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Games, technology, music, silliness. Oh and ninjas. Lots of ninjas.

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Location: Oslo, Norway

I am Andreas. Day time programmer and technical consultant. Night time musician and game developer.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Forgotten gems: Discworld Noir

Now here's a true modern adventure classic if you ask me.
The third of Perfect's Discworld adventure games, this euro-only 3CD point&click adventure basically slipped in under the radar in 1999 and pretty much stayed there since. Considering how bloody smart and enjoyable it is, that's an enormous shame. Other classics such as Lucasarts' masterpiece adventures enjoy continued life through software like SCUMMVM, while the later installments of the genre stand a very real risk of simply vanishing from memory.

Discworld Noir came at a horrible time for adventure games. Released the year after Half life, console gaming was rising fast, PC gaming was making mile long strides towards purely hardware accelerated high tech gaming, and Noir's admittedly low tech approach did not give it the best legs to stand on. However it's impeccable writing (some of which was supplied by Mr Pratchett himself) made it shine.

As an adventure game, you know the drill; You explore locations, pick up objects, talk to characters and solve puzzles that periodically unlock new locations to explore, advancing the plot as you go. What sets Noir apart though is its inventory system, dialogue and subject matter.

The story concerns a disgraced policeman, Lewton, who makes his living as a private eye. In classical film noir style, he is approached by a beautiful woman (at least that's what they were gunning for) who asks him to find her lost lover. From there on he becomes implied in a murder case, infected with lycanthropy, and eventually have to fight off a world threatening conspiracy.
In Noir's Discworld of endless night and perpetual rain, unsavory characters and vicious murder, Perfect's previous two games' Monty Pythonesque jolly tone fades almost completely, and Pratchett's biting sarcasm and smart dialogue is truly allowed to shine. To be short, this is the best videogame adaption of Pratchett's vision you're likely to find.

On gameplay terms, Lewton is an investigator, and as such you collect clues as well as items. This means you have a book of words, names and locations in addition to your standard box of random items. The genius comes from the fact that you can combine clues with eachother as well as items, which may generate more clues. In addition, you use your clues and items as topics for conversation. The impressive bit is how rarely this becomes a random crapshoot of trying everything together; an old adventure game caveat. In addition to the actual snooping you do, Lewton becomes a werewolf quite early in the game, which gives him certain abilities, such as identifying smells (which can again be combined with inventory items or clues).

The result is an absolute ton of really interesting problem solving, where you combine ideas and dialogue rather than items to solve problems that are often about uncovering more clues. It really feels like solving a case, and it's one of the best twists on adventure games i've ever come across (and i've played a lot of them).

On the visual end, the game is quite rough, with prerendered characters and backgrounds. Lewton himself is polygonal, but he might as well not be. Make no mistake, this game can be downright ugly, which earned it some nasty comments on its release. It is, however, consistent, and the graphics effectively convey the atmosphere Perfect was going for. Things become quite a lot better on the audio end, with great voiceovers and a moody ambient soundtrack.

The real meat to Noir however is undoubtedly its gameplay; something you don't typically say about adventure games. People tend to remember adventures for their stories or graphics, i remember Noir for its sleuthing.

If you ever enjoyed Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, or brainy adventure games with logical puzzles, you owe it to yourself to try this game out. If you can get it working on a modern PC that is.

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