Cyberdreams continuing ethos of publishing games with the clear voice of a named artist behind them was an admirable, if short lived one. In their fifth and final game released in 1996 a director by the name of Jeff Blyth joined the development crew of TSi to create Noir: A Shadowy Thriller. While his work isn't as well-known as H.R.Giger's alien landscapes or Harlan Ellison's sci-fi stories, he has had an interesting and rather unorthodox film career.
I very much doubt many will know off-hand Blyth's contributions to cinema, and I don't blame you. His sole feature film was a 1989 effort called Cheetah distributed by Disney. It bombed badly, taking only $8 million at the US box office but it at least gave us the first utterance of Hakuna Matata in a Disney film five years before The Lion King.
If his cinematic achievements in cinema were somewhat underwhelming, it's his work in the Walt Disney theme parks that will be his true legacy. His short films made for the CircleVision 360° cinema attractions allowed guests to the 'Happiest Place on Earth' travel somewhere else for a bit. With Wonders of China, Portrait of Canada and - my favourite - From Time to Time, Blyth became something of a respected figure in the niche medium.
You may not know who he is, but this background in attractions give him a unique perspective this type of adventure games. He knows how to take you to another world and Noir's meticulous re-creation of Hollywood in the 1940s is nothing short of stunning. Every location, prop and character could be ripped from the minds and sets of Raymond Chandler or John Houston. The decision for the entire game to be presented in black and white only serves the film-noir theme.
You play as an unnamed Private Eye whose good friend a business partner, Jack Slayton, goes missing. Marjorie, his receptionist, has called you in to investigate. Jack has six unsolved cases for you to work through, each one offering new clues to his possible whereabouts. You can play them in any order and if you're stumped, you can begin working on another and come back to it later. Sometimes this is even required to progress. Each scenario plays like a classic whodunit, and will keep you guessing like a good Agatha Christie novel. The usual noir tropes are present and accounted for but they never feel tired or over-used. Everything was written by Jeff Blyth himself and his love for classic cinema certainly shines through. He also directs the cinematic cut-scenes which stars some talented unknown actors that have unfortunately remained unknown (and Wo-Jan the Wonder Dog).
These FMV scenes are single shots from your character's point-of-view. It's a shame your character doesn't speak though as it makes interviewing a suspect rather one-sided. There are no dialogue trees here like other adventure games. Instead you're presented with monologues of various lengths that may or may not be dense with important information. Don't worry if you forget anything. Back in Jack's office, a handy notebook sits in the bottom left-hand drawer of his desk that keeps track of everything that's happened. It would be better if you could take it with you, but it's there at least. Beware, though. If you get mugged, you (and your notebook) will forget some things, ticking the amnesia box of all things noir.
As well as scrapping dialogue trees, the game does away with an inventory also. Everything you pick up - and there are a lot of items - will automatically be used at the correct moment. Same with any other clues or codes you come across like the number to the safe. There's no need to write down this four-digit code as it will automatically be entered. I'm in two minds at this decision. On the one hand, puzzles appear to be non-existent. The only grey matter needed for this game is on the screen, not in your brain. On the other hand, it keeps you focussed on the investigation and story at hand. The game does not rely on items or logic puzzles but instead your investigative and observation skills. Do you find that literal needle in a haystack that could prove the murder of a prized race-horse? Does that document you had left unread give a motive? It's an interesting concept that's not entirely successful. I would even say it's been done a lot better in many other games in execution if not in style. Despite the six investigations at your disposal from the outset, it's also a rather linear game. There are no alternative endings to mix things up - you cannot falsely accuse someone for example - and the game can be completed by simply making sure you click on everything you come across.
Locations are displayed in some nicely detailed stills. Each photograph is absorbing in its own right, but there's little going on that it makes thes world feels incredibly lifeless. The only real movement happens during the cinematics. Navigating your surroundings also takes some getting used to. The points of movement are not the obvious choices which makes exploring even a small location like Jack's office a disorienting one. For example, not long after you start the game, a buzzer keeps going off. At first I thought it was the phone on the desk, but after clicking on it several times, I found it not to be the case. It took me ages to realise it was an old intercom-type system located behind the desk, which requires a maze-like number of movements to reach. This is the most complex room in the game - it does hold all of your investigative gizmos after all - so once explored, I was fine.
Once you get past the quirks, you're in for a fairly decent if easy adventure. I say this not because of its overall design, its puzzles or the way it looks, but primarily for the story - something I prize above all else. But more than anything, Noir: Shadowy Thriller, like those CircleVision 360° films, is an experience. Whether or not it sounds like a good one is up to you.
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses DOSBox running Microsoft Windows 3.1 to get the game working on modern systems. Manual included. Tested on Windows 10.
Noir: A Shadowy Thriller is © CyberdreamsReview, Cover Design and Installer created by me