First posted on 16 September 1999. Last updated on 08 August 2009.
Created by British author Terry Pratchett in a fictional novel series bearing the same name, Discworld is a fantasyland full of wizards, dwarves, and trolls. Following Discworld and Discworld II: Mortality Bytes!, Discworld Noir is the third graphic adventure title based on Pratchett's work. Previous games of the series have been classic 2D adventures that follow the humorous and wild life of Rincewind, a clumsy student of wizardry in Discworld. In contrast, Discworld Noir brings a whole new protagonist, theme, and style that are not seen in the previous titles. True to its name, Discworld Noir is film-noir-esque. The protagonist Lewton, Discworld's first and only Private Investigator, is a new addition to the Discworld cast. Lewton is a typical film-noir type detective—an always broke, heavy drinking, sarcastic ex-cop, complete with a hat and a trench coat. Carlotta is the inevitable femme fatale, a woman of many mysteries. Ankh-Morpork is now a dark city that is the home to all the scum of Discworld. The usual slapstick and silly Discworld humor has been replaced by a decidedly darker tone of comedy, albeit the game still makes sarcastic references to famous film-noir classics such as Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon.
The game starts with a long introduction of a darker Discworld. You first watch as Lewton is chased by an unknown assailant through the dark streets of Ankh-Morpork and gets murdered, all the while with Lewton himself providing the explanatory voiceover! You then see a flashback to how this tragedy all starts when the mysterious Carlotta walks into Lewton's office, who after a cliché film-noir-esque speech, hires Lewton to find a man named Mundy. In the beginning, Lewton has only a few leads to follow. Soon however, he learns that there is more to Carlotta than meets the eyes. He quickly finds himself deep in trouble and uncovers a conspiracy of unimaginable proportion. Along the way, there are mysterious murders to solve, secret cults to penetrate, ancient artifacts to uncover, and gods to encounter.
Installation of the game is simple, and I have encountered no problem running this game. Provided that you choose the full installation (which takes a chunky 1.2GB of your hard disk space), there is not much disc swapping needed during gameplay. Otherwise, be prepared for a lot of disc swapping! Loading between locations often takes a long time. There are also reports that the game has problems running in Windows 95a, so either Windows 95 SR2 or Windows 98 is required. The game is only available in retail in Europe. No plan for an US release has ever been announced.
Discworld Noir is a third-person point-and-click adventure with pre-rendered 3D backgrounds and characters. The backgrounds are nicely drawn, but many of the outdoor scenes are so dark that they can only be seen during a lightning flash. Well, it is noir all right! Most of the indoor scenes are painted in brighter colors and thus appear less depressing. The dark backgrounds can keep objects hidden from the player which can result in some dreaded pixel-hunting. Fortunately, a name tag appears wherever you are on the right hotspot, so it is just a matter of scanning these dark places with your cursor slowly and carefully. A workaround is to use the gamma correction to brighten up the screen, but at a cost of degrading the picture quality. The constantly pouring rain and the thunder/lightning effects are done very well, adding to the dark and sinister atmosphere of the game. On the other hand, the characters are less well rendered and tend to look and move like lifeless automatons. Interestingly, Lewton seems to have a serious arm shaking problem whenever he speaks. He also has the same problem whenever he gets stuck in certain locations, until you can guide him out carefully with your torchlight-shaped cursor. Each location in the game has its own jazzy musical theme. The music fits well with the environment and is a pleasure to listen. The sound effects are all good. The characters' voices are generally well done. Since only 4 people are responsible for all the voiceovers in the game, some of the minor characters sound the game. The game manual is neatly packaged and is an interesting read with its humorous remarks.
In Discworld Noir, you play as Lewton. Your goal is to uncover the story behind the disappearance of Mundy. The multi-layered story unfolds over 4 acts, each ending with an unexpected cliffhanger to keep the player's interest. The story of Discworld Noir is full of intrigue with many twists and turns, playing much like a film noir but with a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor. There are a number of cut-scenes in the game that portray violence of lesser explicit and more implicit nature. The game has an ambitious storyline. You advance through the game by asking questions, making discoveries, and putting the clues together to solve the mystery. There is always more than one lead to follow. The multiple paths within each act give the game some sense of non-linearity. There are no machines to tinker or graphic puzzles to solve. Instead, the objective of this game is to gather clues through character interactions and classic detective work. You cannot die in this game! Well, let me rephrase that—you cannot die more than once in this game! Do not ask further, since this is just is one of the many surprises in the game.
Playing Discworld Noir takes a little patience! You may find yourself lost at times, not knowing what else to do next or ending up visiting the same places over and over again or asking everything that can be asked from everybody. There are a lot of dialogs to go through in this game. Lewton is very verbose, and the long conversations can sometimes get tedious. Still, the end results are always rewarding when you uncover another layer of the mystery or when a cut-scene at the end of an act reveals yet another surprise. You can always skip the dialogs and cut-scenes by pressing the escape key. Sometimes conversations take place during the cut-scenes. It is especially true towards the end of the game, giving it a kind of interactive film quality.
The game's main interface is straightforward and intuitive. Whenever Lewton finds a lead or hears a clue, he automatically jots it down in his notebook. When a new location becomes available, a map icon shows up to highlight the location. All the locations are marked on a map with an aerial view of Ankh-Morpork, which can then be used to jump between locations. At any location in the game, you can double-click on Lewton to access the notebook, the inventory, and other game functions. Pressing F1 brings up the options menu from where you can save and load games. Right-clicking on an object or a Non-Player Character (NPC) prompts Lewton to examine the item or make a comment. Left-clicking initiates any possible interaction. When you double-click on a NPC, a dialog window opens. Various conversation topics, as well as the notebook and inventory items, can be clicked to question the NPC. The game has taken me about 30 hours to finish and has largely been an enjoyable experience.
On the negative side, there have been a number of reported problems in both installing and running the game. The notebook can be tedious to use since you have to flip through every page each time you want to find the right question to ask. Moreover, as the leads in the notebook are followed, they are scratched off but remain on the notebook pages. It may be timesaving if these leads can just disappear after you are done with them. Some of the dialogs in the game can get tiresome. The humor can also get a bit worn out and cheesy after a while, though a good joke or a clever reference once in a while helps to keep the player's interest in check.
At best, Discworld Noir should be classified as a semi-sequel, since the game provides a satisfying gaming experience in its own right without the need to first play through previous games of the Discworld series. Fans of the series should expect to see something completely different from this title. As well, gamers who have not identified with the humor in previous games may instead find what they are looking for in this one. The story in this game is deep and complex, with multiple leads and subplots to keep you interested. It is also full of surprises, especially the ending (even though you may recognize the last few words spoken). So if you do not the mind the long dialogs and the meticulous clue gathering, then Discworld Noir is a game that you should enjoy.