Unfortunately that quote from the man whose writing developer Mad Orange so desperately try to emulate sums up their debut effort perfectly. On first appearances Face Noir has everything you could want from a detective noir game – a hardboiled protagonist, atmospheric rain soaked city streets and an intriguing story. But get up close and those tantalising features fall short of the mark.
Face Noir is a third-person point and click adventure in the detective genre crammed full of as many clichés and stereotypes as you can think of. You play as Jack Del Nero, a down on his luck alcoholic police officer turned private eye, who makes pennies photographing runaway wannabe actresses having naughty time with movie producer types. This is indeed the first task you undertake as Del Nero, which gets you used to the style and sets the tone for things to come.
That being that the puzzles are relatively uninspired, the dialogue is poorly written, acted and goes on for far too long (an example being the hotel owner you encounter who gives you his life story when asked a simple question; mug here listened to every word thinking it would be relevant later on. It’s not. Skip it.) and Del Nero’s world weary cynicism regarding everything you click on will wear thin before the first hour is through.
It’s as well then that Face Noir begins with a flash forward to the end of the game, showing a teaser where Del Nero is trying to catch a plane and then gets shot by an unknown assassin. It’s true that the animation leaves a lot to be desired, being very stilted and unnatural. This is even more apparent when we see close ups of the character faces later and it can be established at this point that the writing and voice acting aren’t going to win any awards any time soon. Despite this however, it does make you curious to know how Del Nero got to this point.
One dead body and mysterious little girl later and Del Nero is caught up in a case that just gets weirder by the minute.
In fact the story is what will keep hard core adventure fans going. There are twists and turns, some strange goings on, an interesting non-linear plot where you go back in time and play as a different character and a cliff hanger at the end. This is only the first part, part two is in development now, and the story may just be enough to make you want to play it. If you get to the end that is.
Which I didn’t. A bug in the game meant that at the beginning of the last hour of play I was stuck on a puzzle and couldn’t progress any further. It was a code deciphering puzzle, decidedly one of the games better efforts, where two letters were missing from the drop down list. As a result I couldn’t fill in the spaces and move forwards. A quick look at some forums indicated that I wasn’t the only one to have this problem but I wasn’t nearly motivated enough to try to figure out a way to get past it.
Mainly because up until, and including, that point I wasn’t enamoured by the game. I didn’t expect full on action with it being a point and click but there was a lot of tedious going back and forth to various places and there is no way to make Jack run. He casually saunters from one end of the screen to the other like he has all the time in the world even though finding a particular item could make the difference between life and death. It’s frustrating to say the least. Particularly in a couple of scenes where a sense of urgency would have added to the tenseness of the situation, such as the danger of being caught snooping somewhere you shouldn’t.
There’s nothing ground breaking or innovative about the point and click actions but it’s to the developer’s credit that they’ve kept things fairly simple. Left click to look at something (and hear Jack give sarcastic commentary) and right click to interact. Objects can be pulled from the inventory at the top of the screen and used on whatever is needed. Be warned though, Jack won’t even pick something up unless it’s been established previously that he will need it. This is irritating when you can see the answer pretty clearly. It’s not necessarily a good thing when the player is several steps ahead of the character, especially when they’re supposed to be a detective.
The puzzles themselves are a strange mix of mind numbingly obvious to bizarre almost “Monkey Island” obscure and not in a good way. Sometimes Jack gives MacGyver vibes when putting items together to solve a puzzle. One thing that does work well though is the deduction screen where pieces of information that Jack has unearthed are floating around and you have to connect two to reach a conclusion. Unfortunately the answer is usually quite obvious and so the screen isn’t used to its full potential.
Another unusual idea is the interactivity of some of the puzzles, such as opening a cabinet or rotating a wheel where the player has to hold the left mouse button and drag to open. I found this to be a nice touch, a break from the otherwise monotonous puzzle-solving and ridiculously lengthy dialogue scenes, but some players may find it gimmicky, an attempt to liven up something that is beyond saving.
Face Noir does boast a great atmosphere. The gloomy rain-streaked streets of 1930’s New York are straight out of a noir novel or movie, the wistful drone of a saxophone sounds out the mourning of a city in desperate need of change and mist curls in the corners like smoke in a seedy bar. The effect is immersive and beautiful. Cut scenes are played out in still painted images, each fading into the next as the scene progresses. It’s a shame this level of detail and devotion wasn’t carried through into other, arguably more important, parts of the game.
Parts such as the aforementioned dialogue and voice acting. The writing could simply have used some editing. Points are drawn out unnecessarily (such as Jack’s commentary on corruption in politics and racial oppression) and most of the dialogue is irrelevant as well as being boring. Having a character relay their life story doesn’t guarantee immediate sympathy from the player who, if anything like me, will have switched off long before the relevant stuff comes up.
And if the character doesn’t sound like they’re enjoying the tale themselves then why should the player care? This is another unfortunate downfall for Face Noir. The voice acting is terrible to the point where it might have been better without it. Jack fares better than most of the characters though even he sounds like he would rather have been somewhere else at times. The main female character sounds sulky rather than sultry, a bar owner whose dulcet tones would have you snoozing in your whisky. Another minor character that pops up with a lisp constantly refers to himself in the third person and would almost certainly be the result of a passionate night between Igor and Gollum, if such a thing were possible.
The range of nationalities is diverse to say the least. Face Noir gets the award for having the most stereotypical characters in one place. Jack himself is Italian, his petulant lady friend is Dutch, one of the police officers is Mexican, his stingy landlord is Russian, a possible nemesis is English (obviously; I’m willing to bet it was a toss-up between that and German) and his former police partner is Irish, complete with a hip flask of whisky. If this sounds a bit much just wait till you meet the Chinese cab driver.
Chon is undoubtedly one of the more enthusiastically voiced characters but his role, apart from being an unwilling personal chauffeur to Jack, is a comedic one, enhanced by his accent which has kindly been spelt out phonetically in the subtitles e.g. all the r’s replaced by w’s. This detail has not been carried over to any of the other characters; all subtitles are worded normally in proper English so the singling out of Chon borders on racism. Ironically this is one of the things Jack rants about early in the game and so it seems like a cheap shot for an otherwise serious noir thriller.
I hate to dump on the efforts of up and coming developers but the standard of Indie games in recent years has skyrocketed and Face Noir’s problems are too many in comparison. It’s a pity because despite its many flaws there are some promising things at work here. A fully realised world complete with moody atmosphere and a story that might just be enough to keep some people interested. If Mad Orange fix their problems in the second part of the instalment then it will be a game worth playing. In which case I suggest skipping this one and going straight to it.
MLG Rating: 4/10 Format: PC Release Date: 18/07/2013
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Face Noir for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 5 days on a PC. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.