Face Noir takes you straight into the heart of a world that Sam Spade, Phillip Marlowe and the like would be instantly at home in. You play a hardened detective named Jack Del Nero who is thrown into a strange case involving his former partner after a routine “take a photo of the daughter having an affair” case. His partner, Sean, went free whilst Jack spent time in jail and was thrown off the police force for a crime he didn’t commit.
Anyway, Jack’s old partner turns up in strange circumstances, and also dead – with Jack the prime suspect. With the police on his back and unknown forces conspiring against him, he has to find out the truth and clear his name. In amongst this he has strange dreams about what happened to Sean… Set in America during the Great Depression, period detail abounds, and helps set the atmosphere apart from a couple of times where the player character gives you a lengthy deposition about something you really didn’t need.
I can pretty easily divide up everything about this game into things I like and dislike. The noir atmosphere is great, the graphics (apart from the close-ups) are also extremely good, and the jazz background is terrific. The plot works well enough, with enough people you meet in the game that were clearly inspired by characters from The Maltese Falcon and the like to keep things interesting. I liked the way some extra little features, such as the lock picking, were incorporated and the way you could connect ideas to form questions for interrogating people was very good.
On the negative side, the game was extremely formulaic – and often seemed to want you to perform one tiny insignificant task to move forwards. This obviously can be a problem in a lot of adventure games, but few have had my screaming at my monitor “but WHY won’t you do that?!” quite as much as this one. There was also a bit of pixel hunting which annoyed me a bit (but then it is a pet hate of mine), and the voice acting was variable. The game seemed to make you do things that long way round at times for no discernible reason. The writing too was variable – it was usually fairly solid, but to me didn’t quite capture the noir flavour as well as other aspects of the game.
So overall, I’m really torn about this game – I really loved some aspects of it, while others drove me a bit mad. The aesthetics were generally great, although the close-ups and lip-synching weren’t as good as the rest of the game, and the puzzles seemed to me to be either obvious or obscure, with no middle ground. I think if you like detective games in general you may well have the patience required to go through things slowly and methodically, which is something I’m not terribly good at any probably affected my view of the game.
The night-time setting in a neon-lit city with constant rain kept reminding me of Westwood’s excellent Bladerunner!
Face Noir was developed by Mad Orange using Wintermute and published by Phoenix Online Studios.
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