Face Noir is a detective-based video game. You play Jack del Nero, a detective in New York City in the 1930s. He starts out on a simple case; but is quickly drawn into plot involving the murder of his old partner, kidnapping of a young girl, a large crime syndicate, and police corruption.
August 12, 2013
Phoenix Online Studios, Mad Orange
The story starts with Jack being hired by an upset father. The father can prove his that his daughter has a lover so that he can stop paying her bills. Jack takes the case; and your introduction to Jack’s life consists of getting pictures of the illicit affair. Before Jack can develop the pictures, he receives a strange phone call promising information on the case. Jack follows the lead to find his old estranged partner, shot dead. Jack is immediately arrested for the murder. This sets the story in motion.
Jack will try to clear his name by finding the real murderer. He’ll encounter a small child; who everyone seems to be after. He’ll befriend a Chinese cab driver who mysteriously replaced a Mexican. He’ll visit the bar of his friend, and deal with the mafia and corrupt cops.
Some supernatural elements are introduced into the game about half way through, and this was a surprising plot advancement. When dreaming, Jack can see into the past of his old partner. This was a creative way to fill in some plot gaps that Jack would not know otherwise. At first the supernatural elements felt out of place; but I think they worked. There is a lot that can be explored, and explained, about the supernatural connection that is left out of this game. Hopefully it will be explored more in a sequel.
During the beginning of the game; and near the end; it is pretty obvious where to go next and what you need to do. The hints are written right into the game and it is easy to determine a course of action. However, as you discover more areas and enter the middle part of the game, your task of action is less obvious. Having a reviewer’s walkthrough helped me figure out what to do, but I sometimes wondered about the why. When in doubt; unfortunately, I think you’ll be stuck revisiting every location and clicking every hotspot until something works. Thankfully, there are no hidden hotspots in the game. Next to your inventory bar, you’ll find a question mark which will show you all the hotspots on the current screen.
Many times during the game you’ll examine certain item, or locations, and get presented with a close-up shot for in depth interactions. Examples of this were opening a safe, reading a diary, and using a lock pick set to open a door. I found these puzzles to be more frustrating than fun. For example, at one point you examine something that looks like a three roulette boards embedded in each other. You must turn them all so they match up. As best I could tell this was a random puzzle; with no hints to the solution anywhere in the game. There was at least one other puzzle that gave me similar frustration.
There were a few puzzles where Jack would have to put together pieces of a broken item. Normally I like these types of puzzles, but in this case they added a third dimension. Items could be rotated so you could see other sides, or the back of the item. I hissed a few times only to find that an “extra” quarter turn was all I needed to put everything in place.
They did have one cool aspect that came up multiple times. When talking to characters, or examining some items, you had the option to combine phrases and ideas together. This would form a complete thought which you could then ask the character about. This reminded me of the first Blackwell game, where Rosa had to combine elements from her notebook in order to find new talking points to characters.
Usually I have trouble when it comes to writing about the sound of the game. My thoughts are often “it works” and I don’t have a lot to elaborate on. Face Noir is a rare title that gives me a lot to say. I found the background music to be suitable, but too loud most of the time. It was often fighting with the voiceovers; meaning the default sound mix is bad; with all sound options set as high as possible. Do yourself a favor and lower the music and noise a bit before you delve into the game.
I found the voices in this game to be droll and boring. It made it hard to get into the game. The lead voice actor, especially, was especially grating. I believe this was done to try to set a mood and give the feel of an old time detective story; however it failed. Instead of offering a factual and direct presentation like you’d see in the old Dragnet TV Show; Jack was written to be a sarcastic joke popping wise guy. Unfortunately that vibe doesn’t jive with the direction of the voice.
If you like mystery and detective stories, then you’ll enjoy Face Noir. Despite some frustrations with the puzzles, the game does a really great job of letting the story unravel between small chunks of gameplay. A lot of small chunks make this a good sized title. Unfortunately, the story ends with the case unresolved and a huge opening for a sequel. I’d play a sequel!