It's a cold wet night in old Anhk-Morpork. A figure, dressed in trenchcoat and trilby, emerges from the shadows. He looks right, then left, then runs. He knows he is carrying precious cargo, which some would kill for. Something jumps down from the rooftop to follow him. The chase is on. We watch the figure running for his life, sometimes through the eyes of his pursuer, but finding no safe place to hide. He drops his bounty, a golden sword, which the pursuer retrieves. The chase ends abruptly, as the figure rounds a corner, and has the sword returned to him. Through his chest.
This then, is the story of the strange death of the Disc's first private investigator, Lewton, on a cold, wet Sektober morning, how he came to be murdered and the events which followed...
Discworld is a world created by fantasy author Sir Terry Pratchett, which is flat and travels on the backs of four giant elephants, which in turn stand upon the back of Great A'Tuin, a turtle.
Playing Discworld Noir is the closest you can get to actually being on the Disc itself.
The oldest, largest and most depraved city on the Disc, Ankh-Morpork is ruled by the Patrician, Lord Vetinari, policed by Commander Vimes, and home to Unseen University's school for wizards.
The city is divided by the river Ankh, a river so polluted that it is possible to chalk the outline of a corpse on the surface. On one side of the river is proud, posh Ankh, and on the other pestilent Morpork.
Lewton: Play it again, Sam
Samael: You know, no-one's ever going to believe you said that.
The game borrows heavily from film noir in the mood, the plot, and the characters, but not the monochrome, thankfully. The events of the game happen almost exclusively at night, though not the same night, with Lewton's misadventures mostly leaving him incapable of action during daylight. It's constantly raining too. The plot really begins when a beautiful femme fatale walks into the office of the dour detective and lands a bit fat case in his lap. And that's just the start of the noir tropes that the game employs.
For example, the Tsortese1 sword that ends up in Lewton's chest is referred throughout the game as a falchion. That femme fatale is not exactly what she appears to be, but then you never thought she was, did you? And a rather large troll with a murderous colleague makes an appearance, clearly referencing the fat man and Wilmer from The Maltese Falcon.
Of course, if the game lifted plot points from all the noir films, then it would become an incoherent mash-up, but there a number of set pieces that come through, like the vehicle fatally careering off the bridge from The Big Sleep, or wandering around in the sewers as in The Third Man. As with all the Discworld novels, spotting the sources is half the fun of the thing, and there's many more subtle references just waiting for you to find them.
Although Casablanca is not strictly film noir, large chunks of that film found their way into the game; an exchange between Lewton and Samael the vampire pianist pays tribute to the most famous line that never was. Samael knows Lewton's history, and is probably his only true friend in the city, and therefore the game. He knows about Lewton's ex-girlfriend Ilsa, who disappeared without saying a word. The Octarine Parrot, a less salubrious drinking establishment than the one where Samael tinkles the ivories, echoes the name of the rival bar to Rick's - The Blue Parrot.
Released on both PC and PlayStation in 1999, Discworld Noir is the third and, to date, last Discworld game2. Apart from the Discworld name itself, this is quite different to the previous games, and players do not need to have played the earlier games in order to enjoy this one. There's a new story, new characters and a new style of gameplay. The story is confined to Ankh-Morpork, the largest city on the Disc. This is an advantage, even for those who enjoyed trekking around the Disc in the second game, as the game feels more contained and compact. The city setting suits the noir style perfectly.
Discworld Noir is presented in a third-person 3D style as opposed to the 2D animation found in previous games. The programmers also give the puzzle format a tweak. Now instead of finding out what items do, you find out how and why they are used. They are also important items of evidence and not simply there to collect in the Luggage while getting object after object until the game is completed, as in the previous games.
Interfacing and talking to other characters has also been improved. Lewton takes down everything that is said in his notebook to use as evidence against the suspicious characters he encounters. Gathering clues and important facts all lead to the ultimate goal of solving the case. As he himself says to one informant,
Anything we discuss is strictly between you, me, and anyone else I happen to tell.
