"Every battle Detective fought tied into the story."
Pixel Noir, by SWDTech games, is an upcoming 16-bit style RPG that draws more inspiration from the SNES version of Shadowrun than Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest. By that virtue alone, Pixel Noir looks to offer something fresh in the overcrowded field of modern-retro games seeking to recapture the magic of nostalgic classics. I had a chance to sit down with Pixel Noir's pre-alpha demo and am definitely intrigued by the game's style and premise.
The demo stars a man simply known as Detective, a hard luck private eye with a troubled past who often self-medicates his inner turmoil with scotch. One night, he's woken up by a heavy pounding that is not a headache, but an insistent knock on the door. Detective reluctantly answers the door, only to see a corporate henchman named Deuce, whose employer Vance Royale holds a very shadowy reputation. A former employee of Royale named Harvey Meeks absconded with a valuable piece of "office equipment", and Deuce needs Detective to simply locate where he's holed up and report back. Although the corporation has the resources to do this simple task themselves, Royale and Deuce require the discretion of someone who flies under the radar. Plus, when Deuce offers $1000 up front and promises another $1000 upon completion, Detective can't refuse. What follows is traipsing through the seedy underbelly of Pinnacle City and its equally seedy denizens to not only find the mark, but uncover other mysteries as well — including the meaning behind Detective’s own hallucinations.
As Detective explores, he finds himself in situations where different choices and actions lead to different outcomes in terms of scenario scripting. For example, after Detective confiscates the cell phone of Meeks' stooge, who should happen to call but Meeks himself. Detective is then given a choice: hear out Meeks' side of the story or shut him down. Both actions lead Detective to a fish cannery down by the wharf, but the previous choice made determines which boss battle awaits him there and, therefore, how the main story branches off. And let me tell you, one of those battles is decidedly more difficult than the other, unless you take on a couple of side cases with useful rewards.
Pixel Noir, like the SNES Shadowrun game, is viewed from an isometric three-quarter perspective. Exploring every inch of the environment is encouraged because Detective can not only find hidden items for his personal use, but can also find leads and other important elements for side cases. Whenever Detective encounters a hot spot to interact with, an exclamation mark appears above his head.
The menu interfaces, such as those used for party management and those used for shopping, are clean and intuitive to anyone who has played a classic RPG. Input can be handled via the keyboard or a gamepad. The keyboard interface works well enough, but control is far smoother with a gamepad and I would recommend playing with one.
Detective is no stranger to fights, and battles are turn-based. As with the SNES Super Mario RPG, timed button presses during normal attacks can either increase damage dealt on player turns or decrease damage received during enemy turns. Unfortunately, there is no indicator to signal when to press the button, so reaping the benefits was a crapshoot. I hope button press indicator cues will make it into the final product, because I felt like I lost some easy battles because I couldn't time the boosts properly. Every battle Detective fought tied into the story. Because there were no cannon fodder battles to overlevel our hero, each battle required strategy and judicious use of resources.
The graphics capture the gritty and dirty atmosphere of Pinnacle City. Given that this is a film noir style game, the colors tend to be anything but bright. What the environments lack in color and smoothness (this is a retro-licious pixel game after all), they more than make up for with sundry details that really make the city come to life. The sprites are large, nicely detailed, and have some nifty animations. The music and sound effects sound very retro... perhaps too retro for some. The sound effects do their job, but some are a tad mushy. The music is appropriately atmospheric, though there are a few instances where the MIDI sounds harshly peak, such as the beginning of the title theme.
Pixel Noir is slated for a Q1 2018 release on PC with ambitions to release multiplatform. SWDTech Games has something promising here and I look forward to seeing the final product in the future. For now, the pre-alpha demo is available on SWDTech's website