Last week I reviewed a mystery-solving detective game that I wasn’t the biggest fan of. Slow exposition and minimal gameplay turned a game that wanted to be Phoenix Wright into something that was more Phoenix Wrong (look, nobody’s happy with that joke, least of all me – let’s move past it). So when I opened my inbox to a code for Conway: Disappearance at Dahlia View, another detective game thriller with a jaded private investigator at the helm, my guard was immediately up for another disappointment. However, it turns out that my caution was unnecessary as Conway: Disappearance at Dahlia View is an absolutely delightful game that hooked me in from the very start.
In Conway: Disappearance at Dahlia View, you play as Conway, a retired private investigator with a career of dubious success considering his gritty noir-style opening monologue mentions that most of his cases are unsolved. On the note of the narration, it is utterly charming, with the voice actor perfectly encapsulating a combination of a polite unassuming British gentleman who’s sorry to bother you with these questions and a fiercely intelligent investigator who will get to the bottom of your darkest secrets. Conway is investigating a disappearance at Dahlia View, no surprises there. Dahlia View is a sleepy corner of the city that, at first glance, is filled with unremarkable residents of upstanding character. However, the disappearance of a young girl, Charlotte May, shines a light on a series of intertwining mysteries embroiling the locals of Dahlia View. Conway will have to get to the bottom of these events to fulfil his promise to the vanished girl’s father and discover her fate. This is complicated by Conway’s daughter, a police officer on the case to whom Conway has promised (in a world where ‘promise’ means ‘to say you’ll do something and promptly not do it’) that he will “leave the police work up to [her]”.
There’s a lot of gameplay on offer right from the start of the game. Conway becomes aware that something is happening outside, so, in true detective/nosey old woman fashion, he takes his camera over to the window to investigate. You control the camera and take photos of anything of interest, mainly suspects and evidence. As you take the photos, Conway narrates what he can see along with the small details he’s already aware of from occupying the world, getting you, the player, up to speed. It’s honestly a masterclass on giving the player information – the narration is in succinct snippets which paint a picture without being distracting so you pick up the information organically without feeling like you’re having a whole pile of exposition dumped on you. These camera sections come up later in the game as well when things are occurring outside of Conway’s flat as a way of playing out people’s actions as developments in the case in a way the player can control and follow.
Once you’ve had enough of taking photos, it’s time to do some hands-on investigation. These sections feel a little bit like an escape room, so they are completely my jam. There are a lot of items dotted around the room that you can interact with. Notes with information can be photographed for later use but items, such as keys and tools, can be collected into your inventory to help you uncover the secrets of other interactable objects. Once you’ve interacted with everything – using screwdrivers to open vents to find codes to open locks to find keys to get into rooms to finally find a bloody hammer – you’ll have all the evidence you need to make some deductions and take a step along the path towards solving the case. I’ve done a fair amount of escape rooms in my time and, if I were playing through an investigation section of Conway: Disappearance at Dahlia View in real life, I would be very content with that as an escape room experience (or, considering my success rate at escape rooms, I’d be very content with the first 75% of the experience).
Once you’ve gathered your evidence, you can take it to a suspect to interrogate them. In this section, I have no idea what’s going on and it’s one of the very few points of the game where I don’t think it gives you enough information. You ask a suspect a question and they give their testimony on what happened. As they’re doing so, questions will appear at the top of the screen as they occur to Conway of which you can ask one, and only one, after the testimony. This implies that one of the options is the correct question to ask but there is no indication whether you have chosen the correct question and the game simply carries on. I don’t know if this is a case where you can ask any question and it doesn’t matter, as I still left the encounter with, presumably, all the clues I needed but not being sure is a little infuriating
Finally, you can bring together everything you’ve learned on the evidence board. The board poses some questions and you have to link to all of the evidence you’ve collected that proves an answer to the question. This bit feels like a nice culmination to all of the work you’ve been doing in a section and makes you feel like a real detective, pouring through the evidence to discount the irrelevancies and pick out the individual segment of a larger piece of evidence that ties the case together. The story is divided into sections, each of which ends with an evidence board to tie up some of the loose ends and clarify what still needs to be investigated in the next section. These questions are always fascinating and the game has an expert way of wrapping you up in the mystery so you desperately want to find out what’s going on and what secrets the next part of the investigation will uncover.
The final thing I want to talk about that doesn’t fit nicely into another section but requires some attention is the fixed camera. When you’re moving around in the world you have absolutely no camera controls. The camera is fixed, and when you move into another area your view is moved to another fixed camera. This has pros and cons. Pro – the framing of every single shot is utterly gorgeous. Paired with a gorgeous stylised art style, the fixed framing makes every single frame of every single section look like a beauty shot that could be on a poster for the game. Con – the controls are an absolute nightmare. There are two control options. If you’re controlling relative to Conway, you need to invert left and right whenever he’s moving towards the camera which isn’t the nicest thing to get your head around. If you’re controlling relative to the camera, it just doesn’t quite work. Conway is in a wheelchair so forwards and backwards are fine but there is no strafing, all directional control is via rotation. This means you’re never quite sure if you’re asking for a rotation or a movement by pressing a direction button. As the camera is almost always at a diagonal to that movement, it feels almost random which one he’ll do.
However, despite some slight niggles around controls and dialogue, Conway: Disappearance at Dahlia View is a simply excellent game that I would absolutely recommend you pick up at the first opportunity. With gorgeous graphics, an incredibly compelling story and frankly excellent puzzle-based investigation sections, Conway: Disappearance at Dahlia View is not one to miss and the sheer quality of the game significantly outshines any of its less charming quirks. I’m not sure if I’ve ever played a game as close to perfection without quite reaching the bar as Conway: Disappearance at Dahlia View.