Sunday, August 4, 2013

Review - Face Noir

I just completed a brand new video game called Face Noir -- a film-noir inspired point-and-click game where you play a private detective who becomes mixed up in a web of lies, kidnapping, murder, and deceit.

I am, in my regular life, a film noir aficionado so my interest and expectations in this game are high due to the fact that it has a very specific set of criteria to live up to.

In this series, you never have to wait for my opinion: in this case, Face Noir did a very good job of giving me the noir-style storyline I was hoping for complete with twists and turns, but was not a total success do to the introduction of certain supernatural elements that felt a bit contrived. Overall, the game was interesting -- with puzzles that tested my skills and characters that (while numerous) I cared about deeply.

But is it right for you? Well let's find out.

What is it?

Face Noir is a point-and-click drama where you play as Jack Del Nero -- a detective hired to track down the daughter of a wealthy client. You go about obtaining a photograph of said daughter engaged in hanky-panky with a greasy pervert who is pretending to be a movie producer.

Low and behold -- that's just a tutorial.

Upon completing your assignment, you return home and go to bed only to be awoken in the middle of the night by a telephone call. The mysterious voice on the phone invites you to the docks and this begins a new and sorted path that leaves you wanted by the police, the mob, and another even more mysterious organization.

The game was developed by Mad Orange -- a brand new design house established in Italy. I will tell you that there are several very minor Italian-to-English translation issues with this game, but nothing so awful that it wrecks the experience. I'll discuss those in a bit.

For right now, it's important to understand what film noir is -- in order to appreciate that Face Noir is at once both an homage as well as a twist on the classic movie genre. A great movie to watch before playing this game would be The Big Sleep with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Touch of Evil, Thieves' Highway, and other noir classics are also good, but there are a lot of very smooth references to the Bogie/Bacall flick incorporated into this game that you'll miss if you haven't seen it.


  • The music in this game is a series of fantastic jazz pieces that are very subtle but ramp up at just the right moments to add ambiance.
  • True to film noir style, you are an anti-hero. You drink, you don't pay your tabs, you don't care about anyone other than yourself. You really don't like yourself at the start of the game, but as you go along you grow and become a better person. I liked that a lot.
  • The "P" key is a shortcut that puts an icon over everything that's clickable. Unlike other games of the genre, these hotspots are very clear and last long enough to view them all.
  • When you right-click, that changes up the options of your cursor for when you left click. For instance, when you want to switch from look to speak, you just right click once. This worked well and made the game faster.
  • My favorite part of the game was when you had to connect the dots between two snippets of information you heard earlier to formulate a new question that you could then ask an NPC. This is a great mechanic that was done really well.
  • There are many references to old film noir movies. For instance, Jack's cigarettes are called "Old Marlowes" -- a tribute to Bogart's private detective character in The Big Sleep. There are others, but I'll let you figure them out.
  • One of my favorite parts of the game is the shaded objects that appear in the foreground that essentially frame the scene with shadows. That was very noir.
  • Little known fact, in noir you get a lot of catch phrases and unique elements that set heroes apart from everyone else. There's some of that here, too. For instance, Jacks catch phrase is "dannazione" -- which means "Damn it all to Hell" in Italian.
  • This game taught me that the proper name for Russian nesting dolls is "Matryoshka". Any time a game teaches me something, that's a pro.
  • I like the use of still illustrations during the cut scenes. I think they were very well drawn and very well used.
  • I like that Jack has some very funny quips when you click on various objects that can't be opened about how he's not about to go around opening every damn thing he sees.
  • Jack's relationship with the cab driver is great comedy. I enjoyed that a lot.
  • Some of the mini-games have a skip button if you don't want to take the time to do them. I actually wished they had done that for all the puzzles since I was there more for the story than I was for the puzzles.
  • The game features flashbacks. These events occur immediately after a cool animation of a clock spinning backward. I thought that was well done.
  • The game ends the same way it begins; this is a film technique that works well in games and I wish that more game developers would apply such film practices to their games.


