The noir genre of film and literature is packed full of great, famous hard-boiled detective characters, not one of whom I can actually name. My tastes run more toward guys like Tracer Bullet and Flint Paper, private dicks who somehow manage to perfectly skewer the genre by doing nothing but remaining unerringly true to it. For awhile, it looked like Nick Chase would take his place among that esteemed company, but when all was said and done there wasn’t quite enough gum on his shoes to put him over the top.
In Nick Chase and the Deadly Diamond, players take on the role of the fedora-wearing title character, a former police detective who’s now living the hard-knock life of a grizzled P.I. When a mysterious package bearing his name turns up at his favorite bar, "the Chase is on" as players solve puzzles, find hidden objects, interact with a seedy rogues’ gallery and even get their lights punched out, all in pursuit of a fabulous diamond that’s also caught the eye of the mysterious Mr. X.
The first thing you’ll notice when the game begins is the visual style. It is, in a word, fantastic. The game absolutely nails the downtrodden look of the classic 50s detective story in settings like a bar, a decrepit gas station and the obligatory cluttered detective’s office, all hand-drawn in a comic book style that’s a blast to look at. Most of the game’s supporting characters, like lunkish Joe the Bartender and sweet Mary Ann Smith, are similarly well-rendered and fit very well in their environments.
Music in the game is similarly noteworthy. It’s a repetitive backbeat, nothing too unusual in a hidden object adventure game, but the smooth, sultry notes are ideal for a game about thugs, trench coats, dames and diamonds. It’s a great match for the game’s stunning backdrops and helps create one of the most visually interesting and engaging HOG-adventure worlds I’ve ever run into.
Gameplay is fun and engaging – at least at first. Nick Chase and the Deadly Diamond begins with the simple act of spinning a song on a jukebox, which quickly turns into a much greater chore than it should be. That’s hardly unusual in a hidden object game, though, and it kicks things off well.
Items are distinct, well-drawn and fairly easy to find, and while the game does occasionally take liberties with wordplay (at one point the player is asked to find three instances of pepper, which turn out to be two shakers and one of the sweet green variety) the differing objects are easy enough to pick out that it feels like it’s being done in good fun, rather than as an intentional effort to trip up the player.
The hidden object searches feature a few other twists as well, like "super-hidden" objects that are located behind pieces of the environment that have to be moved to reveal items behind them. The cursor changes shape when moved over such objects so they’re not much more difficult to find, but the concept of two "levels" of hidden objects is an interesting one.
There are also a few dark sections with very cool flashlight effects; one in particular elicited an amusing (and very unprintable) reaction when a bulb I found and installed popped after giving me only a few seconds of decent light. The searches themselves are very simple and although I expected them to grow more challenging as the game progressed, that did not turn out to be the case.
In fact, as I made my way through the game it became clear that hidden object searches would be a relatively small part of the overall package. The majority of my play time would be occupied by numerous other puzzle types, most of which have been done numerous times previously and don’t bring anything new to Nick Chase and the Deadly Diamond. There’s a classic Tower of Hanoi puzzle using a stack of wrecked cars at a junk yard; there’s a couple of simple "spot the differences between these pictures" puzzles; there’s a sliding block puzzle where you have to clear a path for Nick to get from one side of a room to another; there’s even a Bejeweled clone later in the game, albeit the dullest and most unexciting Bejeweled clone I’ve ever played.
There are enough different mini-games to create variety, but most of them feel like they’ve been cut-and-pasted into the game directly from other sources. Visuals aside, there’s just nothing to differentiate them from the numerous other versions out there that we’ve all played countless times before. Strangely, the one unique idea that I thought had real potential – "super-hidden" objects – disappeared after the game’s opening sequence, never to be seen again.
A few legitimately interesting brain-teasers are scattered throughout the game but unfortunately, for every one of them there’s an over-long exercise in tedium to be encountered elsewhere. One particularly egregious example is a map search "puzzle" in which players must locate a street name on a large city map covered in tiny print. No clues, no rhyme or reason, just scour the map until you find the street: What could possibly lead someone to think that might be fun? Fortunately, an option to skip most sections becomes available after an appropriate wait, although doing so will negatively affect the player’s final score.
There’s more to a game than just the final score, of course, but in the end that’s what it all comes down to and in that regard, Nick Chase and the Deadly Diamond has left me in a bit of an odd position. The setting is great, the production values are brilliant and it starts out very strongly, but as it progresses and inserts more and more "adventure" elements into the mix, it slows and sags and just never recovers. The presentation is fantastic but it just can’t overcome the crippling lack of originality that plagues the game. At the end of the day, the Deadly Diamond is really a cubic zirconia: It looks fabulous as long as you don’t look too closely.