Face Noir – What We Think
Set in Great Depression-era New York, Face Noir is a smoky, seedy tale that drags Private Detective Jack Del Nero through shadowy back alleys rife with mystery and deception. Featuring a clever script, smart point-and-click puzzle solving mechanics, and a seductive jazz soundtrack, this stylish mystery stands out from the lineup of the usual suspects.
Face Your Destiny
As the tale opens, Jack Del Nero can be seen futilely chasing after a plane as it takes off. He exchanges some words with a lone figure with a gun who fires one shot, killing Jack. Could this be how our hero’s story ends? It’s all very Casablanca.
The clock winds back, and the bleak world of the private detective is revealed. To make a buck, Jack lurks in the cracks and crevices of the big city digging up dirt for vengeful business partners and snapping telling pics of unfaithful spouses. His latest case has him trying to catch a young aspiring starlet in steamy action with her much older film producer/paramour. The case plays out with relative ease, and Jack returns to his office for a night of fitful sleep before turning in his evidence. However, a bizarre late-night phone call sets a series of events in motion, and Jack finds himself needing to crack his biggest case yet, lest he end up dead, or worse, in prison.
To unravel the case, Jack must call upon all of his deductive skills; by carefully investigating areas, picking up useful items, interrogating subjects, and solving the occasional puzzles.
Having a keen eye for detail carries great importance in the game, as some visual details can add conversation options. In some instances, the right question can’t be asked until Jack puts it together using his “intuition”. This feature is basically a collection of information snippets that Jack has encountered throughout his investigation; by combining the correct two pieces of information together, Jack can formulate the query necessary to move the story forward.
A steady rainfall permeates the majority of the story, which takes place over the course of one late night in New York. All of the hand-painted backdrops contain a stunning amount of detail which, while dreary, capture a subtle reverence for the Big Apple and the downtrodden souls that call it home. Certain checkpoints in the action will trigger story events presented as a series of ghostly stills that slowly cycle as Jack narrates his discoveries.
As Jack prefers to work solo, the closest thing he has to a partner is the game’s music: The mood throughout is reinforced and elevated by the rich and diverse jazz soundtrack. It seems to patiently slink just behind Jack’s steps while never getting underfoot.
Face of Madness
Some of Face Noir’s puzzles can be overly meticulous, and the solutions, while logical, are often far from intuitive. In these circumstances, the result is a tedious retread of previous areas and conversation partners that can generate enough frustration to seriously fragment the story. It’s also hard to stay committed to the idea of the game spanning one night when hours can be collectively lost trying to solve a series of steps.
While the overall art design stuns, the 3D models used in conversation sequences don’t fully mesh. They feature less texture than the rest of the visual elements, and as they are viewed up close, they come off feeling ghastly and plastic. This feels more like it is due to technical shortcomings rather than by design. It’s quite jarring in the first few verbal exchanges, though never enough to ultimately derail the allure of the narrative.
Phoenix Online – producers of the Cognition series – did a stellar job with the English translation of the script (the original was created by Italian dev team Mad Orange), though the voice cast isn’t without its drawbacks: The North American version is cleverly written, and remains packed with twists, turns and new developments, that make good sense (for the most part). Jack’s sarcastic, yet eloquent take on events is expertly delivered, though some of the supporting characters lack the commitment to sell the game’s implied mood.
Noir is the New Black
Despite the occasional stumble, Face Noir emerges from the fog as one of the better point-and-click adventures I’ve played in recent memory. For fear of spoiling the discovery, it will suffice to say that the story is beguiling just enough as to leave players wanting more…and this is mainly due to the solid narrative structure upon which the scenery hangs.
Gorgeous, yet dreary, Face Noir pulses with intrigue, and throws in a dash of the subtle machismo of the great gumshoe heroes in Dashiel Hammett and Raymond Chandler novels that clearly inspired the game’s creators.