Face “No, Really?”
Ever meet someone you initially find attractive, but then they start talking and it all goes to hell? That was the experience of playing Mad Orange’s Face Noir. The game is a point-and-click adventure, a genre that’s recently been re-invigorated, and from the onset it looked so retro-pretty. Face Noir loads up, and the first thing you notice is – wow – the voice acting is bad…really bad. I’ve heard better acting in porn. Face Noir‘s voice work doesn’t get any better either; every new character that gets introduced is as bad or worse than the previous. Through playing, you find out that the main character is a recent immigrant to America from Italy, and yet he speaks perfectly “infomercial,” with the exception of saying “dammit” in Italian all the time. The bi-lingual cursing is so jarring that it creates a barrier between the player and the character.
Face Noir is set in America – 1930s Great Depression New York, to be exact. One of the few things the game did well was aesthetically create the look and feel of New York City that we’re used to seeing from film noire. See what they did there? Face Noir makes historical references, but commits the narrative sin of telling instead of showing. Another aspect that worked out well was adding a highlighter to the inventory bar. On the far right of the inventory bar is a question mark icon that, when clicked, will temporarily highlight every interactive object with an orange dot. I don’t remember ever seeing this in many point-and-click adventure games. It’s a brilliant idea for novices and seasoned gamers alike. Since Face Noir eschewed having your character’s head turn toward an object of note, it was nice to have the highlighter to fall back on if you couldn’t find the one little object you needed to progress.
Face Noir worked interactive puzzles and dialogue options created from information learned into the gameplay, which is also not standard fare for point-and-clicks. Developers have players using the mouse as if it were a touchscreen or motion control to interact with in-game objects. This mostly comes in the form of picking locks or putting pieces of a puzzle together, neither of which you can fail. Creating dialogue options comes in the form of a thought bubble, where sentence fragments are floating around and you pick two to form a question for the NPC you are talking to. You can’t fail at this either. Both of these ideas had real potential but weren’t built upon enough to make them any more than busy work.
Failure of programming swims up and bites Face Noir right in the ass. Point-and-clicks need to have a certain flexibility in how you start putting the pieces together to keep the story moving forward. Face Noir pigeon holes the player into doing everything in a very specific order, with little to no clue as to what to do next. The game actually works against the players by inferring what you need to do for the next major plot point without giving any idea of the five other steps they need you to take before getting there. And the logic of the puzzles makes zero sense, so players will be using the highlighter to go meticulously through every hot spot and inventory item to move forward. Here are a couple of examples: there is no way a steel pipe jammed into a storm drain stops a rolling one ton dumpster – that’s physically impossible. Also, private investigators from the era would keep their gun on them, not locked in a box in their pantry/photo lab. In the game, you can’t leave the character’s apartment until you retrieve the gun, which is in a specific box…in a room full of boxes…where every box can be clicked. So, Face Noir has you clicking everything in two rooms for five minutes with only “I need to grab my gun” to go on, and you finally find the box to find it locked. Of course, our hero doesn’t remember the combination. Now, the player has to go back through everything looking for a four digit number, still with only “I need to grab my gun” to go on.
There is an ugly issue in Face Noir that needs to be addressed. When you speak with other characters, you hear their lines spoken as they are subtitled on the bottom of the screen. And when said character is Chinese, you not only get a thick as peanut butter accent, but the dialogue is phonetically spelled out in the subtitles. You don’t get this from the other characters with accents – only the Asians; other characters’ subtitling is in textbook English. This is racist. This is offensive. This is unacceptable.
Face Noir is lacking the compelling story, stylized art, or memorable characters that are essential to any point-and-click adventure. The genre was at its peak twenty years ago, and Face Noir would have been mediocre then. Today it just comes across as sad.