The story is completely new. It is not based on one of Terry Pratchett's novels3 nor written by him, but still sticks faithfully to the humour that made the books and earlier games successful. For instance, a sailor only speaks in a pirate-style accent for benefit of tourists. The story plays out as a detective story where you get to feel like you're investigating. Where the earlier games were often predictable for fans of the books as they were based on existing books, Noir is entirely unknown and unexpected. Lewton follows new clues constantly, uncovering apparently unrelated sub-plot after sub-plot, before finally uncovering the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.
The game contains many movie references and puns, all faithful to the Discworld spirit. The events of Discworld Noir are not included in the Discworld Companion books.
I had never woken up dead before...
- The first line of Discworld Noir4
The story begins in earnest with the line above. We hear Lewton's voice while we look at his grave outside the Temple of Small Gods. He continues, telling of the events that led to him lying there, as if the game were his life in flashback. Lewton was the Disc's first private investigator. A recovering alcoholic who hit the bottle hard many years earlier, after being abandoned by love-of-his-life, Ilsa, and being thrown out of the City Watch for accepting a bribe. Unsurprisingly, he became cold, uncaring and not a little sarcastic.
He was hired by Carlotta von Überwald to find her lover, a man named Mundy, who disappeared after his arrival from Tsort on a ship known as the Milka. Curiously she was unable to give Lewton much of a description; for instance, when he asks how tall Mundy is, she replies 'I don't picture him standing up…'. This isn't the only case that comes his way, as Malachite the troll shortly crosses his path asking him to 'Find Therma', but is troublingly short on details.
Where does it all lead? Well, to the grave, for a start.
This is the strongest of the three Discworld games. The programmers weren't held back by following the conventions of an established character and instead created someone new. This gives the game freshness and originality missing in earlier adventures.
The gameplay is simple point and click. Anything that can be selected can be found by moving the mouse across the screen and seeing what labels appear. Left click to walk, double-click to talk to a person, collect an object, or leave the screen depending on what the cursor is highlighting, and right click to have Lewton examine an object or person, normally accompanied by a sarcastic remark. When interrogating suspects, an easy-to-use dialogue box pops up, and you can also ask your suspects questions about the clues Lewton writes on his notepad. The game's enjoyably witty dialogue is its main advantage, with the atmospheric music in close second.
There are two main disadvantages in the game. The first is that it can be very time consuming. Asking everyone you meet the same questions over and over again, such as 'What do you know about a woman named Carlotta?', does quickly lose its novelty value. The second is that, in order to maintain the noir atmosphere, the game's locations are also incredibly dark, making many outside scenes difficult to see without the aid of occasional lightning flashes. These, though, are very minor gripes.
One particularly impressive touch is the integration of the cursor into the game. The first time you can use the cursor the picture is of Lewton the private eye standing under a lamppost; you move the mouse and discover that the cursor is the glow of light from the lamppost! It gives the feeling that the cursor is part of the game itself, rather than just an arrow pasted on the top of it.
The Game Cover
The game comes in a cover designed by Josh Kirby, the artist who illustrated over 30 of Terry Pratchett's novels including the first 24 Discworld books before his untimely death. This cover, showing a werewolf, a dead troll, a femme fatal, Lewton the detective and, above all, Death, helps connect the game with the Discworld series, even though the style of illustration is unlike that of the game.
The back cover promises the player that they will 'walk the mean streets of Ankh-Morpork'. The main blurb introducing the game says,
The name's Lewton. I'm a private investigator. Her name's Carlotta. And between her, the psychotic dwarf who's following me and this walking mountain with the brain of a pomegranate who calls himself Malachite, I'm beginning to wonder if the Discworld's first private investigator might be about to become the Discworld's last private investigator too.
There is a cast of 70 characters and, reflecting Ankh-Morpork's cosmopolitan nature. These include an assortment of humans, dwarfs, trolls, vampires, werewolves and even a dog.
Lewton takes the place of Rincewind5 admirably as he drags himself through Ankh-Morpork's dark underside, meeting many of the admittedly dark city's inhabitants. These include the following (characters that appear in the novels have their names in italics):
The Disc's first Private Eye and hero of the story. His investigation is somewhat hampered by his murder.
