As far as adventure games are concerned, there seems to be a neverending stream of characters who just won’t shut up when they’re caught in a film noir story. But does Mad Orange’s Face Noir give enough characterization and identity to its proceedings to convince gamers who don’t buy into the same old tropes again and again?
Private detective Jack Del Nero is thrown into a dangerous mix of betrayal, corruption and murder: a typical day in 30ies New York, it seems, or is there more to it?
Slowly is the storytelling a-going
As the title suggests, the story and characters are highly influenced by film noir movies which makes the game interesting and predictable at the same time: a private detective who likes to have a drink or two or even more, who’s sharing his sarcastic remarks with his audience or any character he meets, and a world of shady characters in which no one is really happy. So far, so familiar.
Of course the plot becomes more and more complicated, characters reveal their secrets and the player uncovers a conspiracy. Engaging to a certain degree yes, but also rather commonplace in the genre, as the pacing is slow and the characters lose themselves in long dialogues which surprisingly (or not) don’t necessarily make them memorable. A bit more variety in the dialogues would have helped to make them more interesting and especially more likeable. Something the main character has to face as well, because there’s only so much one can bear with the long monologues about the city and life which in general seem to suck very badly.
One of the problems the storytelling has is that it’s trying too hard for its own good to have many plot lines running together and even have two protagonists later in different times, making the story drag on unnecessarily. It’s certainly a good idea to add some intrigue, and playing with time is always nice to engage the player on a narrative level, but when it simply takes things too long to finally get interesting, it’s a bit of a failed attempt of being clever. Adding an unexpected twist at the end which turns things upside down and gives a completely new perspective on the story also poses another problem, because it’s a cliffhanger with a much more interesting premise of a story than the game offers in general.
The investigation continues
Talking to NPCs is the bread and butter in most adventure games, and Face Noir is no different in that respect. Connections do not only need to be found by choosing the right questions and answers, but also by using a deduction board on which statements and clues can be combined. This opens up a new branch in the tree dialogues and more information can be drawn out of reluctant conversation partners.
The investigation parts are the most fun in the game, so it’s a shame that the classic point-and-click puzzles disappoint with a lack of originality and frustrate because of some exact positioning necessary in certain cases (like building a small puppet for a girl, which in itself isn’t that exciting anyway), but they are made extremely annoying by the awful controls.
Puzzles don’t cut it
Every time an object is used, the inventory screen has to be opened separately from the game world, and one has to scroll through a list, then select the appropriate item after making sure the correct symbol of looking-at or using has been clicked on, exit the screen again and finally interact with the environment. Why the developer decided against the traditional way of simply moving the mouse to the top or bottom of the screen and automatically open an inventory in which each item can be used by a simple drag-and-drop method, is beyond understanding, as the controls are highly detrimental to the flow of the gameplay and make inventory combinations frustratingly cumbersome.
Annoying gameplay in the way
Some other annoying and game-breaking parts are an unfair stealth passage which requires more luck than thinking and an overuse of lockpicking which demands patience and endurance as well as fast acting. In the former the character has to be maneouvred through a screen with police guards who have their own lines of vision and routes they take (like in the strategic Commando series). It’s only too bad that the time frame between not being seen and being seen is so small and seeing through boxes seems to be in the NPCs blood at times, that it would have been better to be given an option to skip this part or simply not have it at all in the game.
Locks of doors are picked by the player as if he wants to open a safe, requiring a certain number of left-and-right turns to hear a click and do the same thing multiple times as fast as possible (for whatever reason). It isn’t fun the first time and it certainly doesn’t get any better the more doors one has to open. Again skipping these sequences or just getting rid of them would have been best.
Proudly presenting pictures of the golden days
Despite the gameplay problems the game offers enough reason to get lost in its world, which is mainly due of the detailed background graphics which might not offer the same level of quality publisher Daedalic is known for, but at some points the environments are quite beautiful, even if they are less colorful and emanate a moodier and melancholic atmosphere. Light effects and weather effects underline the sense of a city which never sleeps but also never seems to see the light of day with its dark alleyways and shady bars. The many cutscenes with a graphic novel look are particularly nice to watch and are in stark contrast to the less spectacular character models and animations.
The sound design of the game fits the film noir atmosphere by (obviously) having jazz music, even though it can get a bit monotonous, because it doesn’t offer a lot of different tunes. The German voice acting is pretty good as well, so there’s really no need for complaining this time.
Spinning a good yarn ain’t easy
Face Noir tells a good story, even if progression is quite slow at times, which is not only because of its sometimes overcomplicated plot and unlikeable characters, but mainly because of some awkward design decisions like a broken control system, some annoying mini games and obscure puzzles.
The presentation is satisfying to a certain degree, but one shouldn’t expect a game like L.A. Noire with the same level of polish. But compared to a lot of other serious adventure titles, it’s still worth playing and deserves a sequel which delivers a more original story while tossing off some unnecessary gameplay baggage.
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