by Melissa M. Parker1
Noir Syndrome Review
This Could Be the Beginning of a Beautiful Syndrome
The resurgence of noir in gaming is something to be excited about. Even for those of us who haven’t scoured eBay looking for replica Maltese Falcons, or who only have second-hand nostalgia about Bogie and Bacall—or no nostalgia at all—noir is instantly captivating. Protagonists with dark secrets, love affairs, criminal underbellies, and instantly quotable dialogue (From Casablanca: “You despise me, don’t you?” “If I gave you any thought I probably would.” I keep starting conversations with despicable people in the hopes of one day using this line). After the success of Rockstar’s L.A. Noire, games in the genre started appearing on mobile platforms, like Detective Grimoire and King of Chicago. The latest of these is called Noir Syndrome, a procedurally generated murder mystery game independently developed by David Gedarovich. Though the game lacks some refinement, it’s got humor and spunk. Most of all, it really captures the Esprit de Noir.
The way the game works is pretty straightforward. You go around from place to place interviewing the townsfolk and interacting with the environment. Citizens help you generate a list of suspects, while investigating your surroundings yields clues that the killer has left behind. For example, if you find a police badge then you know you’re looking for a flatfooter (this reminds me of a gem from The Asphalt Jungle: “Experience has taught me never to trust a policeman. Just when you think one’s all right, he turns legit.” I could quote these movies ALL DAY). If you find a set of female fingerprints then you’re looking for a broad. Light work! Unfortunately, private eyes don’t have a steady cash flow, so you’ve got to find money if you want to avoid starving to death (look in the normal places, like piles of clothes scattered around the slums). Other challenges arise when you raise the difficulty setting, namely beginning the game with the mob or the police out to get you. High on my list of dumbest ways I’ve died in a videogame: reading a note left at my home that says, “The mob is out to get you!” and then absent-mindedly visiting the mob den. Just another story for the papers.
The first striking thing about the game is its soundtrack: smooth trumpet in the foreground with a light cymbal keeping the beat, underscored by a subtle midi harmony as a nod to the game’s retro aesthetic. The music also has nice variety, changing in tone as you visit different locations. Though the killer’s lair may be scored with eerie strings, you can always visit the town’s swanky hotel to bop along to a lively piano riff. To say the least, this game is headphones-mandatory. The graphics also have some really nice detail. Whether it’s the stained glass effect on the windows in the church, the way your single-pixel eyes shift from blue to sickly beige when you take a bullet, or even the bare light bulb that illuminates your dilapidated apartment, the world that Gedarovich has created is really fun to explore.
Ultimately, the thing this game lacks is polish. For example, the townsfolk will tell you how everyone’s scared stiff of the killer…before a dead body has even appeared. Or the fact that all of the randomly generated killers worship Anubis (why? why not!) but this idiosyncrasy never contributes to the over all story, or informs gameplay. And even though there are a lot of different locations, the one-liners that pop up when you investigate objects don’t change from one play-through to another. For a game that touts its replay value, it would be nice if I didn’t have to read “Even more grandiose than the one downstairs” every time I wanted to check out the piano.
There were other more technical problems as well. For example, the fact that all the townspeople look the same means it’s easy to lose track over whether you’ve interviewed someone or not. Because you get closer to starvation every time you talk to someone (performing any kind of action depletes energy), it’s frustrating to accidentally consult the same people again and again. People also sometimes stand in the way of objects, so you’ll be forced to listen to Ruth Robinson blather on when all you want to do is inspect some fruit. Another issue I encountered was how easy it is to misfire your weapon. Because it only takes one tap to shoot and the icon exists right by where I position my thumb to walk around, I accidentally discharged my gun in the presence of the mob. They responded by putting a bullet in my chest, quite intentionally.
Noir is back, and it’s exciting to see how current technology can shape the genre. It’s especially nice to see independent designers taking a crack at it as well. Gedarovich has succeeded in making an engrossing game with a beautiful score than you can play over the course of ten minutes. It might not have all the replay value advertised, but it’s fun while it lasts. After that, well, just don’t play it again, Sam.
Summary: It's not the most refined game, but the music and visuals will transport you right into the world of noir. It may be worth a visit.