I love a good adventure game. The right one can wrap me up in its story and have me wanting to explore every nook and cranny of its world. Oftentimes, I get so deeply involved in the narrative that I lose track of time and end up living in the story that's unfolding. With that said, Mad Orange and Phoenix Online Studios have brought over a game called Face Noir from Italy that's supposed to be a thrilling detective story fraught with mystery and brain-teasing excitement. Does it succeed in living up to its genre namesake? Or is this case better off closed?
Admittedly, I was very excited going into Face Noir. I love the noir genre and a game set in Great Depression-era New York was just way too attractive. Who doesn't love gritty narration from a hard-boiled private eye, murder mysteries and moody jazz music? Unfortunately, most of my expectations were shattered from the outset and I was faced with a game that wasn't quite as noir as I would have liked.
Face Noir is the story of Jack Del Nero, a private investigator from Italy, and the unraveling of a sinister plot which involves the death of his ex-partner, the fate of a little girl, and a whole lot of sleuthing around New York City. We first find him at the end of the tale, getting gunned down at an airfield as a plane takes off. So, immediately, it's kind of a bummer because your character dies.
Luckily, we flashback to 24 hours earlier to see the events that led to Jack receiving a sudden injection of lead. True to the genre, we're treated to a lot of narration from Jack, with a lot of inner dialogue that gives us a peek into the mind of our detective. Surprising no one, Jack's got a bit of a love affair with whiskey and needs to make some money.
A fellow by the name of Henry Webber steps into his office (disappointingly not a leggy dame who needs a man to help her), and asks him to snoop on his 20-year-old stepdaughter who's been bleeding him dry financially. If Jack can get pictures of her having an affair with an older man, that'd be enough evidence for him to legally cut her off. This is when we get control of Jack and can lead him around the city.
To begin with, most of the controls in the game are point-and-click. See an object of interest? Click on it to give it a look. Or, if you want to opt for a more hands-on approach, you can right-click to change the interaction option to "use" and then left click to see what you can do with the object. Pressing your mouse wheel in brings up Jack's inventory, where you can look at and equip different items. Most times, an item's use won't immediately be apparent, but experimenting with different interactions can yield weird results. For example, you might pick up a small candy and then end up using its wrapper to fix a cut telephone wire. Yeah. That kind of stuff.
You can also use items to interact with folk. Are you finding that the tight-lipped desk clerk at a hotel isn't divulging any secrets? Try equipping a wad of cash and then using it on him. He just might let loose with any information. Or, you know -- maybe he won't. This game demands a lot of trial and error from you, so you better be good at making the right connections in your head and figuring out solutions to different problems.
One mechanic Face Noir employs to hammer home your role as a private detective is Deduction Mode, in which you can link together clues you've collected or information you've learned in order to come to a conclusion and open up new lines of dialogue. Most times, you'll only see this mode after you've hit a wall in your investigation and need new perspective on a topic, often resulting in a "Eureka!" moment.
While the controls seem straightforward, they're held back by gameplay that's anything but simple. You'll be backtracking a lot in Face Noir in order to collect clues, talk to people, and observe different objects. The worst part is that some solutions to different puzzles are pretty out there and can take a lot of guesswork to solve.
For example, in one part in an alleyway, you need to climb up to a fire escape. The jump is too high and the only available objects for Jack to clamber onto are big, heavy dumpsters. Every time you click on the dumpsters, you'll be informed that they're too heavy for you to push. The only other objects you can interact with in the immediate area are a metal bar that almost disappears into the background because it's the same color as the ground and a grate is also lying about.
Figure out the solution yet? No? Well, you have to take the metal bar, equip it and then use it on the grate so that it juts out. Only then can you use the dumpster, because Jack miraculously realizes that the alley is on a slope and that the dumpster can roll down and be stopped by your grate-brake in front of the fire escape, allowing you to jump.
Now, some of the headaches in Face Noir could have been solved with better graphics. The blend of 2.5D backgrounds and 3D characters models makes the whole game look blotchy and dated, with graphics akin to that of the original Resident Evil. The only difference is that in Resident Evil, you could tell which objects you could use and they didn't meld into the background.
Most of the backgrounds look pretty serviceable and definitely add to the noir feel with their dank, depressing aesthetics, but the character models themselves look absolutely terrible. I'm not sure if it's a synching problem due to the translation of the dialogue from Italian to English, but all of the characters look like lifeless mannequins with flapping mouths. The quality of the graphics is so poor that they look straight out of a crappy game from the PlayStation One era.
What's worse is that they have "animated" cutscenes that don't amount to anything more than glorified slideshows. There's even an option to "skip movie" when you pause, which is kind of laughable considering all of the still images they present. Just because you can make a 2D image shake, it doesn't mean it's a cutscene.
Fortunately, the audio in the game isn't as bad. The same jazzy instrumental loops ad infinitum, really hammering home the gloomy, moody aspects of Face Noir. Play for long enough and you won't even notice the music anymore. And the voice-acting, while really hammy and of questionable quality, is at least somewhat entertaining thanks to the really cliched dialogue. It helps that a lot of the characters really stand out, although most of them are really racist, so characterization works well.
But if you manage to get through the entire game, you'll be surprised at what you might find. Well, either surprised or disappointed. Either way, you'll come away with the feeling of dissatisfaction and wonder where all of your time went. Believe me when I say that when it comes to Face Noir, the biggest mystery to solve is why anyone bothered porting this snoozer over.
This review is based on a digital copy of Face Noir for PC that was purchased for review.