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Discworld Noir (PC) artwork

Discworld Noir (PC) review

"ďNo one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away...Ē ― Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man"

Discworld Noirís existence has always perplexed me. Though it was a product of the same team who produced the prior two Discworld games, it was such a massive departure from the preceding style that such a jump would seem unimaginable. Previous titles frolicked in the chaotic absurdity of the franchise, muddling together the chronicles of incompetent wizard, Rincewind and his ever-altering descent into whimsy. Absurdities were exaggerated and played up for laughs, which lead to memorably hilarious instances being marred with the particularly frustrating and obtuse leaps of logic you had to take to reach them. To bypass something as pedestrian as a locked door would require you to rub a badgerís belly anticlockwise with a jar lid constructed of jealousy, or some such. In the days before Youtube and Gamefaqs, this meant your only option was to unlearn everything you knew to try and get your head around the in-game logic, or to fall back on the point and click staple of clicking everything with anything and then being mildly annoyed at what you found stuck.

Iím not going to suggest these things do not exist in the world of Discworld Noir, but theyíre scaled right back in favour of trying to craft an original story, and only borrow Pratchettís pre-built universe to house their tale in rather than taking slices of his work and re-enacting them with fanciful inventory puzzles interjected. Itís unclear just how much input the late Terry Prachett put into Noirís original tale; heís credited endgame as ďCausing far too much interferenceĒ (itís hard to gleam any insight from that seeing as his credit from Discworld 2 was ďthrowing rocks from afarĒ) but itís easy to believe he had a significant hand in it. Noirís choice to move away from pre-established characters and forge out on its own works so well because, though itís very much its own self-contained tale, itís still comfortably a Discworld tale.

Discworld Noir (PC) image

It puts Noir in an enviable place; still able to appeal to long term fans of the series but, on the other hand, not alienating fresh perspectives with the burden of assumed knowledge. By this point, former leading role, Rincewind, boasts appearances in a dozen or so books while gumshoe Lewton toils in the obscurity only offered to a one-shot video-game protagonist starring in a title with very limited release outside of Europe. Lewton, for his sins, has become the first private detective in a city that treats the word of the law as more of a loose suggestion. As a disgraced former member of the city watch, he found his skillset didnít open many other opportunities, and needed to find some way to pay his bar bill.

Noirís commitment to being, well, noir, is perhaps its most commendable aspect. Itís a satire at heart, sure, but is taking place in a universe that has long since established that just because itís funny doesnít mean that it canít be serious. The ambience is all driving rain, sullen lighting and depressing gloom, while the unfolding tale certainly isnít afraid to dip into the macabre. Iím not sure the composer of the soundtrack even knew the game was supposed to be a parody, and the little jazzy interludes plays it dead straight while perfectly dripping mood. The cartoonish appearance of the previous two games has also gone under a massive metamorphosis to further underline the change in temperament. The first Discworld was constructed in colourful pixels and sprites; the second was lovingly hand animated. Noir is 3D rendered. Sort of.

Only Lewton has fully 3D polygon model, and thatís only really when heís moving around; everything and everyone else are all pre-rendered in a similar style but in 2D. It all looks dated, as will any early attempt to pioneer polygons over pixels, but the darker, broodier look does well to further distance Noir from its lampoonish predecessors. Likewise, Noirís progression does not throw you at the mercy of quirky lateral adventure game thinking. As much, anyway; there are still random items to stockpile and combine to bypass the obstacle of the day, but it offers a much greater focus on gaining clues and insight through dialogue. Questioning and hounding people, tripping them up with new bits of information that reveal previous conversations were rife with lies. Itís a little bit like an early L.A. Noire with a budget scaled back to 1% and without all that press X to win nonsense.

You even jot down clues and titbits in your notebook as you go along, which you can combine together to make logical assumptions and use it as a second form of opening dialogue. Noir works so well because Lewtonís more than a sardonic loser spitting disdain and sarcasm but an actual detective seriously chasing solution for a series of crimes. It wouldnít be noir-ish if this didnít all start with a random mysterious woman showing up in his office offering a seemingly insignificant case that constantly balloons further out of control and forces him further down the rabbit hole Ė so Iím happy to inform thatís exactly what happens. For the keen eye, there are plenty of little shout-outs and throw backs to the grainy 40ís flicks of Bogart and Heyworth.

Noirís a game happy to put the boot into tropes and gently poke fun at treasured memories. Itís full of rambling hard-boiled soliloquies, trench coats and unironic fedoras, but never gets so wrapped up in its mocking that it forgets to produce towards its subject matterís strengths. So itís shame youíll probably never play it; getting it to run on a modern PC is nightmare fuel that will, no matter how hard you try, never presents you with a perfect emulation. Falling back on the Playstation version is a viable option so long as you donít mind taking a huge hit in quality as a multi CD PC game is compressed down to one disk. Youíd also have to probably live in Europe, the only region it was released. These are all big obstacles to overcome, yet I canít help but insist that Noir is worth it. Itís a real shame that it will never find the admiration it really deserved; too fastidious to run in a modern era while it was dismissed in its prime for straying from the established formula. Instead, that should have been the grandest reason of all to celebrate it.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (March 14, 2015)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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