Discworld Noir (1999)

Discworld Noir (1999), designed by Gregg Barnett and Chris Bateman, based on the Discworld-series created by Terry Pratchett, developed by Perfect Entertainment, published by GT Interactive

I still remember playing Discworld Noir the first time. It was back in the day when it originally came out and it was my first taste of the world created by Terry Pratchett. I loved the game. I loved the world it had and I loved the main character, not created by Pratchett as well as many others he had created that popped in and out the game. After Discworld Noir I was hooked and I started devouring his writings.

But this isn't about the books, which are a great read, by the way, just pick any you fancy, you won't be disappointed as even on his worst he was at least amusing. This is about Discworld Noir, a technically clanky late 1990's game, that is almost impossible to get running on modern computers. Windows XP was the last platform I managed to play the game on, after that, I haven't gotten past the start screen, despite I've tried everything, even virtualization. On the virtual environment, I've gotten it to run, but there have been some many glitches in it, that it just wasn't fun. As a note, as far I recall, Discworld Noir stopped working under Windows XP after the first service pack. New hardware didn't help either.

I reckon it has been at least 10 years or so since I've played Discworld Noir the last time. It hasn't been for the lack of trying. So now I did the most sensible thing and got it for PlayStation and ran it through an emulator. Because why make things any harder than they need to be, especially when you are dealing with a game that was notoriously poorly done, technically that is. As far I can trust my memory, it does seem to be the same game, albeit maybe with a bit smaller resolution on the graphics. But, hey, it works.

Discworld Noir is divided into 4 acts, each pretty lengthy.

Lewton, the only private investigator of Ankh-Morpork is having a rough day. Rougher than usual, as he wakes up, the first time in his life, dead. It all began, when he was at his office, killing time when a beautiful woman walked in. It's always a beautiful woman, they're the worst as far noir stories go. Nothing but trouble from head to the toes.

This was supposed to be a simple case of a missing person. Carlotta hired Lewton to find Mundy, who was, in her words, a former lover who had gone missing after arriving aboard Milka. But like it always happens in noir stories, nothing is as simple as it at first seems. It doesn't take long for Lewton to realise, that he has succumbed into a world filled with old gods, secret sects and werewolves. No wonder he ends up waking dead.

Discworld Noir is, like the name suggests, a game with a deep noir theme. A parody, you might call it. Or a comedy. How ever you want to look at it. What it is though is a detective adventure game. You collect evidence, question people, try to figure out what's going on. That you do by connecting the dots in your notebook and inventory. It's actually a pretty neat system and in many ways, the puzzles are also pretty logical because of this. Not that they are always easy, but they are logical and not even always in the standard adventure game sense, but in a real sense.

Lewton is the only real-time model on the screen. He doesn't really sit in well with the rest of the graphics.

If you are familiar with Pratchett's Discworld series, you'll know the style of humour it represents. DN is at places silly, at places philosophical and at times, very serious. Lewton himself is is a mix of your stereotypical noir P.I. traits, by being snarky, witty, tired, untrusting of people, at odds with the city watch and obviously broke. Yet there's more about him than meets the eye, just like there's about every character Pratchett has created himself. VEry often his characters start out as caricatures but evolve to be something more.

Discworld Noir is one of the chattiest games from the 1990's. Speaking to people is important and there's a lot of it. And this is the Achilles heel of the game really. Not because the dialogue is bad, but because the voice acting is on the shoulders of 4 people, who between them voice over 20 characters. Now Nigel Planer, Kate Robbins, Robert Llewellyn and Rob Brydon do mostly very good job, but at times some characters slip a bit out from their vocal style, some just sound alike. And then there's a couple who just sound annoying altogether, which leads me to just skip what ever they are saying.

An another thing, which makes chatting even more tiresome, is the fact that DN is a long game, somewhere near the length of something like the Longest Journey, especially if you take your time and talk to everyone about everything. Sadly though, it's not nearly as nicely paced game as the Longest Journey or Blade Runner from the same period are. In many ways, it is far closer to more traditional approach, with an exception that you can't die or mess up at any point.

To make Lewton stand out, even more, the rest of the characters in Discworld Noir are pre-rendered.

Technically DN is a bit of an odd duck. Ankh-Morpork is realised in pretty nice pre-rendered fashion as are the characters you meet during the story. But Lewton himself has been done as a real time character. This makes him stand out from the rest of the graphics, especially on the PlayStation version, where it looks like there's not even a basic light source on the game. Lewton himself has been realised for the time pretty decently though. The character doesn't have the highest of resolution in either mesh or in textures, but the style of the character is relatively nice. It just is, that the character sticks out from the rest of the game like a sore thumb.

I did like Discworld Noir better when I originally played it in 1999. Back then I thought it was on the par with Westwood's Blade Runner game, but now, after playing it again, I can't praise it to that level anymore. There where Blade Runner is even today as good as it has always been, and a genuine classic on the adventure game genre, Discworld Noir is merely just fine. It's not the worst game made and it hasn't aged terribly, but it still has aged in a way that shows. A lot of the ageing comes from the technical aspects, but some of it also stems from the story and how it's told.

In many ways, it's clear that DN was an ambitious project, but looking at it now, it's evident that the developers didn't quite manage to get there at a level that would have made it stand the test of time.

If you want to play Discworld Noir yourself, you are out of luck, as it'snot available anywhere. And even if it was, you'd need an older computer to play it, if you want to play the PC version of it that is. PlayStation version can be easily emulated though, but just as out from sale as the PC version is. So for a physical copy, eBay or Amazon or some other store that sells used games might be you only choice.