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Hector: Badge of Carnage Episode 1 review: Gross cop, bad cop

Hector: Badge of Carnage is a filthy game.

That may seem like a blunt way to start out an evaluation of the Straandlooper-developed, Telltale-published episodic adventure trilogy; the first episode of which arrived on PC and Mac earlier this week after a nearly-yearlong stint on the iOS App Store. As those who've already played it on its native platform can attest, the game is characterized by its repugnance. At every juncture, it attempts to shock or delight its players with a level of perversity not usually present in Telltale's catalog.

After watching the opening cinematic -- in which a cop's head is blown off by an unseen sniper, his body slumped across a pile of similarly deceased officers -- I feared the game would use its shock value as a crutch. My fears weren't exactly soothed by the first big puzzle, which saw me take a string off [a gross thing], attach it to a [grosser thing] and fish a wire out of [an even grosser thing]. But despite its crude exterior, a bit of genuine cleverness manages to shine through Hector -- though it takes its sweet time in doing so.

The cleverness mostly shines through in the interactions the titular Inspector Hector has with the denizens of Clapper's Wreake -- which, yes, is one of the many venereal-charged gags scattered throughout the game. They're an almost ubiquitously hateful lot, but they've each got their own entertaining quirks or mannerisms that help keep them memorable. Rarely after completing an adventure game can I recall my conversations with nearly every character met therein, but that was the case with Hector; a feat made more impressive after realizing every one of them was voiced by a single person.

As you may have guessed from the first episode's subtitle, We Negotiate With Terrorists, you'll meet these characters while executing the demands of the aforementioned sniper in an attempt to stall his spree. His goals are oddly altruistic: He wants you to run a trio of errands intended to revitalize the rotten landscape of Clapper's Wreake using whatever means you see fit.

To satisfy those demands, you'll have to solve an eclectic mix of puzzles and navigate some occasionally maddeningly circular conversation trees. The puzzles run the gamut from blatantly obvious -- combine the paint with the thing to make the thing the color you need it to be -- to impossibly obscure. As is the case with all adventure games, the puzzles that sit between those two extremes are the most satisfying, and, fortunately, that's where most of Hector's solutions land.

Unfortunately, it takes Hector a while to truly find its legs as a comedic product. The first hour of the three-or-so-hour episode seems to use vulgarity for vulgarity's sake, making sure players truly understand the boorishness of the world they've entered into. Once the force-feeding stops, the writing improves tenfold, instilling the episode with frequent moments of true, Ben There, Dan That-level comedic genius.

The first episode is an unbalanced one, but it manages to pull itself together for a satisfying conclusion. Its compelling, cliffhanging afterword ensures that I'll be giving the second chapter a shot, as well -- I only hope that it spends more time being irreverently funny, rather than spending a third of its run-time desperately attempting to convince the player of its irreverence.

And, if you don't believe me, the redacted opening puzzle elements from that second paragraph are, in order -- spoiler alert! -- a severed foot, a used condom and an unspeakably fouled toilet.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

This review is based on a review copy of Hector: Badge of Carnage Episode 1: We Negotiate with Terrorists provided by Telltale Games.

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