A detective with an alcohol problem, how cliché. – Face Noir
Adventure and hidden object games are ten a penny these days, with the subject matter of choice rarely deviating from that of the crime thriller. From the title alone, Face Noir already screams of dark alleyways and unsolved mysteries, heavily wearing its influences of detective novels and films firmly on its metaphorical sleeves. For their debut release Italian studio Mad Orange have gone all out to pay homage to the genre and tell their own story, in the hopes of their child standing strong against the burgeoning crowd.
The game follows the exploits of Jack Del Nero, a down on his luck private investigator living in a run-down apartment block at the height of the Great Depression. A semi-alcoholic and an ex-policeman, he views the world with great cynicism, taking on humdrum tasks such as catching cheating spouses in the act in order to pay the rent and drown his sorrows at the local joint. Every day goes by like the last, until he gets caught at the scene of a crime he did not commit, and becomes embroiled in a grand tale of murder and international conspiracies.
Face Noir plays like any traditional point and click adventure game: items are found or obtained and used in varying situations to bypass different obstacles. The puzzles themselves aren’t too heavy going, with most of them solvable through simple logic, but there are a few moments where you will scratch your head wondering exactly how the developers want you to resolve a certain dilemma. There are times where you take control of Del Nero directly via a lock-picking or code input screen, but these are fairly thin on the ground, and could have been put to greater use. Things get more interesting when conversing with other characters. Del Nero makes a mental note of important pieces of information, which can be brought up in relevance to the subject at hand in order to persuade or bribe someone for certain facts and hidden truths. This provides a slightly more interactive edge to the whole ordeal, rather than just selecting the next question from the list that you have yet to ask.
The game is overall well presented, if not graphically outstanding. A sepia and grey colour scheme may not be the most enticing of choices, but along with the constant rainfall and neon lighting of the city, it perfectly sets the mood. Character models are a bit of a mess, and look as if they have been carelessly stuck on top of the environment as an afterthought. All conversations are portrayed using close-up shots of the characters’ faces; their dull expressions and complete lack of lip-syncing are graphically reminiscent of titles over ten years of age. It’s not all bad though, as the backdrops are lovingly crafted and highly detailed. The inventory window is both neat and functional, and interactive objects on screen can be quickly highlighted by using F1, which is handy when your eyes overlook a certain trash can or bottle lying in the street.
The soundtrack is superb: soulful, slow jazz with trumpets that always seem to swell just at the right moment, perfectly encapsulating the vibe of 1930s New York. The same sadly cannot be said for the voice acting; the majority of the cast give a somewhat lifeless performance. Del Nero’s sardonic tone is one of the few decent exceptions and fits well with his character. Aside from his name, however, (and his increasingly unbelievable and irritating catchphrase of “Dannazione!”) there is nothing remotely Italian about him, which makes his New York twang feel rather out of place during this English translation. Special mention must be given to the Chinese taxi driver, whose stereotypically racist dialogue occasionally summons a guilty chuckle. As a whole, the script has been constructed with care, with only certain sections of conversation feeling cringe worthy.
The real strength of Face Noir lies within the storytelling. Like any good mystery, when one question is answered, a few more are always asked, aiding in the player’s desire to keep venturing forward to uncover the whole truth. There are bigger and better plot twists at every turn, with the largest of them more likely to baffle players rather than aid in their understanding. Spoilers aside, the game ends on a cliff hanger and a prominently placed logo for Face Noir II, so don’t expect an overall conclusion to this epic yarn when initially diving in.
Does Face Noir have enough in its favour to stand as a fine example of adventure gaming? Yes, and no. As a series, there is enough potential for the next release to become another point and click classic, but as the first chapter, Face Noir is not without problems. However, there is a lot to like here, and the weaknesses in graphics and voice acting are countered with excellent storytelling drizzled with atmosphere.