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Written by  :  Nowhere Girl (7560)
Written on  :  Jan 18, 2021
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  2.83 Stars2.83 Stars2.83 Stars2.83 Stars2.83 Stars

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A checklist of mistakes

The Good

The best of the game's graphics are really beautiful. Yes, their quality is uneven - some places, such as Cygnus lobby or, especially, the extremely boring and ugly Hall of Records, are a real failure. But the majority of places look very captivating. The artists clearly know how to use untypical perspectives to enhance the mood - the game has an overrepresentation of more or less sharp top-down views, which make the area look oppressive. The protagonist's silhouette is often very small compared to the surroundings, which makes him seem lonely in face of a looming danger.
The game also uses something I very much enjoy: it temporarily switches to a different graphic style. I mean, of course, the comic books. They use a typically cartoonish style and, in order to obscure as little picture surface as possible, don't have speech bubbles like ordinary paper comic books. Instead, all dialogue and other text is displayed by clicking on pictures.
It's just a huge pity that in this respect, the game promises more than it delivers. Instructions on how to read comic books - specifying, for example, that text is displayed after clicking pictures - are even found in the game manual. This can make players think that there will be several comics to read. And the truth is: nope, there are just two, both at the very beginning of the game.

The Bad

The story has some interesting aspects, but it doesn't appeal to me very much. It seems rather banal to me and, first of all, cut short. We don't even meet all of the villains. It seems to me like the game could have been planned bigger, or could have been planned as the first part of a series - but all that remains of the plans is this one game. So basically, we are offered a short introduction into the "Darksheer universe" and then we enter that world... and still only get to explore it in part.
I hugely disliked the way Stiletto "uses her feminine charm" to create a diversion. This is just caricatural and I felt that she humiliated herself. It's just extremely unappealing to me as a woman who isn't interested in being attractive to men, prefers to be categorical instead of "charming" when talking to them, and would rather starve than cater to men's inflated "needs".
However, the biggest flaws of the game are found in the area of gameplay. The game uses a variant of a verb interface - the right mouse button pauses the game for a while (which is a very good idea by itself) and displays a triangle (or "pyramid", as the manual calls it) divided into several fields with commands. It includes typical commands such as "talk", "open", "move", but also "travel" (access to game map, so more than actions within the immediate surroundings) and "disk" - which accesses the save/restore menu. The bad thing is that it uses no simplifications common for adventure games. For example, to enter a room, we usually need to, first, choose the "open" command and click it on the door, and then do the same with the "go to" command. And the worst thing: unlike a lot of adventure games (think, for example, of "Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes" as an example among older games and of "Mage's Initiation" as one among newer ones), the game doesn't display names of objects until you click them. So it means lots of pixel hunting... I have already mentioned the Hall of Records as a very ugly room. And indeed, it's an almost monochromatic room with a counter of a ridiculous, caricatural size, and the clerk only visible as a tiny black silhouette. It's really hard to find him in the picture, the Hall of Records at first looks like there's no one there.
Because of this lack of captions, items which can and often should be taken pose a similar problem. With no names of objects displayed by just moving the cursor around, they are hard to spot. And they often stand out very little. Highlighting useful objects has always been a bit of a problem in classic adventure games, attempts to solve it often lead to them standing out in a somewhat unrealistic way (think of the VGA remake of "King's Quest 3", with fairly colourless objects on the shelf - and one big bright blue bowl...). In "Noctropolis" objects stand out very little and are easy to miss.

The Bottom Line

Still, I think that the game has some interesting ideas, a story which could be captivating... But as it is, it's a fairly disappointing game. The story seems just unfinished, half-baked, and the gameplay is very uncomfortable because of lack of captions, small and hardly visible objects and a tendency to distort perspectives so much that people to talk to become hard to spot in those huge interiors. I understand that it's hard to find a balance between items being visible and almost screaming "Hey! I'm here!", between creating offbeat, interesting perspectives and ensuring that these perspectives don't make important objects or characters effectively invisible... Unfortunately, "Noctropolis" goes in the direction of creating original perspectives and a realistic appearance of objects so much that it hardly cares about the functional aspect of the game. So the game can be interesting, but is very uncomfortable to play. It almost looks like the developers had made a checklist of mistakes in creating seamless gameplay and worked hard to include as many as possible...