The first game from an Italian developer ‘Mad Orange’ comes in the form of a simple point-and-click adventure, which takes inspiration from various ‘film noir’ movies and novels. It was released throughout Europe, before it became localised for English-speaking countries by ‘Phoenix Online’, so now all of us can check out the wonders of this promising title. Let’s investigate this release.
Face Noir is straightforward in the way it flows in gameplay. It doesn’t come with gimmicks and any side-quests and challenges, so it’s more of a visual novel exploring the journey of Detective Jack Del Nero. He swims through the Depression era of redundancies, business closures, and shady characters, which makes up the whole gloomy background of the entire game. Del Nero is also interesting, in the fact he is strapped for cash and has a strong appetite for whisky, and his only hope lies in his Private Detective duties, which is something that he’s already sick of. But the real plot comes into orbit, as he is framed for the murder of Sean MacLeane and he’s desperately seeking leads to the real culprit, before his bail times up within a day and gets sent to jail. That’s the main storyline of the game, which takes place mostly in 1930’s Manhattan New York.
As I get to the first case in which Del Nero tries to find Susan, I walked around the street and entered into the hotel ‘Last Heaven’, where I spoke to the receptionist on how I can find ‘this’ woman. Without moving the mouse to the top of the screen, or pressing the space button, players won’t be able to progress much further. That’s right, there is an unmentioned feature known as an inventory, which is a key ingredient in every point-and-click game. Players can view the items and use them with any point of interest, so they can see if they can gain access or receive information needed to proceed further in the game. Speaking of those points, there’s also a small ‘?’ icon in the hud, which can highlight all of them as orange dots, which really helps a lot in many difficult situations.
The first stage of the game introduced me to a couple of unique mechanics. The first one of them is a close-up mini game, in which players can interact with an object in order to gain access to new areas. For example, the player can toggle with the dials of a thermostat box to make people open their windows, and pick locks to open various doors to different places. You can chat with people and use dialogue options, mainly to discover some extra information; but with enough exploration, you can use the blue option to open up a ‘dialogue pool’, where you can match two pieces of dialogue in order to gain information, necessary to proceed further into the game.
They look very detailed, which features strong composition and colours, as well as animations and flashes of light, making it appear more dramatic, and more dynamic. But I’m not fond of this format as it results in less flexibility of displays and static angles
The game represents well with good perspectives and a neat conversation window. It even comes with a nice Jazz soundtrack that nicely complements the dark melancholy environment. However, it uses pre-rendered and hand-drawn backgrounds, which are being placed on with 3D models, including the characters. They look very detailed, which features strong composition and colours, as well as animations and flashes of light, making it appear more dramatic, and more dynamic. But I’m not fond of this format as it results in less flexibility of displays and static angles (often making the player character small). For PSOne systems and low-end PC’s, that’s fine, otherwise it’s old-fashioned. It would’ve been considered ‘revolutionary’ if it were to be released 10 years ago.
The appeal of the game can also wear off quickly after a few hours of playing. If it’s not the weak voice acting or the sub-par quality of models and their animations, then it’s the narrative that certainly lacks personality. I can accept the main characters, background, and the initial plot, but it often feels too procedural as characters are focused on essential information, and the storyline overly concentrates on the tasks, without throwing in effective twists. Puzzles didn’t help either, as they occasionally require the player to think hard or check every hook and cranny for a solution. I mean how players would be able to find a code for their gun box, without seeing an ID number on their certificate? What about a window of opportunity when the player can sneak in to see the records, while the officers away to check on the inspector? How could they be able to figure that out? Without a lot of helpful tips and clues, and a Log of Del Nero’s thoughts and activities, this game feels like a case to see how far the player can go, before they give up (or search around the internet for help which, for a less known game, may prove hard). However, given these findings above, it’s more like a sigh of relief every time the player solves a puzzle.
Puzzles didn’t help either, as they occasionally require the player to think hard or check every hook and cranny for a solution.
It’s disappointing really, because the game is well built as I have not encountered a lot of glitches yet. There are a few odd ones I have discovered in my playthrough, even that some mini-games require objects in their near-perfect positions in order to solve a puzzle. But the game feels robust, and it can be completed in around 11 hours; I’ve played it for over 5 hours and I’ve managed to beat many cases of the game. Also the controls work rather nicely without a lot of fuss. It doesn’t feature multiple paths for the player to choose from, which makes the progression very linear, but it certainly helps in making sure that everything you see in a level can lead to an inevitable solution.
Face Noir came up with some interesting ideas for its control interface and it has some reasonable quality in art, music and gameplay logic. But its narrative is sluggish and often gets the player wound up in rather awkward puzzles. They would have expanded on its story and gameplay to make the game more interesting for many players. I don’t know if it matters much though, since Mad Orange is busy working on the sequel to this game, so there’s one thing they could do to make it better, then they need to improve on their PSX-friendly technologies.