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Game Story

Review: Discworld Noir

chauchau0 2005.03.17 02:59

Review

Discworld Noir

Editorial panel: Yucel Inan
Review published on 15 September 1999.

A different world


The city of Ankh-Morpork has become a dark circle of conspiracy.


Awful weather to be out in the park, really... better go back to the pub!


A religious zealot preaching fear and fire... it's not such a different world after all.


The 3D backgrounds are quite intricate, when you can see them.


Look who's watching you! Beware the wrath of women!

Foreword by Terry Pratchett

Film Noir

(A guide for those people who think Star Wars is an old movie)

Technically, film noir means 'black film', but... look, you know what it has come to mean, even if you didn't know what it was called, because I doubt if there has ever been a movie style that can be so recognizably parodied. Film Noir is what you get when you stir together The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Casablanca, To Have and Have Not and several dozen other movies made in the 40s and 50s. The weather is bad, the lighting is low, the streets are mean, life is cheap and the women are tougher than nails and have shoulder pads on which a competent pilot could land a small jet. People tend to lie a lot and double-cross one another.

It's the monochrome world of cynical detectives with their names spelled backwards on the glass doors of seedy offices and a bottle of rye in their desk drawer. And people smoked a lot, probably because of the stress of the lying, double-crossing, bad weather and walking into furniture in the low light. Technically, it died out in the mid-50s and lightening of the post-war gloom, but surfaces in countless parodies (Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid), homages (Blade Runner) and references so ingrained in popular culture that you probably know exactly what I'm taking about even if you've never seen one of the movies.

Play it again, Sam.

Discworld

(A guide for those people who think fantasy only comes in brick-thick volumes)

Discworld is... but you've just bought the third Discworld computer game, and you don't know about the twenty-three books, the maps, the posters, the badges, the beers, the diaries, bookmarks, figurines, fan clubs, conventions and very popular cross-stitch embroidery designs?

Shall we wait for you to catch up?
All right.

The action in many of the books centres in and around the ancient, thriving and cheerfully-corrupt city of Ankh-Morpork. The weather is bad, the lighting is low, the streets are mean (oh, yes) life is expensive because it's death that's cheap, and the women are pretty tough even without shoulder-pads. People tend to lie a lot and double cross one another.

It's a naked city of a million stories, many of them badly spelled and cut very short. There are trolls, dwarfs, werewolves, zombies, wizards and vampires among the citizenry. Mostly they just want to earn the next dollar. And now it's just got its first private eye. He can look forward to being lied to and double-crossed, but that's only the start of his problems...

As they say in Sham Harga's House of Ribs: "Play it again, Sham."

(source: GT Interactive)

Originally created by the British author Terry Pratchett in a series of books bearing the same name, Discworld is a fantasyland full of wizards, dwarves, trolls, and lots of humor. Following the successful Discworld and Discworld II: Mortality Bytes!, Discworld Noir is the third graphic adventure title based on Pratchett's creation. The first two games were classic 2D point-and-click style games set in the colorful and cartoonish Discworld. Both were full of slapstick comedy and followed the wild adventures of Rincewind, a clumsy student of wizardry. Discworld Noir, in contrast, features a brand-new protagonist, theme, and style to the series. The only similarities with the previous titles involve only a few characters and locations.

Discworld Noir is, true to its name, film-noir-esque. The protagonist, Discworld's first and only Private Investigator, is a new addition to the Discworld cast. Lewton is a typical film-noir type detective: an always broke, heavy drinking, sarcastic ex-cop, complete with a hat and a trench coat. There is also the inevitable femme fatale, Carlotta, who is a woman of many mysteries. What is more in this game is that Ankh-Morpork has been transformed into a city with a depressing ambience that is now the home to all the scum of Discworld--a place that is always dark, rainy and smelly. The usual slapstick and silly Discworld humor has been replaced by one that is of a decidedly darker shade. The game makes sarcastic references to famous film-noir classics such as Casablanca and the Maltese Falcon as well as pokes fun at games like Tomb Raider.

Story

Discworld Noir starts with a long introduction set in two parts. You first watch Lewton being chased through dark streets by some unknown entity and gets murdered, with Lewton himself providing the explanatory voiceover! We then see a flashback to how this tragedy all started when the mysterious Carlotta walks into Lewton's office, who after a cliché film-noir-esque dialogue, hires Lewton to find a man named Mundy. This is when you take control and where the adventure starts.

There seems to be more to Carlotta than meets the eye at first. In the beginning you only have a few leads in your hands. Soon however, the plot thickens and you learn that there are more to Mundy and Carlotta than you first thought, in the meantime finding yourself deep in trouble. Along the way, there are mysterious murders to solve, secret cults to penetrate, ancient artifacts to uncover and gods to encounter. The multi-layered story unfolds in four acts, each ending with an unexpected development, keeping the player's interest level high. The story is full of intrigue with its twists and turns, playing like a detective movie with a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor on the side, along with a few explicit and more implicit violence in certain cut-scenes.

