You don’t need to know where Ankh-Morpork is to enjoy Discworld Noir, but it helps. Rooted firmly in the world created by critically acclaimed and world-renowned writer Terry Pratchett, this aptly-titled parody of a genre that’s gone relatively untouched in gaming is a definite high point in the Discworld franchise. That might not mean much if you find reading as pleasant as swimming in the Ankh, but book fans will get a serious kick out of this adventure – even more so if they’re also a fan of deadpan humour, mysteries, and… stiffly-animated characters against pre-rendered backdrops. (In the game’s defence, it came out in 1999, less than a year after Grim Fandango.)
In 2011, L.A. Noire broke new ground in facial animation technology, utilising the nuances of facial expression to give players clues as to witnesses’ honesty. This game is lacking about a decade of technological developments, but it claims to have pioneered an in-depth interrogation system, which is unfortunately a lot less Heavy Rain and a lot more Monkey Island. Regardless, the ensuing dialogue is as compelling as the pages of an actual Discworld novel, doing a remarkably good job of conveying the tone and humour of our aforementioned author. My favourite exchanges in the game is a debate with a ship’s first mate as to whether one of his passing comments was existential or ontological.
much better job of
staying accurate to
its genre namesake
It can be hard to explain the appeal without first explaining that this game does a much better job of staying accurate to its genre namesake than Rockstar’s blockbuster from last year. You’re a detective, who narrates cutscenes as he should, and there are your fair share of shady people, damsels in distress, and rainy, lonely nights to make real film noir fanatics feel right at home. Every cliché in the book is pulled out here – and occasionally poked fun at or flipped on its head. The setting goes a long way there too, even as the protagonist, Lewton, points out that the murky Ankh is “probably the only river in the universe on which it is possible to chalk the outline of a corpse”.
You can still grab a copy of the game from Amazon, albeit for a fairly ridiculous price (£19.99 as of time of publication), but it’s something of a challenge to get running on modern computers. The source code to the game was provided to the ScummVM team a few years ago to help build compatibility for all three Discworld games into the engine, which currently facilitates running a whole slew of LucasArts adventure games on an intimidating range of platforms, but there’s been little progress beyond a fork called tinsel-noir that hasn’t been updated in over two years. That said, any C++ programmers reading this should definitely head to its SourceForge page here.
If ever you find the opportunity to give Discworld Noir a shot, I recommend you take it up: I first discovered the game at a car boot sale years back, and while it’s never made the list of my favourite games, I think that’s down to myself and the rest of the gaming community regularly forgetting about its existence. Rest assured that you’ll be hard pressed to find a noir game as enjoyable as the tale of Discworld’s first and last private investigator – and need I really explain the genius of Terry Pratchett?