When delving into the Artifex Mundi publishing repertoire, their hidden object puzzle adventures usually consist of demons, fairytale creatures and the like. The latest offering from them to launch on Xbox One, Noir Chronicles: City of Crime, is a little out of character though and tells a relatively ‘normal’ detective story, with seemingly nothing magical in sight. Will we find this to be a joyous puzzling affair, or is it committing a crime against its genre by being a less than satisfactory experience?
Let’s take a look at the evidence…
Meet Alfred Fox, a private detective and main protagonist in Noir Chronicles: City of Crime who gets a call at god knows what hour from a past lover, Barbara Le Purr. She’s in dire need of his help, but he arrives too late to prevent her untimely death and thus begins the investigation to figure out the culprit. Given that Mr Fox was on the scene, the cops believe him to be a suspect, so he must not only prove his innocence but also find the guilty party, before whoever it is makes him their next target.
Despite being a no-frills murder enquiry, the narrative does a pretty good job of keeping you on the hook and wanting to know the motives behind it. Having a couple of twists and turns helps because it ensures you suspect everyone and trust no one. There are some really well designed thuggish and shady characters, while the others fit the bill too like the veteran cop and the old lady next door. If it wasn’t for a few terrible voiceovers, you might find the acting passable, but a couple of performances let the team down considerably.
Even though Mr Fox is a detective, there’s no evidence board to peruse, which seems somewhat of a missed opportunity for players to try and piece together any clues. Instead, the story moves forward via a mini-game that has you searching pictures for a trio of specific symbols first and then it’ll reveal a section of information to provide a back-story, and flag up additional clues in the process. Aside from the regular gathering of useful items to overcome obstacles, the only fresh mechanic outside of the hidden object scenes and puzzling mini-games is the combat.
Don’t get overly excited, for the combat events are comprised of you remembering a sequence of left or right hooks and repeating them to launch an attack on the opponent. The idea would be so much better if there were less activities of this ilk throughout the rest of Noir Chronicles, but sadly, the art of remembering sequences is quite prevalent in truth. Furthermore, the mini-games suffer a lot from repetition, with three almost identical offerings involving untangling knots standing out the most – it’s not fun to do once, let alone thrice!
At least there’s more enjoyment to be had from the hidden object scenes, which bring in a couple of different ideas. Firstly, some listed items needing to be found morph in and out of the scene, so focus is required. Then there are scenes that only show the outline of the requested items, leaving you to figure out what exactly they are. Last, but not least, are the ones that ensure some kind of interaction is essential to chalk an item off the list. There’s no frustration in terms of difficulty as there’s a nice balance between the tricky stuff to find and those that are in plain sight – I’m pretty sure even Inspector Clouseau would manage to locate them.
After completing the main story, which should take around three hours, the bonus adventure rears its head. This one goes back a few years to when Alfred Fox was part of a circus act and covers the events leading up to his decision to become a private detective. It’s short and sweet, fleshing out the character a bit more, but only extends the play time by an hour at the very most. Any replayability comes purely from attempting it on Expert (basically it gives less hints and no map indicators) and mopping up the collectibles; these take up the form of hand and foot prints.
In terms of visuals, the backstreet alleys, ransacked houses and grim cells are all drawn well by hand, but don’t expect anything overly vibrant to be present. The noir theme puts paid to that and actually complements the laidback soundtrack, delivering sounds that suit perfectly. It’s worth noting that the character modes are significantly more realistic, with facial constructs that are very impressive compared to those in other Artifex games.
Noir Chronicles: City of Crime gets the vibe spot on to create the ideal environment for the criminal activities that are occurring, while the story is interesting enough to draw in the player. The variety in the hidden object scenes is very welcome too, however the mini-games are hugely disappointing apart from a handful of mathematical based ones that provide a glimmer of joy here and there to drag you through the rest.
There’s no doubt that Noir Chronicles: City of Crime has a few areas it could improve on, but still, it’s probably worth seeking out in a sale.