Playing Face Noir, a new to America adventure game for the personal computer, is like looking back in time to the first golden age of adventures. Face Noir refuses to hold your hand through its puzzles, no matter how insanely obscure some combinations of items might seem. It places names and numbers in the environment, but relies on the players to remember these facts or write them down in order to progress. It includes stealth sections in the same haphazard way that early FPS games handled platforming. For some, this will be a familiar and welcome return to the past, but most anyone who didn’t grow up combining items and pixel hunting will find nothing but frustration here.
The game tells the story of Jack del Nero a detective living in a Depression era New York City. He is framed for the murder of his old partner, and must delve into that mysterious killing in order to clear his name. The story is standard noir, enhanced by its colorful cast of characters and by the details found everywhere from the seedy bar that he frequents, to the rainy bloodstained docks where he finds the body. It’s clear that there was a lot of work done to build out the world of Face Noir, and it shines through.
Face Noir (PC [Reviewed], Mac, iPad)
Developer: Mad Orange
Publisher: Phoenix Online Studios
Released: July 19, 2013
This effort also extends out to the characters and writing, which is admittedly not grade A material. However, much like the viewer of a bad movie can find joy in the story if the actors try their hardest to sell the material, Face Noir holds a praisable quirkiness that carries you through some of the cliche and questionable accents. The voice acting quality is all over the place, with some doing a serviceable job, while others playing hammy versions of characters from the films of the 1930s. Nothing in this game is taken one hundred percent seriously, which is definitely to its benefit. Even the times that Jack breaks the fourth wall or uses Italian curse words for no reason are enjoyable rather than groan worthy
It’s a shame that all these likable characters and beautiful environments were created to service this gameplay. Nothing is more frustrating to anyone playing a video game than when you know exactly what you have to do, but the game won’t let you do that thing because of imprecise controls or obscured visual elements. Even beyond the memorization of banal facts and weird item combinations that used to be a staple of the genre, Face Noir borrows from the work of David Cage by making you manually turn every door knob, rotate every puzzle piece, and flip every switch. I imagine their hope was for better immersion, but instead these elements take away from the story and shove the mechanics of what the player is doing right into their faces.
Overall, the game feels as if it has no care for the player’s time. Whereas most modern adventure games make a clear distinction between important item interactions, jokes, and flavor text, Face Noir leaves everything for the player to deduce. Conversation options appear out of thin air after certain unmarked observations, forcing you to click through rooms three or four times in order to find the one option that progresses the story. This game does posses a button that highlights all the clickable items in a room, but even with that assistance i found myself struggling to make out objects in the scenery, often not knowing what I was actually clicking on until Jack told me about it.
The creators of Face Noir had a vision that is apparent in the final product. The world they create and the conversations they have written are interesting and laughable at the same time, never too serious while also never being completely awful. The gameplay is ripped out of adventure games of the past, ignorant of the advances in accessibility found in games of the genre released in the past decade. If you’re willing to spend hours hunting for items and struggling with controls, there is a fun story to see here. However, these more frustrating aspects will more than likely turn away all but the most jaded adventure aficionado.