(This was originally written August 8, 2013. It has been uploaded and slightly modified here for archival purposes)

Face Noir (PC)

Developer: Mad Orange
Publisher/Localization: Phoenix Online Studios
Release Date: July 18th, 2013

Buy on Steam

Discloser: At time of review, I was provided a review copy of Face Noir.

Face Noir takes place on two particularly bad days for private investigator Jack Del Nero, an alcoholic ex-cop accused of the murder of his former partner. On paper, Jack seems like the ideal suspect for revenge homicide, as that same partner is the reason why he was disgraced from the force and knows what the inside of a jail cell feels like. As he unravels the clues to a crime he did not commit, Jack is going to wish that he just took the jail time.

Face Noir is inspired by the great detective stories, most notably those of Raymond Chandler. Jack Del Nero shares a lot of quirks with Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, including his fondness for whiskey and disrespect for authority. This homage, however, is marred by a nonsensical final act, which comes as such an insult to the build up. Sure, the ending comes as a surprise, but the story seems to forget that the appeal of the detective story is that the pieces fall into place for the reader upon subsequent readings. Face Noir‘s ending serves as nothing more than an advertisement for a second game that may or may not happen.

The voice acting in Face Noir isn’t going to win any awards either. The game is available both in its original Italian and English audio tracks (though the lip syncing was definitely made with Italian in mind, so expect a little “puppet mouth”), but for the sake of this review (and my inability to distinguish bad Italian acting from good), my impressions will be solely based on the English track. The dub is a mixed bag, with serviceable performances for both Jack Del Nero and his former partner. By far the worst performance (and oh boy are they bad) goes to the unnamed Chinese cab driver that Jack uses to traverse the city. If you found Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s needing just a tinge of Shortround from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, you’ve got yourself a cab driver.

Okay, so time now to get into the meat and potatoes of any adventure game: the puzzles. This is where Face Noir flexes its muscles a bit as the logic behind many of them is very sound. The game doesn’t bog you down with too many “red herring” items, so when you finally find that piece that solves the puzzle, the results are quite satisfying. Unfortunately, the game also attempts to slip in some puzzles revolving around the player placing pieces together like a jigsaw. Normally, this isn’t such a bad thing, as it gives the player a feeling of accomplishment watching the answer slowly reveal itself, but the puzzles require a bit too much precision. One particular puzzle involving rotating and placing doll parts in their correct positions nearly resulted in me quitting the game in frustration. My frustration intensified when I learned that, while all my pieces were in the right position, they weren’t rotated in the exact way the game wanted them. I had to rotate each piece by the slightest of degrees, listening to Jack repeat my failure to solve correctly ad-nauseum, until finally he accepted my answer. The game then followed this puzzle up with another puzzle requiring the same ridiculous level of precision.

My experience with Face Noir was mediocre at its best and mind blowingly frustrating at its worst. This is 20 bucks best spent elsewhere.