tue 22/10/2019

Noir Syndrome | reviews, news & interviews

Noir Syndrome

Noir Syndrome

A flawed but interesting attempt at a detective game

Noir Syndrome

Noir Syndrome is a procedural detective game. That's to say procedurally-generated rather than a police procedural - the game is designed to create a random mystery for you to solve with each new game, and puts you in the worn-out shoes of a down-at-heel private eye who must catch a serial murderer who is cutting a swathe through the inhabitants of a big city.

The game is rendered in a faux-retro 2D pixel art style and scored with a smoky jazz soundtrack that evokes just the right atmosphere for a gumshoe walking the mean streets. You have just two weeks to catch the murderer, and considering that simply entering and leaving a building can use up a whole day you need to get to work pronto and find that killer. You do this by travelling between locations on a city map - just tap the building you want to visit and you will appear in the building or structure you desire - and looking for clues.

Noir SyndromeControls are very simple in Noir Syndrome - move left or right and hit an "investigate" button that will variously examine an object, buy an item from a shop or wandering black-marketeer, interrogate a witness or pick a lock. You basically have one button that does everything - apart from shoot one of your lethal but very few bullets, which you do with a button (terribly easy to press by mistake on mobile) on the left of the screen. There is also a notebook icon near the top of the screen that you can use to refer to your auto-generated notes concerning the case and whittle your way down to finding the killer.

Essentially, the game works like a single player version of Cluedo. By gathering clues and suspect names you can see that the killer might be a civilian or a cop, or perhaps a mobster. They might suggest a woman who is also an artist or a cop with a certain hobby and so on. When you think you have enough clues - easy to tally up on the notebook screen - you can accuse a suspect and then race to find and apprehend them. If you choose correctly you win the game. Pick the wrong guy (or gal) and you lose. You can also lose by running out of time or just by getting yourself killed by a stray bullet.

It's a nice idea but it doesn't quite work. The clues are scattered randomly around the city with no real logic - you might find a pocket watch in a bin or a bullet casing in a church pew but it's pure chance rather than clever sleuthing. People you meet suggest names but, again, they are just tokens to find so you can build up a list of suspects rather than anything you actually have to work to deduce.

Having a single "do stuff" button means that you end up just wandering around using it in various contexts - maybe there will be a clue in this chair! Or $17 in change! Or a lockpick! Maybe this person will suggest a suspect to me! Or not! It is possible to play and win the game just by wandering aimlessly around and using everything in sight. I never really felt a sense of achievement even when I nailed the killer.

Noir Syndrome The game seems to promise something sandboxy and open but it doesn't really deliver. You could track down the killer or maybe go rogue and steal from the mob. You could go on a killing spree or try to acquire enough lockpicks to crack open the bank vault and steal the loot but the tight time limit means that you can't do it all. Unlike in Grand Theft Auto, where you can go off piste and spend hours just exploring before knuckling down to the plot, you only get a nibble of the cherry with each playthrough of Noir Syndrome. Fine if you want to unlock the various badges and achievements but the tiny set of locations and actions means there is little motivation to do so other than completeness.

There are some positives. Each game is short and coffee break-sized. The pixel art is well done and the game has bags of atmosphere with succinct noirish descriptions and dialogue as well as an apt soundtrack. There are some interesting ideas and I hope the developer expands on them to make something with more depth, but for now Noir Syndrome feels more like a cute idea for a game jam entry than a full game.

More like a cute idea for a game jam entry than a full game

rating

Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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Comments

I posted this in the discussion forum on the Greenlight page and the dev deleted it. I'm guessing that explains why there are zero threads there. I'm really tired of scummy devs that silence negative feedback like that. I just tried the game and had a fairly negative experience. The settings are seriously lacking. The only option for sound is on/off, which is awful. There really needs to be a volume slider at the very least. There are no resolution settings, and all you can do is choose whether or not the game is fullscreen. The mouse is trapped in the window in windowed mode. I use windowed mode so that I can easily switch between the game and anything else I'm doing. What's the point of even having windowed mode if I have to alt-tab out of the game anyway? The mouse cursor turns into a little square around the edges and sticks there. I don't know why you did this, but it's awful. It makes it very annoying to use the mouse to do anything. Please make the cursor work like everyone would expect it to. Escape closes the game on various screens with no confirmation, while on other screens there appears to be no way to exit the game or get back to the main menu. Players navigate through the menus via a series of cryptic images. The menus are unlabeled and unexplained, which leads to some unnecessary frustration. Can I get back to the main menu from within a game? Can I exit the program from within a game? I couldn't find a way to do either of these, though one time I somehow ended up back at the main menu with the list of clues overlaid on the menu's text. I assume that was just a bug since I was unable to repeat it. This is all from my first 15 minutes or so of playing the game. I couldn't get motivated to reopen the game for the fifth time after hitting escape to go back a menu yet again closed the game. Sure, at some point I'll remember that your game works in a way unlike every other game I've played in the past decade, but why does it work like that in the first place? Why isn't there at least a prompt that says, "Hey, you almost certainly don't want to exit the game. Please click 'no' and get back to playing." The new player experience is terrible. The actual gameplay looks neat from the videos I saw, but I don't know if I'll get around to trying to play again after all of this frustration.

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