Production

I have had no problem installing or running the game. Unfortunately, not everyone has had the same fortune. The game comes in three CDs. There is not much disk swapping during gameplay, provided you do the full installation which takes a chunky 1.2GB (gulp!) of your hard disk. Otherwise, be prepared for a lot of disk swapping. I thought the loading times between locations were too long, considering that I did the full installation where the game ran practically from my hard disk! There are also reports that the game has problems running in Windows 95a, so either SR2 or Windows 98 is required. The GT Games site has no information whatsoever on Discworld Noir, though they are hosting a forum.

Discworld Noir has only been released in Europe and it seems that GT Interactive is not supporting the game as much as they should as a publisher, being more focused on the US market. No plan of release of Discworld Noir in the US has been announced. Such a shame.

Discworld Noir is a third-person point-and-click adventure game with pre-rendered 3D backgrounds and 3D characters. The backgrounds are generally nice, with the only problem being that some outdoor locations are just so dark that they can only really be seen when lightning flashes. Well, it's noir all right! Some indoor locations are less depressing and are painted in brighter colors. The dark backgrounds can keep objects hidden and result in some dreaded pixel-hunting. Fortunately, a name tag appears wherever you are on the right hotspot so it is just a matter of scanning the dark places with your cursor slowly and carefully. A helpful feature is the gamma correction which can brighten up the screen but at a cost of degrading the picture quality. The constantly pouring rain and the thunder or lightning effect are done very well, adding to the dark and sinister atmosphere. On the other hand, the characters are less well rendered and tend to look and move like lifeless automatons. Interestingly, Lewton seems to have a serious arm shaking problem whenever he speaks or gets stuck in certain locations making frantic turnarounds, unless you guide him carefully with your torchlight-shaped cursor. Each location in the game has its own musical theme. The music is jazzy, always fits well in with the environment, and is a pleasure to listen to. Sound effects are good and the characters' voices are all done well, except for the fact that only four people actually did all the voiceovers, making some of the minor characters sounding the same. The manual is neat and interesting to read with a few humorous remarks.

P. Jong: Perfect Entertainment is based in London, England. It is probably for marketing reasons that Discworld Noir is not released in North America, given the lackluster sales of adventure games compared to other genres in the US in recent years.

Gameplay

Discworld is a game with an ambitious story that advances as you ask questions, make discoveries, and put the clues together. There is always more than one leads to follow and the multiple paths within each act give the game some non-linearity. There are no machines to tinker with and graphic puzzles to solve. Instead, it is a clue gathering affair through character interactions and classic detective work, much like Byzantine: The Betrayal.

Discworld takes a little patience! You may be lost at times not knowing what else to do next to advance the story and end up visiting the same places again and again and asking everything that can be asked to everybody. There are a lot of dialogues in the game. Lewton is very verbose, and the long conversations can get tedious. Still, the results are always rewarding when you uncover another layer of the mystery and when the end-of-act cut-scene reveals yet another surprise. You can always skip the dialogues and cut-scenes by pressing the escape key. Sometimes conversations take place during cut-scenes. It is especially true toward the end when this becomes more frequent, giving the game a kind of interactive film quality.

You can't die in this game! Well, let me rephrase that: You can't die more than once in this game! Don't ask. It's one of the many surprises in the game. The main interface is pretty straightforward and intuitive. Whenever Lewton finds or hears a lead or a clue, he automatically jots it down in his notebook. Whenever a new location that can be visited is mentioned, a map icon shows up and the location gets highlighted on Ankh-Morpork's aerial view, which can then be used to jump between locations. At any location in the game, you can double-click on Lewton to access the notebook, the inventory, and later on, another function (telling what it is would be a spoiler). Pressing F1 brings up the options menu from where you can save and load games. Right-clicking on the objects or Non-Player Characters (NPCs) will make Lewton examine the object and make a comment. Left-clicking will cause an interaction to occur if it is possible. When you double-click on a NPC, a dialogue window opens. Various conversation topics, as well as the notebook and inventory items, can be clicked to ask the NPC questions. I took me about 30 hours to finish the game and it was an enjoyable experience.

Highs

Discworld Noir is very successful in creating a believable and eerie atmosphere. The backgrounds and cut-scenes are all well done. The story is deep and complicated and almost always manages to keep the player interested with its multiple leads and subplots. The storyline is full of surprises, especially the ending (even though you are likely to recognize the last few words spoken).

Lows

There have been lots of reports of major problems in installing and running the game. This is a serious concern, since a patch has not been released. The notebook can be tedious to peruse as you have to flip every page to find the right questions to ask. This gets worse when the notes of the leads that have been followed up get fully scratched off but still remain in the notebook occupying space. It would have been timesaving if they just disappear and the notebook has a tab system. Some of the dialogues which you need to listen to can get tiresome. The humor can also get a bit worn out and cheesy at times. Fortunately, a good joke or a clever reference once in a while keeps the player's interest in check.

Verdict

Discworld Noir is at best only a semi-sequel, but is one that still provides a satisfying gaming experience in its own right. Fans of the previous Discworld games should expect to see something completely different. On the other hand, those who have not enjoyed the kind of silliness of the former titles may find what they are looking in here. The story of Discworld Noir, along with many fun and new gameplay elements, keeps the player's interest high. So if you don't the mind long dialogues and clue gathering (and if you are sure that you can get the game running on your system), Discworld Noir is a good game to enjoy.

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