Friday, 26 September 2014

Discworld Noir

I had a burst of nostalgia for this old game, and nothing would do but to dust off the old discs and Google for a guide on running it on Windows 7 (will add a link if anyone's interested). Unsurprisingly nostalgia has a lot to answer for, but there's still plenty of merit in this old gem.

The first thing that struck me was the disparity between the background art and the character models. It always seems to be the case with older adventure games that a huge amount of care and attention goes into the largely static backgrounds, but the technology of the time isn't far enough ahead to have animations and character models to match. It seems apparent that it was the intent to have cartoony style character models, but they still look hideous. Mankin for example, looks like he has arms made of plasticine, which might fall off if you poke him. Another minor issue with the artwork is how dark it is. Yes I realise it is *noir*, but it's also an adventure game, and it's quite tiresome to reach a dead end purely because the backgrounds are too dark to make out exits or hotspots. You can control the gamma level from ingame, but this just results in pixelation.

The music is great, and really fits the noir theme, but the voice acting is a bit hit and miss. Nobby is a personal favourite, but several characters either had a voice that didn't fit the character (in my opinion), or were acted so poorly that I just had to click through all their dialogue. Lewton's voice is fairly inoffensive, though it always had me raising an eyebrow when he pronounced 'question' with a W. As it is a detective mystery, much of the game does involve talking to people, so I could never really get drawn in.

The story I think is where it shines. It's a prime example of the Discworld - it takes a common story, a common trope and runs off with it. It puts it's own Discworld twist on the story and constantly pokes fun at itself (and us). I didn't keep playing to find out what happens next (it's striking similarities to an iconic noir novel won't leave you in suspense), I kept playing for the subtle and not-so-subtle gags. It's for the same reason that I continue to read the books.

The gameplay is a bit of mixed bag. As one would expect, the gameplay mostly revolves around collecting clues and talking to people. Lewton writes down case notes in his notebook which he can use to quiz various characters and suspects. He can also combine these clues to learn something new, but this is only really used for one puzzle. It's a shame as it's been used to much greater effect in more recent games, like the Blackwell games. There is an interesting puzzle mechanic in the latter half of the game, but technically speaking it boils down to an inventory puzzle. It still requires a bit of thinking outside the box though. The pacing and linearity was something that aggravated me though. As you progress further into the game you pick up other cases to investigate, and it's never really clear which you're meant to focus on. I found myself following a lead for one case only to hit a dead end as the person I thought I needed to speak with was no longer there. I later realised that I was meant to investigate one of the other cases to move the overall plot along, so that the person would reappear.

In conclusion, I'd say this is a game more geared at Discworld fans. I can imagine the setting being somewhat confusing if you're not familiar with it, and the blatant parody of the Maltese falcon may seem like sloppy writing. While it tries to go beyond the standard adventure game, it doesn't quite go far enough with it. It's an acceptable adventure game, but it doesn't bring anything much new to the table, and relies too heavily on it's IP. It's an amusing little romp, but maybe not worth the time and effort it takes to get it running on modern OS...