Discworld leans into Tex Murphy territory.
Perhaps you’ve visited Discworld before. It’s a flat, disc-shaped realm set on the backs of four elephants that, in turn, ride on a giant turtle, willed into book form by Terry Pratchett. It’s a colorful, lively place that inspired the creation of a computer game adventure series. Discworld Noir is a return to that mixed-up fantasy world and, more specifically, the infamous city of Ankh-Morpork. But if anyone thinks they’ll be continuing the adventures of the wizard Rincewind, they’re sadly mistaken. This is a whole new branch to the Discworld universe – part comedy, part detective thriller.
Lewton is down on his luck. He’s a former member of the Ankh-Morpork Watch who has been dismissed for his involvement in some admittedly shady dealings. Since then, he’s struck out on his own as a private eye. One day, trouble comes walking in the door in the form of a mysterious woman named Carlotta. She hires Lewton to find a man named Mundy, who was supposed to reach Ankh-Morpork the previous night by ship.
Of course, things aren’t quite as straightforward as they might seem. We know this because, at the beginning of the game, Lewton is already dead. This isn’t as bad an occurrence in the Discworld, but it does color things from the very start. In fact, the entire previously described scene is told in flashback, as is much of Discworld Noir’s story. But rest assured that Lewton will have to do plenty of digging through the seedy underbelly of Ankh-Morpork. In the process, he’ll encounter a wide variety of characters, grill them for clues and leads, and try to find his man. This being an adventure game and all, however, tracking down Mundy is only the beginning of Lewton’s trek through a very involved set of conspiracies and subplots.
Playing Discworld Noir should be none-too-hard for anyone who has ever picked up one of LucasArts’ well-known adventure titles. The perspective is third-person, viewed from a variety of angles. The scenery consists of well-rendered 2D backdrops over which the animated characters move – a stark departure from the lively cartoon-drawn art of previous games. There’s a multi-purpose icon used to shuffle Lewton around, engage in conversation characters and investigate, pick up or use objects. Not a lot of new ground broken there, to be honest.
What is most interesting, though, is the one addition that Discworld Noir does make to the SCUMM-esque model. As Lewton investigates the case, he’ll come across certain points that are key to his investigation. When that happens, a small notebook icon appears in the upper-left corner of the screen that notifies you something important has been said or found. The highlights from the notebook can then be used as an interrogation tool. When Lewton speaks with any character, he can open up the notebook and question any character on the numerous leads, contacts and hints that Lewton will collect over the course of the game. This adds to the detective feel of the game.
In truth, atmosphere is this title’s greatest strength, one that permeates every aspect of the experience. The graphics, while not the most dazzling, are very pleasing in their aesthetic quality and unique design. And while they may not be on par with the 3D-accelerated visuals of Grim Fandango, they really do a nice job of bringing out the best in both the Discworld universe and the noir aspects of the game.
Much like the skeletal denizens of Grim Fandango, Discworld Noir’s fantasy-based characters somehow fit smoothly into a tale of hardened criminals, deceitful deeds and mounting mystery. The puzzles seem to flow directly from the plot, the characters are interesting and amusing and the entire package oozes atmosphere.
System Requirements: Pentium 233 MHz, 32 MB RAM, Win95
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