  • Other than anti-aliasing, there are no graphics settings for this game. Above all else, there is no way to change the aspect ratio, so sadly the video you are watching looks ridiculous because I couldn't change it over to 1280x720. You can also turn off and on shadows and subtitles, but overall it's a bad sign when you have more audio options than video options.
  • The developers are from Italy, so there are many instances where things don't translate correctly from Italian to English. Also, the game takes place on March 27, 1934 in New York City. This is an actual date and time and it presents problems when you compare it ot what's happening in the game. For-instance, in the game they are talking about how there is about to be an election. Elections in America run in November. And, as a matter of fact, the mayor on that date was Fiorello La Guardia -- one of the greatest mayors in the history of America. There's a reason his name is on an airport. Now I get that there's a cultural and a language difference and some of these things I can forgive, but you're not allowed to replace icons with fake mayors. Just a little bit of research could have made this a great game rather than just a good game.
  • When you use the radio to listen to music, you find the one and only channel for music is on the FM dial; to wit, music was played on the AM dial originally because it was cheaper. It wasn't until two decades later that Jack would have found music on the FM dial. In fact, Edwin Armstrong -- the guy who made FM feasible -- didn't do so until about six months after the events of the game, so the FM setting on the radio wouldn't even have existed at the time. There are several items like this that exist in the game. If you're into historical accuracy, this game is going to bother you.
  • There is very little emotion in the voice acting; in my opinion, it seems fairly obvious that they were reading from scripts. Also, the lips of the characters just kind of dribble up and down and don't really match what you're listening to.
  • The game starts with a five minute movie. While the information in that movie is important in order to understand the ending of the game, there were other ways they could have dealt with that exposition.
  • So, this one is a bit confusing in terms of what they were actually going for. There are references made to the actress "Vivian Leight" [sic] at the start of the game. Now, either they were referring to the actual actress Vivian Leigh -- who didn't start her acting career until 1935 (and even then, she was on stage not film) -- and thus both misspelled and mispronounced her name, or, they invented an actress with a similar name and it's just an absurd creative choice. Either way, it was immersion breaking.
  • Any time you want to look at something, you have to walk over to it first. That is ragingly annoying. If I can see it, just tell me what it is. I shouldn't have to plant myself in front of an advertisement to read it.
  • A lot of times, when you end a conversation, the dialog option reads, "I have nothing more to say to you." When you click on it, Jack actually says, "I have nothing more to say to you." and then the NPC responds. That shows the youth of this particular development house.
  • There's an autosave slot in your "Load Game" menu, but the game doesn't seem to use it and I didn't see anything in the options that you would click on to activate it. So that was weird.
  • Sometimes the written directions that were on the screen during minigames were cut off. That was sloppy and sometimes made the minigame harder than it should have been.
  • Like many games of this genre, some of the puzzle solutions are simply absurd. You can repair a cut telephone line with a candy wrapper and I bought information from a guy after spending a half-an-hour manufacturing fake booze bottles. However, while annoying they were rare.
  • The game tells you at one point that Jack doesn't like to go down dark alleys. About twenty minutes later, not only do you walk down the exact same dark alley, but it turns out you're walking down said alley because that's where your apartment building is.
  • There's a door locked with a card reader; that is completely absurd.
  • There are a host of nitpicks that I have. In the police station, when you look at the assignment board all of the "N"s are backwards. Also, on Sean MacClain's passport, he's listed as 5' 20" instead of 6' 8". And for my last bit of nit picking, when you pay your landlord and check your inventory, it says you only have five dollars left but you're holding a ten.

Final Thoughts

It would be quite easy to garble the plot of a game when you at once try to combine a classic movie genre with your own personal storyline and then mix in a supernatural twist. In fact, if you were to ask me to try to do the same, I would probably decline such an offer.

While not all the puzzles are perfect and I needed to consult a walkthrough guide twice to finish the game, for the most part this game was a success. The plot worked for me, the characters were realistic, and I was more than happy to overlook the weathered graphics and historical inaccuracies to get to the end.

Is it right for you? Well, only you can decide that. Hopefully this review will help.

If you have any questions that I didn't answer, leave them in the comments below and I will do what I can.

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