Face Noir

"The adventures of washed-up private eye Jack Del Nero are a pleasure to behold, even in spite of some rough spots in the game's presentation."

There's no shortage of point-and-click adventure games on the market these days, and at least part of the responsibility for that falls to Phoenix Online Studios — responsible for The Silver Lining, Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller, and the upcoming Moebius. However, Phoenix has also recently dipped their toe into the publishing biz with a localization of German developer Mad Orange's Face Noir.

I'll admit, I was sold on Face Noir the moment I saw its stylish art deco logo and rare (at least for gaming) Great Depression-era setting. After clearing the entire game, it's easy to recommend based solely on how well it executes on the promise of that setting. The adventures of washed-up private eye Jack Del Nero are a pleasure to behold, even in spite of some rough spots in the game's presentation.

As so often happens with former police officers in dark, rainy noir settings, Del Nero has fallen on hard times. His rent's overdue, his ever-growing bar tab remains unpaid, and he's been wrongly accused of murder. What's more, the intro of the game presents you with what appear to be the final moments of the detective's life, spent on the receiving end of a mouthful of lead. It's up to you to learn what led to these events and unravel the mystery around the murder that landed Del Nero in hot water in the first place.

The game's primary action should be familiar to pointy/clicky vets. You move Del Nero around the environment with a mouse click, and you'll be sweeping every screen for items, points of interest, and information as you work to solve whatever mystery's afoot. Additionally, there are several sequences throughout the game in which you'll have to directly manipulate objects (like a lockpick or power box) to make progress. In tandem with standard inventory puzzles and environmental exploration, these hands-on moments make for great variety in the gameplay.

There's also a healthy amount of character interaction, handled by means of a simple list of dialogue choices. While the voice acting is very hit or miss, the writing itself is great and very evocative of the period. Del Nero's got a very dry, sarcastic wit, and it's always entertaining to see what kind of verbal barbs he can sling at the various folks he comes across. Getting people to cooperate via conversation is also important to progress, as you'll sometimes be called to connect multiple pieces of information in order to formulate the appropriate response. This works great as well, though is truthfully never very difficult to figure out.

Having played a lot of adventure games with wonky interfaces and clunky motion in recent years, I feel that it's especially relevant to point out that Face Noir has neither of these problems. Animations are smooth and the UI is both stylish and snappy. Also, the game offers options for either a drop-down inventory menu or a more elaborate "3D" mode in which your inventory is represented by 3D models of each item. I liked having both options, although 3D mode does tend to be a bit slower overall.

Visually, the game doesn't push too many polygons — but it's still well-designed. As I mentioned before, the promise of the setting is delivered upon many times over in terms of both the locales you'll visit and the people you'll meet. Everything is blanketed in a sort of faded film-grain filter, and there are lots of browns, grays, blacks, and golds in the color palette.

The music fits the setting equally well, and while I perhaps don't imagine you'll be humming any of the themes after the fact, it works great in-game. The voice acting, on the other hand, is undoubtedly the weak link in the game. Characters range from decent to awful, and many of the actors just can't seem to get the appropriate delivery — Jack's lady-friend Greta is an especially big offender, coming across as far too dramatic in casual situations and totally nonchalant in dramatic ones. Additionally, Jack himself definitely takes some getting used to, as he's got a sort of nasally tone that, while somewhat appropriate for the setting, is still a bit off.

Face Noir is a game I can easily recommend. It executes well on every level (save the voice acting), and offers great puzzles, enjoyable characters, fabulous art design, and a fun (if pulpy) noir plotline. If you're interested in the Depression-era setting and enjoy a solid point-and-click adventure, you should absolutely check this one out.

© 2013 Phoenix Online Studios, Mad Orange. All rights reserved.

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