enough that this isn’t sorely missed.
The Detail Episode 2: From The Ashes is not as strong or expertly crafted as the first episode, and its rough edges certainly show, but it provides a stable foundation for the next episode. This is the dip before the rising tension begins and I am still just as intrigued to see what happens next.