No tension and mystery here, just tedium and disinterest.
Falsely accused of murder, private dick Jack Del Nero must comb through the seedy, corrupt underbelly of 1930s New York as he struggles to find the real killer and prove his innocence in Face Noir, the new point-and-click adventure from Mad Orange and Phoenix Online Studios. You’ll struggle, too, with awkward dialog, primitive character models, clunky animations, and tedious adventure game minutiae that take all the fun out of being the lead character in a Raymond Chandler-esque romp.
The experience of Face Noir is encapsulated by a scene fairly early on in the game, when private investigator Jack Del Nero – that’s you – receives a mysterious phone call. The caller demands a meeting on the docks in the middle of the night. Del Nero is reluctant, until the caller gives him a name: MacLeane! The line goes dead; the private dick knows what he must do.
Unfortunately, before he can go to the meeting, he has to find his gun. Where is it? Don’t know. Eventually you’ll find the lock-box in which it’s stashed hidden amongst an array of other boxes on a shelf. What’s the combination? Don’t know – it’s been years since he put the gun in there. Once you figure that out (and to be fair, it’s not a particularly difficult puzzle, just one that requires a lot of poking around), you’ll have your gun – and then it’s time to look for the bullets. Once they’re found, you’re finally out the door, only to discover that there’s only one cabbie for your entire section of New York City, and he’s on a “three or four hour break” and refuses to take you anywhere.
This isn’t the only flaw of Face Noir, but it’s easily the most fundamental: there’s too much focus on all the wrong things, and while extraneous “puzzles” are hardly unique to this particular adventure, it runs completely counter to the idea of playing as a cynical, hard-living PI who’s seen and heard it all. The feeling of being a latter-day Philip Marlowe (or even Tracer Bullet) never comes together, because instead of puzzling out the truth about an out-of-control blonde with poor taste in men, you’ll be too busy trying to figure out how to get the film out of the camera without exposing it to light.
As an adventure, Face Noir is a conventional point-and-click experience that won’t put too much strain on your deductive capabilities. Conversing with other characters is a big part of the action, but unfortunately there’s no flow or natural progression to the dialog; conversations are simply a checklist of questions, each of which elicits a single response, that can be repeated over and over indefinitely and without variation. That too is far from unique to Face Noir, but in a game so reliant on interactions with other characters, it really stands out as a weakness.
The background graphics are nice enough, although way too heavy on the sepia toning – it actually gives the game a flat, dull look that quickly grows visually boring. The bluesy jazz soundtrack, while not overly complex, is ideal for the setting. But the character models and textures are primitive, as though they come from a game much older than this one; lip-synching is non-existent, and the voices sound like something out of a not-quite-fully-baked fan project. Character movement is awkward as well; everyone seems to walk in a straight line and turn at sharp angles to get where they need to go.
Despite the poor quality of the production, Face Noir does offer a baseline level of adventure game competence. You’ll ask questions and get answers, collect inventory items and use them on other objects, and otherwise indulge in the usual activities you’d expect in a point-and-click adventure, all in a stable environment with only a couple of easily-overlooked subtitle spelling errors. Interactive hotspots can be revealed immediately and without cost by pressing the “F1” key, and the mouse-driven controls are simple and intuitive: right-click to cycle through the list of available options (typically no more than two per object) and left-click to select it. There isn’t a log or notebook to keep track of what Del Nero needs to do, but the story is so linear that it’s virtually impossible to get lost, and the game won’t let you proceed beyond an area until you’ve done all you need to do anyway.
But in every meaningful way – which is to say, any way related to the creation of an engaging noir setting – Face Noir fails. The characters are dull, the clichés fall flat, and instead of tension and mystery, there’s tedium and disinterest. The idea of a “classic” noir adventure is a good one, but the end result of this sad story just doesn’t satisfy.