Written by  :  Cor 13 (174144)
Written on  :  May 26, 2001
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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It's a film noir with dwarves and trolls. Any more questions?

The Good

I never read any books by Terry Pratchett, and I didn't expect much from this game. I played the two previous Discworld games, but got quickly overwhelmed by the illogical intensity of their puzzles and cowardly resorted to walkthroughs, which resulted in a blurry experience. Discword Noir, however, managed to sustain my interest throughout.

Discword Noir takes a typical fantasy setting - with dwarves, trolls, and what not - and mixes it with a film noir. I love stylish experiments, and this is definitely one of them. What's more, the setting is surprisingly organic and no aspect of it feels out of place. The result is a convincing detective mystery, complete with a heart-broken, ironic, bitter PI, mysterious femme fatale, shady organizations, and all the other ingredients of the genre, thrown into a fantasy world where anything can happen.

Discword Noir is very stylish, and its style penetrates the whole game: it has the typically cozy atmosphere of an old-fashioned "hard-boiled" detective story, enveloping the player right from the beginning. You really want to play this game in the evening, sitting alone in your office somewhere in a dark, gothic city, with rain pouring down, perhaps a cup of coffee in front of you. You think about your past and your present with the usual melancholic irony, when suddenly the door opens and... a beautiful, mysterious woman enters your office.

This is how Discword Noir begins, and from this moment on, you'll be invited to a real detective story, with investigations, questioning of the suspects, "whodunit" mystery, glimpses into the past, and so on, all with supernatural undertones. Magical creatures frequent piano bars, and your fedora-wearing, dark-suited detective visits a temple that is home to a cult of a really existing deity.

The gameplay system is interesting. Instead of the usual inventory-based puzzles, the main focus of here is clue-gathering and conversations. Interrogating suspects opens ways to new locations and brings new clues, so conversations become an integral aspect of the gameplay. The clues you gather are the main gameplay tool in Discword Noir. You'll need to "use" the clues written in your notebook on people and objects you notice in the game world. Basically, it works almost like thinking aloud. You are trying to solve a detective mystery, so you'll have to think logically about the clues you get. This is much more natural and realistic (and, most importantly, fits the game much more) than figuring out some impossible item combinations and then using them in the least probable places.

At the same time, Discword Noir can get very challenging. You begin with only a few clues, but during your investigation you'll gather more and more of them. The net of interrogations, people, organizations, locations, and clues you've gathered becomes bigger, more and more complex, so in the end you'll have to think hard and strain your memory in order to advance in the game.

At one point, you'll be able to control a wolf in the game. You will see everything the way a real wolf would - your vision is blurred, but you can obviously smell things much better, and will have to use that to your advantage and solve puzzles that were impossible in human form. This was a really cool gameplay addition.

Discword Noir has great atmosphere. An exquisite, fine melancholy accompanies the player from the beginning to the end. There is a feeling of loneliness and despair, but also soft sadness. The humor of the game is sophisticated and subtle, sometimes almost grotesque, with a lot of bitterness and irony. The graphics are kept mostly in dark colors, and the music is appropriately jazz-like. There are some really weird tunes to be heard in the game, almost as sophisticated as its dialogues.

The story is strong, and the detective mystery line is surprisingly satisfying, with a few well-placed turns and twists. The characters of the game are not just a collection of bizarre stereotypes, as one would expect. You'll discover more about your protagonist as you advance in the game; he is anything but a static figure, he develops with you, changes his vision of the world, adapts to new things. You'll learn about his past, his relationships with various people and the society. Particularly interesting is the love line; there are interesting female characters in the game, and you'll follow Lewton's complex relationships with them.

The Bad

Discword Noir is a British game, and its humor is colored by its national origins. I know many people who prefer the dry wit of Albion to the more naive merriment of the New World. Personally, I can't always follow British humor, and a lot of their jokes are lost on me. This happened quite a few times in Discword Noir, when a conversation was clearly intended to be humorous but I failed to see the point. Lack of simplicity in dialogues is another potentially undermining aspect - sometimes I wished those people were speaking more plainly. Almost all the characters in the game try to sound smart and often use peculiar words and phrases that don't always fit the situation at hand.

I liked the gameplay system, but during the later parts of the game you'll have accumulated so many clues that resorting to a desperate "use every clue with every object" style of playing turns into the optimal solution. While I've rarely seen an adventure game that doesn't become cumbersome as it progresses, I wish they would simplify the process in this one: feverishly hunting for hotspots and browsing through endless pages of recorded information can get in the way of the suspenseful investigation.

The atmosphere is not always perfectly conveyed. It may sound like a strange complaint, but I'd prefer American voice actors in a game that imitates a chiefly American art style. The protagonist's voice, for example, is too distinctive with its underlying brashness to fit a low-key PI. Similarly, the jazz music is too sophisticated and mellow at once, lacking rhythmical consistency and simple swing of the style's homeland - being a jazz musician myself, I determined its European origins right away.

The Bottom Line

Discword Noir is a pleasant surprise, both as an adventure game and as a stylistic experiment. It's interesting to plow your way through its tricky clue system, and playing the role of a private investigator in an atmospheric, dark fantasy city is a unique and rewarding experience.