Discworld Noir

Review by Jen

I am a pretty true-blue adventure gamer. I was sitting around feeling sorry for myself because of the current dearth of new games, and it came to my notice that Discworld Noir had been released in Europe but would not enjoy U.S. distribution, so I bit the bullet and ordered it from the U.K. Imagine my excitement when it actually arrived here a couple of weeks later! I quickly ripped off the wrapper and loaded it up. First off, there were three installation choices, small, medium, and large, with medium being the default. Since I got me this nice big 20 GB hard drive when my old one died not long ago, I went ahead and did the large install, which basically caused the whole game (close to 1.3 GB) to run from my hard drive. I figured I was in the gravy now and rubbed my palms together with glee.

DWN starts off quite promising—you play as Lewton, "the Discworld's first, and maybe last, private investigator." After a kind of a prologue that involves you dying but somehow still being around to tell your story, a bossy woman named Carlotta is in your office hiring you to locate her lover, Mundy, and then she leaves, conveniently forgetting to pay you. You decide to take the case anyway, perhaps swayed by Carlotta's high, perfectly spherical boobs, but more likely by the sorry state of your finances, "private investigator" being a fairly novel concept on the Discworld. You uncover conspiracy within conspiracy on top of other conspiracy, like peeling the layers of an onion, all in four acts. There are bits and pieces of famous noir films liberally sprinkled throughout the game, but with kind of a distinct Discworld spin. The game's plot is very highly developed, especially for a computer game, with lots of magic and murder—and I would say it's at least as good as Jane Jensen's stories for the Gabriel Knight games. It manages never to lose track of itself, even through numerous convolutions, and most, if not all, of the loose ends get tied up by the end of the game.

Graphics are pretty spotty. Some of the cutscenes are fantastic, especially since this is one of those ugly 3D-type games with polygons, but I feel like the designers skimped on the rest of them. Throughout most of the game, you get a background scene with characters superimposed on it, bobbing as if listening to a private little tune, moving their lips and waving their arms, but all the while no onscreen action is taking place. Everything is also too dark for my taste. There is a gamma correction option that adjusts the brightness, and I turned it all the way up, and the game was still too dark. I guess they weren't kidding when they said "noir." I really liked the way the characters were drawn, and I liked the way the whole look of the game, down to the characters and camera angles, all fit well within the film noir theme, but I mostly felt like I was listening to the radio because outside of the cutscenes the graphics did not add much, what with staring at the same background with the same characters wiggling and waggling in the same spots for a really long time, sometimes up to five minutes.

Gameplay is kind of spotty, too. I really liked the hotspot cursor that would light up an onscreen description of whatever you were supposed to interact with, and I really, really liked the fact that there was no dying. (Well, Lewton sort of dies, but it's part of the story.) The game is largely mouse-controlled, with a couple of function keys to bring up options and inventory and the ever-so-valuable "escape" key to skip scenes or conversation. And there is a whole lot of conversation (more about this a little further down) and very little in the way of puzzles, actual or integrated, and what puzzles there were were pretty obtuse. DWN was just crawling with bugs, too—at first, every time I tried to change locations, I inexplicably would get booted back to my Windows 98 desktop. Then I learned that if I got rid of all TSRs except for Explorer and Systray, there weren't any more crashes, but the game would stutter, sometimes for a couple of minutes straight. About halfway through, I got so fed up with how hard it was to actually enjoy the damned thing that I gave up and followed a walkthrough just to see how it ended. Back to the topic of conversations: better than 90% of the game involves talking to everyone about everything, much like in the Broken Sword games, and then 90% of what you hear is just dumb jokes. Actually, the jokes were pretty funny and cute at first, but the humor wore thin after the first few scenes. Now, I do realize that classic old-style adventure games rely heavily on conversing, but there was simply too much in this game, especially since there was nothing to watch except the bobbing heads and waving arms of Lewton and whomever he was talking to while listening to what they were saying. Okay, I'm done ranting now, but the bugginess and tiresomeness and the soreness of my escape-key pinkie sorely tried my patience.

Sound effects, music, and voice acting were all first-rate, or they would have been had it not been for the broken-record-skipping (or for you whippersnappers, that would be rap music) effect that just got worse the further I got into the game. In particular, I would have really enjoyed the music—each scene had a different, appropriate tune to go with it. The voice acting was kind of silly at times, much to my delight—Lewton is played by an Englishman trying to sound American, and some of the pronunciations had me cracking up—he always said "Clark" for "clerk," "I have some more quest-eons," and "trall" for "troll"—in fact, I thought "trall" was some kind of unique Discworld beast for the first half of the game, until I saw it in writing on the screen. And then on top of that, except for the exaggerated foreign accents of a couple of the characters, all the rest of the voices were undisguised British. Anyway, that is not a criticism, it was just amusing.

I really hate to be very critical of one of the few true adventure games that will be released this year, but DWN was a big disappointment to me, largely because it was such a pain in the ass just to get it to run. DWN fairly reeks of atmosphere and would have been a much better game had it not been for the bugs (and before you ask, my computer, while middle-of-the-road in these PIII days, far exceeds the stated requirements in every respect). The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Perfect Entertainment
Publisher: GT Interactive
Release Date: July 1999

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

P166 or greater IBM compatible computer
32 MB of RAM
8X CD-ROM drive
Windows 95/98

Where to Find It

Check the Game TZ

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