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Review by: Adam Swiderski
Published: September 2, 1999
It’s fascinating to track the product cycles of the PC gaming industry. Different genres and types of titles rise and fall in popularity almost regularly, and what’s extremely popular today may be tomorrow’s bargain-bin refuse. One need only look at the decline and meteoric re-ascension of computer role-playing over the past couple years to see a prominent example of this phenomenon in action. But nothing could have prepared me for the nosedive that has been taken by one of my favorite categories: the adventure game. Since the runaway success of Myst, we’ve seen the popularity of this once-ruling genre go straight down the ol’ toilet. It’s gotten so bad that more than a few media outlets have begun to ask whether the traditional adventure — pioneered by such giants as Sierra (home of all those Quest classics) and LucasArts (creators of SCUMM-driven fare like Full Throttle and the Monkey Island series) — is well and truly dead.
Have I got news for you. Turns out the adventure genre isn’t dead, after all. It has just emigrated. My evidence? I submit for your approval Discworld Noir, an adventure in the most traditional sense of the word that, for some odd reason, has not been made available for retail purchase in the United States. If you want to get your hands on this one, but live on this side of the pond, you’ll have to find a mail-order house that can either import it or deliver it overseas. If you’re a fan of this kind of product, however, it may very well be worth the effort. The simple fact is that quality, entertaining adventure games are few and far between these days. And that’s exactly what Discworld Noir is.
Perhaps you’ve visited the Discworld before. It’s a flat, disc-shaped (he said knowingly) realm set on the backs of four elephants that, in turn, ride on a giant turtle, and — ahhh… the heck with it. There’s really too much to explain. Suffice it to say the Discworld takes many of the tenets of classic fantasy, such as elves, dwarves, magic and mayhem, and injects them with a healthy dose of twisted wit that only an author like Terry Pratchett can provide. A whole slew of Discworld books have sprung from Pratchett’s vivid imagination, and there have even been two PC adventures already released under the
Discworld name, titled, surprisingly enough, Discworld I & II. 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, and it’s centered on the obviously new second part of the title: film noir.
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-detective-for-hire, offering his Watch-honed services to whoever might want to pay his rent that month. Unfortunately, business hasn’t exactly been booming, and Lewton has found himself in a pretty high-maintenance relationship with the bottle. Then, one day, trouble comes walking in the door in the form of a mysterious woman named Carlotta. She’s a vampish vixen with a very vexing dilemma, one with which she would like Lewton to lend his assistance. All Lewton has to do is find a man named Mundy, who was supposed to reach Ankh-Morpork the previous night by ship, and he stands the chance of scoring big — financially, I mean. Being strapped for cash and not able to turn down a dame in distress, Lewton accepts the case and sets out to find the missing Mundy.
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 as it is in ours, 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 and equally seedy overbelly of Ankh-Morpork, a city to which the words “wretched hive of scum and villainy” don’t really do justice. 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. It’s up to you to make sure that he gets to the bottom of things without facing death or, in this case, something a little more permanent.
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