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SummaryDwarves and trolls in a tedious film noir
The GoodDiscword Noir takes a fantasy setting - with dwarves, trolls, and what not - and mixes it with a film noir. I like 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. 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 somewhat 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.
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.
Discword Noir has good 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 BadDiscword 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.
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.
A significantly bigger problem is the gameplay. The clue system works well in the beginning, but quickly becomes exhausting and thoroughly unexciting. You'll have accumulated so many clues over the course of the game 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 really get in the way of the suspenseful investigation - not to mention that it's much less fun than combining items.
Like most adventure games of that barren time period, Discworld Noir sorely lacks interactivity. There are hotspots on the screen and you can click on them - this pretty much sums up the level of skill and involvement needed to complete the game. Following the sad, degrading simplification that befell the genre during the multimedia era, Discworld Noir keeps the player at a distance, refusing to open up its world and communicate.