By Will Harlan | Contributor Published: 07/18/2013 10:51 am EST
It started off as any bad story does. It was just another adventure game released beyond the genre’s time. The point-and-click puzzles, awkward tongue-in-cheek dialogue, and expansive inventory management were enough to make my head spin. But then it came to me like a sunrise after too-many shots of tequila: Chandler-esque detective stories and the classic adventure game were made for each other.
Okay, enough with my sloppy impression of hardboiled detective fiction and on to the review. Face Noir is an adventure game which is heavily inspired by hardboiled detective fiction and film noir. As an homage to its namesake Face Noir is excellent. The atmosphere, character design, and overall style fits snugly within the usual hardboiled tropes. But in spite of its areas of excellence Face Noir loses a lot of its luster in its overall production and translation quality.
You play through the game as private investigator Jack del Nero. Since the story is the highlight of Face Noir I’ll refrain from revealing too much about the plot, but I will say that the story starts off with some very familiar tropes to the genre. The game is set in Depression-era New York, and manages to capture the grit of the detective stories from that time. Face Noir begins – as any pulp fiction should – after everything has gone to hell. After some plot exposition the game takes us back to the beginning of the case, and allows us to retrace del Nero’s footsteps to his arrival at an uncertain future. The case is unassuming at first: a man who is tired of giving financial assistance to his reckless daughter hires del Nero to snoop on her private affairs with much older gentlemen. The plot snowballs from here, but is incredibly well executed within the adventure game medium.
Face Noir is a basic adventure game which brings very little innovation to the genre. Though some would criticize its gameplay as tedious or obtuse, I’m a little more forgiving that it doesn’t exactly seek to reinvent the wheel. Plus, I think that the adventure game is an almost perfect medium for the player to experience a detective story. The best detective stories I’ve read have been ones which did not feature astounding amounts of gunplay, but featured intriguing plot twists, character interaction, and uncanny problem-solving skills. All of these features are naturally expressed through an adventure game, and Face Noir manages to make the puzzles intuitive enough for the average person to figure out on their own. Though its puzzles and game design aren’t exactly problematic the game has a few issues when it comes to its production value.
Originally developed by the Italian company Mad Orange, Face Noir was given an English translation with English voice actors by Phoenix Online Studios. The translation is, frankly, lacking in some areas of the game. It isn’t clear whether or not is an intentional oversight, but some posters and other artwork in the game are left in Italian. Additionally, del Nero has an awkward habit of yelling “dannazione” when frustrated (instead of dammit). Though, yes, the game makes it clear that del Nero is Italian it feels a bit campy to have him speak English otherwise. The translation overall feels a bit ham-fisted at times. Though the actual direction and plot development of the story is ultimately untarnished by the weak translation, it leaves the game with some incredibly awkward mechanical phrasing. The translation issues are also made more obvious by the below-average quality of voice acting. Forgiveness for indie developer budgets aside, a plot-heavy game which features a lot of voice acting needs to have some stronger voice actors. The translation issues might prove to be a huge distraction to some, but to me it just gave the game an admittedly campy but endearing quality to it.
A gamer hailing from the days of Sonic the Hedgehog and Ecco the Dolphin, Will has an understandably intense anxiety surrounding water levels. When he isn't thinking about video games and pop culture he usually can be found dropping references from The Big Lebowski.