Written by  :  Shazbut (167)
Written on  :  Oct 22, 2004
Platform  :  Windows

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Very good, if derivative and cliched, adventure.

The Good

You know what? I don't even like adventure games that much. I know I've reviewed quite a few, but it's because I love the storylines and the characters. If I haven't cracked a puzzle after twenty minutes, my knuckles are white and I'm looking for a walkthrough. The second time through these games is always the best, when I vaguely remember all the solutions. If I hadn't had a walkthrough to this game I'd have bitten a chunk out of the table by now.

Discworld Noir is an homage to all those Raymond Chandler novels, all those labryinthine plots, all those "Lishen buhster! Ya lookin fa trouble?!" accents. This is both a curse and blessing, but more on that later. I do like that world though; I went into the game feeling good and I came out feeling good...ish.

Discworld Noir's biggest asset is it's script - that is, it's dialogue. There is a lot of talking in this game but it's often brilliant. Sharp, dry humour is the order of the day, with that kind of post-adolescent nuance that 'Monty Python' had that makes the Discworld books so attractive to a certain kind of teenager. Characters in the game are brilliantly realised, often appearing deceptively complex. Personal favourites include Death, whose humour is dry as a bone (ha ha!!! I'm so funny!), and Carlotta's butler, whose passive aggressive demeanour I find endlessly amusing. The voice acting is also good considering the credits imply that only four people are responsible for all the characters. Despite the sometimes irritating deliberate slowness of the delivery and the occasional hearing of the same voice for different people, this is quite a feat. Although I swear at some points in the game, Lewton's voice is replaced by another actor's.

The graphics are good, if dark. The character models are also quite impressive, though hardly original. In fact, the most original thing about Discworld Noir is the way the usual object-orientated method of puzzle solving is dropped in favour of a clues-based system. Every time your character hears something interesting in a conversation, he writes it down, and you can then ask anyone you want about it. Genuine satisfaction arises when you successfully figure something out by asking the right people about the right things. Also, half way through the game, something...happens to your character, providing another new puzzle-solving system, and one which I found very enjoyable and perhaps underused.

The Bad

I know I've already described this game as cliched and if you see this game as a parody then you may wonder how this can be so. The thing is, film noir is so unbelievably well known and ingrained into so much of what we see that even when something comes along that takes the piss, it seems unoriginal. Discworld Noir, like SO many films and television programmes, takes off 'Casablanca's' two most famous scenes. It also references Lauren Bacall telling Humphrey Bogart how to whistle in 'To Have And Have Not'. Your character, Lewton, is a complex character for a computer game, but he's existed for over half a century in film, books and television. An unshaven pathological drinker in a fedora and raincoat, one of the only guys in the town with a soul but has been left bitterly hurt by women...yadda..yadda...you KNOW the guy already. You KNOW that the woman who's leaning on his desk at the beginning is a femme fatale who is secretly no good. It appears that games don't have enough clout to create an original story style, but are instead happy to take off the styles of famous books and movies. Take "Mafia"; whilst a very fine game, the story is basically a cross between Godfather and Goodfellas, but about 1/100th as good or believable. Whilst film noir is recreated much better in Discworld Noir than the world of Italian gangsters is in Mafia, it's just been done before. I don't really consider the game a parody as it seems to take it's subject matter too seriously; it's more of an homage except it doesn't change anything. "Blade Runner" is an homage to film noir and look how original that world is (was, for it's time). This is more like a direct rip-off and the developers don't seem to care. Still, why should they? Lots of people will buy this game BECAUSE it resembles all that Raymond Chandler stuff.

Other, more actual game-related problems include...

Whilst the character models are nice and pretty, being pre-rendered, they move like puppets underwater. You can see their polished polygon arms moving in their specific routines and it is surprisingly effective to begin with due to the skill of the animators, but if you concentrate on it, it starts looking very unnatural at times. Lewton, however, is modelled in real-time and moves much more fluidly but this serves to highlight the difference between him and everyone else.

Further on the point of unoriginality, the music in this game is good but totally bland. It really got to me after a while. I love jazz, it constitutes over half of what I listen to, but Discworld Noir's soundtrack I didn't like. It's got all those soft, mysterious sounding saxophones and that subdued piano but it's got no tune and no soul. It's generic. Like a lot of the game.

The plot is always interesting but for some reason doesn't grab you. Maybe because it flies off the handle after a while and becomes convoluted, but maybe because you don't empathise with any of it. I never really understood Lewton's motives to keep investigating other than, as he says, "because too many people told me not to".

Finally, the notepad with all your clues on it becomes a real hassle when you have to turn 12 pages to find the one you want. This is primarily why I said I was glad to have a walkthrough because it can get seriously frustrating otherwise. And also, (and this one is a real crime), the game is unable to find your saved files from the second CD. So when you've got half-way through the game, from then on you'll have to eject the second CD, put in the first, load the game, load the saved file, eject the first CD, and put in the second. Unbelievable!

The Bottom Line

One of the best non-Lucasarts adventures there is. When I completed this the first time, I considered it second only to Grim Fandango. I'm always on a high after I finish something though and the flaws are more obvious this time round. The world of Discworld Noir is so familiar that it has to work damn hard to surprise you. It does a few times though, if you stick with it and overlook the twists that you were expecting since the moment the package arrived in your house.