Remember point -and-click adventures? The games where you progress from one pre-rendered location to another, pointing and clicking at items and characters to interact with them? While they may be the very embodiment of gaming purgatory for many, they do have a certain cerebral charm, making for intricate puzzles and long, involved conversations. And in Discworld Noir, we have something nearing the apex of the genre.
Set in the city of Ankh-Morpork and based on the Discworld novels, Noir is Terry Pratchett's world as seen in a 1950s American detective story, full of smokey bars, lounge-jazz, femme fatales and no-good hoodlums. You are Lewton, an ex-cop PI with a drinking problem and women troubles, of course. The city is full of imaginative locations, which are bristling with animations and characters. The dark alleyways, rain-soaked sidewalks and dreary drinking haunts are populated by a motley crew of down-at-heel vampires, slow-witted troll heavies and scheming dwarves, all full of witty conversation and bizarre life stories. The puzzles are intriguing and challenging, and the use of extensive clues mean you have to think rather than adopt the click on everything you see until something happens' approach - how it should be.
We still think it's great, but accept it has a niche appeal, strictly for the gamer who likes a slow-burning intellectual challenge. And of course the million or so who read the eminent Mr Pratchett's novels.
Download Discworld Noir
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
I It could be a coincidence, but it seems that adventure games have developed an awareness of their own mortality. The last one to puzzle its way to our screens was Grim Fandango, set in the underworld and casting you as a collector of souls for the Department of Death. Now, over half a year later, the colourful and lighthearted Discworld games have become simple childhood memories, as the latest Pratchett-inspired point-and-clicker goes dark and gloomy.
We'll Always Have Ankh-Morpork
Discworld Noil's title isn't gratuitous, as the game draws inspiration from film noir classics such as The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon. Although set in the recognisable world of the Disc, all the action takes place on a stormy night, with a constant curtain of rain covering all outside locations, occasionally brightened by lightning. And while it may alienate some Discworld Ians, the game's references, steals and adaptations from the Dashiell Hammett school of detective fiction are its greatest triumph.
The main character, Lewton, is obviously modelled on Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. He's a man with a shady past in the police force - or in this case the Watch - a drinking problem and woman trouble. His humour is often ironic and reflects the cynical, misanthropic and nihilistic view common to noir detectives (and games jounalists). (Despite his disgusting raincoat and not-quite-designer stubble, there sone essential ingredient missing from this hard-boiled dish: the yellow-stained fingers of a pathological chain-smoker. A cigarette is never far from the lips of any private eye worth his salt, and its conspicuous absence is obviously a concession to the health-conscious, politically correct '90s.)
The game starts off with the requisite femme fatale walking into your office. Pretty soon there's a murder, and you're the prime suspect. There are flashbacks. You meet a woman who broke your heart years ago.
A dwarf with Peter Lorre's voice breaks into your office... Well, we don't want to give the whole thing away.
This time round the graphics are in 3D and really do add a t new dimension to the series. This is the Discworld like you've never seen it before. But while you get a feeling of Ankh-Morpork as a real city with wide streets and myriad buildings, it seems curiously uninhabited. This is partly because there are almost no superfluous characters; you can, and probably should, talk to everyone you meet. It also contributes to the atmosphere, which is dark and tense.
The use of shadow, light and darkness is almost as important as the sound. The magical notes of the downpour of rain splattering against the ground and the crackling of thunder are the perfect companions to an excellent soundtrack. From the first bars of '40s lounge jazz music that open the game, you know you're in the presence of pure class. Each location has its own particular theme, ranging from saxophone-coated dirges to light piano bar-room noise, including a troll Ella Fitzgerald.
Losing The Plot
All of which provides enough distraction as you try to piece together a complex plot that is forever twisting and turning. If you've seen The Big Sleep, you'll know how purposefully complex the storyline is. Clues become a metaphor for the search of meaning and, since noir takes a 'life is meaningless' stance, it tends to become a circular movement, a juggling act to remember all the leads. You meet gangsters, bizarre religious cults (the answer to why life does have meaning is that "20,000 zealots can't be wrong") and even X-Files-style conspiracies, ensuring there's always something to keep you interested and wanting to go that little bit further.
The gameplay drops the usual object-oriented puzzle-solving in favour of a clues-based system. This means that instead of trying dozens of objects on everything in sight, the game relies much more on dialogue. Each time something or someone important is mentioned in conversation, you see it being scribbled in your notebook and you can then ask anyone you wish about it. There are pages devoted to cases, suspects and murders, and when you've pursued a lead to its conclusion it's scratched out. This system is crucial to the game, and thankfully it works very well.
Although you can ask everyone you meet about everything, it's better to talk to people about subjects they're likely to know something about. This gives a greater sense of using your wits to a logical end, and feels more rewarding when you correctly question someone you suspect, rather than randomly progressing by hit and miss.
At times there is too much dialogue, giving you the impression you're watching a film instead of playing a game, but it's generally interesting enough for you to want to watch it. The feeling fades after a while anyway, because the overly simple puzzles at the beginning get progressively more difficult as the plot thickens.
If you're a film buff or a noir fan, every new scene has you whooping with delight; if you're a Discworld fan there are plenty of allusions to the books and even the earlier games; and if you're just a plain old adventure fan you should be pleased there's finally something new to sink your teeth into. If you're all three, then this game was made for you.
What, No Wizards?!
No Rincewind, no Luggage, no pointy hats...
Strictly speaking, that's not true - there are a couple of disciples from the Unseen University knocking about - but If you've played Discworld for it won't take you long to realise that there are some major differences. Most noticeably, the graphical style has been completely transformed. The trademark bright colours and cartoon features of the books' covers, which were adapted for the first two games, have been dropped in favour of a grittier, darker and more realistic style. We've seen darkness in Discworld before, in the form of the Shades, but never like this. Developer Perfect Entertainment have also take a bold step by writing their own storyline, instead of basing it on the plot of one of Pratchett's obscenely successful novels. The jokes aren't laugh-out-loud funny, but they have the same distincy recognisable humour. The puzzles are more finely balanced than the outrageously hard first game or the almost childishly simplistic sequel. We're sure some Discworld purists will grumble at the changes, hopping madly from one foot to another, but this is the adventure genre moving forward, doing what it needs to do to survive.