Dirty Split

Developer/Publisher:  Dreamagination
Year Released:  2008

Review by Steve Metzler (July, 2008)
Dirty Split screenshotDirty Split is a colourful, engaging, freeware adventure from German indy developer Dreamagination. In it, you play the role of one Alan Baxter - an early 1960's period gumshoe plying his trade in the Los Angeles area. Baxter honed his detective skills working for the local police department, but has since retired to become a private investigator.

As the game begins, Baxter receives a call from a Beverly Hills socialite widow named Mrs. Vanderbuilt. You get invited over to her mansion to discuss the details of the case. It turns out that her daughter, due to marry a prominent plastic surgeon, was severely let down by the doctor just a few days ago when he unexpectedly broke off their six-month long engagement. The body of the good doctor was discovered in his surgery by his secretary the next morning, and the police have taken Mrs. Vanderbuilt's son Walter into custody as the prime suspect, because he was last seen to be exchanging heated words with the man. As you can probably surmise, Alex is hired to get to the bottom of this matter, where things are inevitably not as straightforward as they may seem...

"Hmm. Morbid. The stain looks just like the head of a teddy bear."
The Alan Baxter character has this really droll way about him, usually cutting right to the chase with no embellishments or fanfare. However, every once and a while he comes out with one of these little black humour styled gems that just crack me up, like the one in the header of this paragraph.

Dirty Split screenshotI thought the voice acting in general was very well done, considering that I've heard quite a lot worse in productions that had a much bigger budget thrown at them. So kudos to Dreamagination for that, as their first language is German. In fact... I was keeping an eye out for gaffes in the subtitles, and only spotted a couple of minor mistakes in the considerable amount of dialogue that was presented during the course of the game.

The graphics in Dirty Split are done in that minimalist yet colourful style that characterised the 60's, and lend a good touch of period atmosphere to the proceedings. Think of a cross between Yellow Submarine and No One Lives Forever and that will give you a good idea of what to expect (or, duh, you could just look at the screenshots). By the way, this is another game that makes use of the Wintermute game engine. I did a little research and was quite surprised to see that The Lost Crown was also made with Wintermute, so Dirty Split is in good company there, for sure.

I liked the music a lot, but have to admit to having a bit of a soft spot for the ol' jazz, so that's really no surprise. Each location gets its own theme, which, again, is no mean feat for an indy production.

Puzzles n' stuff
Dirty Split screenshotThe puzzles in Dirty Split are relatively easy, and I maintain that's a good thing in this case as it serves to make the game more appealing to what I assume is its target audience: somewhere beyond the casual gamer, yet short of what you would call a 'hard core' adventurer. I found the beginning of the game to be a bit dialogue-heavy, but it balanced out after that into a combination of inventory and dialogue-based puzzles. There are no abstract puzzles, like sliders or pattern matching gizmos. There's a notebook you can access from inventory containing Alan's thoughts on the case. It will give you a push in the right direction should you need a hint about what to do next... but I only found out about it when reading up on things in the game's PDF manual to prepare this review, so didn't need to avail of it while playing.

The game is available as a 187MB download from the Dreamagination site. Only took me 30 minutes to download on my 2Mbps connection, so the servers are quite fast.

I got through Dirty Split in a single (but concentrated) session of about 3 1/2 hours, so don't expect it to occupy your time for too much longer than that. But while it lasted, it was quite the pleasant diversion, and I think it's one of those games that would provide a good introduction for someone new to the genre.

Copyright © Steve Metzler 2008. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows XP/Vista, Pentium IV 2GHz or Athlon 2.4GHz, 512MB RAM, 200MB free hard drive space, DirectX 9.0c compatible graphics card with 128MB RAM, DirectX 9.0c compatible sound card, keyboard, mouse