Carlotta von Überwald
The widowed femme-fatale who hires Lewton to find her missing lover, a man named Mundy. She shares the same surname, and presumably is a distant relation, of regular Discworld character Angua.
Making his first appearance in a Discworld game, Commander Vimes commands the City Watch. He holds a grudge against Lewton since he caught him accepting a bribe. Commander Vimes' voice and attitude does not quite match how he is depicted in the novels.
Corporal 'Nobby' Nobbs
Legally human, Nobby is a member of the Watch and a former friend of Lewton.
Leonard of Quirm
The Disc's greatest inventor who is kept locked up in the Patrician's attic because of his habit of absent-mindedly designing new fearsome weapons and scribbling them in the margins of any piece of paper that happens to be in front of him. As he is given food, peace and quiet and all the paper he desires, he doesn't really mind. During Discworld Noir he is busy inventing a Flapping-Wing-Flying-Device.
Gaspode the Wonder-Dog
Named after the Famous Gaspode, the Disc's equivalent to Greyfriars Bobby, Gaspode is a small, smelly terrier, he nevertheless is able to talk and plays a small, but vital, role in Lewton's investigation.
A black-robed scythe-carrying skeleton who visits when someone's life has ended.
Death of Rats
Just as Death visits the souls of major characters on their death, the 6-inch tall Grim Squeaker performs the same duties for rodents.
A troll in the City Watch.
The vampire piano player at the Café Ankh. If you enjoy his song, why not ask him to play it again?
A troll of few words, most of which are 'Find Therma'. Lewton describes him as 'this walking mountain with the brain of a pomegranate.'
The woman who broke Lewton's heart, tore it out of his chest and then stamped and spat on the remains. After not seeing him for years, she walks back into his life, along with her husband, Two-Conkers.
Discworld Noir's equivalent to Twoflower6, being from the Agatean Empire, the Disc's equivalent of a cross between China and feudal Japan. He is an archaeologist.
The half-elf bartender of the Octarine Parrot, which he describes as 'a wretched hive of scum and villainy'.
A psychotic dwarf in the employ of Jasper Horst.
A conspiracy-theorist priest of Errata, goddess of discord and misunderstanding. He claims to know of all but one of the conspiracies taking place on the Disc.
High priest of the god Anu-Anu.
Ankh-Morpork's troll answer to Jabba the Hut. His equivalent in the novels is Chrysoprase.
A well-endowed, shorts-wearing female Tomb Excavator, inspired by Lara Croft.
Some other Discworld characters who do not actually appear in the game are mentioned. These include the Patrician Lord Vetinari, the ruler of Ankh-Morpork, CMOT Dibbler and Sergeant Colon.
Lewton and many other principal voices are by Rob Brydon, an actor who had been voices in both previous games and is best known for being in television sitcoms Marion and Geoff, Gavin and Stacey7 and appearing as a panellist on television shows such as QI, Have I Got News For You and Would I Lie To You?, which he hosts. He was awarded the MBE in 2013
Robert Llewellyn, most famous for playing Kryten in Red Dwarf, is another member of the voice cast. A voice familiar to Discworld fans as one of the narrators of the audiobooks is Nigel Planer. He is well known for playing Neil in British sitcom The Young Ones, and also appears in the Discworld television adaptations Hogfather and The Colour of Magic. Kate Robbins, who voices the women, had previously used her talents to voice most of the female characters on Spitting Image.
|Voice Actor||Principal Characters|
|Rob Brydon MBE|
And There's More...
Of course there is. This is the Disc, there's always something more. For example, that scene at the start which features Lewton's golden stabbing reappears at its proper point in the plot, half way through the game. After that, everything changes. There's a good reason why this isn't the end of the game, and if you are paying close attention up to that point you may be able to work it out. Suffice to say, you can do things in the game you couldn't do before, find clues you couldn't find before, and maybe, just maybe, enjoy the start of a beautiful friendship.