The chief's brow furrowed as he walked up and laid a package on my desk. "I want you to take a look at this," he said. "I think it's going to be a tough one, and you're the best man I got." I knew it wasn't going to be pretty. Past assignments had only added to my increasingly cynical outlook on the world - there are only so many Catfights a man can look at before he packs up everything he owns and heads for the border.
CyberDreams had given me some headaches in the past. I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream had been a great idea with poor execution, and I hoped Noir wouldn't follow suit. Trying to remain optimistic, I slid the disc into the drive and booted it up. The Windows 3.1 interface was somewhat dated, but I gave the boys back at the office the benefit of the doubt. "Maybe it's just part of the retro motif," I justified for them, overlooking the fact that Windows 3.1 extensions (WinG, Win32s) were being installed automatically on my Windows 95 computer. After the initial frustration, I got to the matter at hand. The opening was nice - black-and-white footage of old Los Angeles, set to a traditional horn-driven jazz soundtrack. "Tres Noir," I thought, my hopes mounting, "maybe they've done it." Unfortunately, my first impressions wouldn't last.
Stepping through the door of my virtual office, I noticed something was terribly, terribly wrong. Maneuvering through the small space was harder than navigating a minefield on a unicycle. Simply looking at something visible on the periphery of a scene was almost impossible. This frustration would continue through the rest of the game, when solving a crime had less to do with deductive reasoning than with looking in every direction from every position.
This is really Noir's only problem, but it is a major one. It's been a long time since a good mystery game has crossed my desk (remember Deadline?), and Noir isn't a mystery by any stretch of the imagination. You don't have to do anything, just look everywhere in the right order. For instance, see a safe you wanna open? If you've seen the combination (even if you don't make the connection yourself) it will open automatically.
Fans hoping for a storyline based on traditional Film Noir elements will probably be disappointed as well. The six storylines in the game are ridiculously generic: the Chinese opium ring, the missing heiress, the shady underground mob boss, etc. None of the surprises or cynicism of the genre are present, and the occasional attempts at humor fall flat. The photographs used for scenery are great - exploring historical landmarks like the newly restored Bradbury building and Union Station is a real treat - but after wandering up and down the numerous hallways, trying to figure out a way to access the stairway you've been circling is just simply no fun.
In the end, I just had to level with the chief. "No dice, boss," I said, "I came up empty-handed."