Here's the thing with the whole Discworld universe: I want to like it less than I do, which is less than I feel like the world is telling me to.
Terry Pratchett is obviously a funny guy, and for a few books I was totally into the whole "this absurd pretend thing is a bit like that real thing you're familiar with" schtick.
Then, as I grew out of any interest in observation comedy, I guess the novels went with it. I no more need Michael Mcintyre to tell me how infrequently a bus comes than I need Pratchett to wryly point out that films have a tendency to do that thing they do. Then I find myself working in the same industry as his daughter and it feels like I shouldn't say anything negative at all, lest she beat me up.
The witch novels - that's safer territory. Gone is the "this is a bit like that", replaced with instead just fun storytelling and embellished fairytale. There he has me. And there's more common ground - we can all agree that the first two Discworld games were bloody awful.
Oh God, we can't, can we? Even the inclusion of the nasal misery of Eric Idle's "LOOK AT ME!!!" tedium somehow isn't enough to put people off what were two of the hardest, most poorly thought through popular adventures of the Nineties.
But then, three years later, came Discworld Noir, from the same developer but with a very different attitude. Being 1999 it was obligatory for the game to offer some nod to 3D, but fortunately the developer had the sense to keep the backgrounds 2D. But more than that, gone was the cartoony tweeness, and in was a - well, you could probably work it out - noir style.
Parodying detective fiction, which let's face it is hardly the most original of ideas, at least gives rise to some simple spoofery. However, this is combined with some genuinely decent writing - and with the whole effort not screaming about how hard it was trying to be funny the whole time, Discworld: Noir actually manages to be quite funny.
It's interesting to look at the cast. At the time, in the tail end of the 90s, I was aware who Nigel Planer was. He was Neil in the Young Ones, if any ghastly young people are reading. And I was obviously very familiar with Robert "Kryten" Llewellyn. Kate Robbins I knew from her eternally background existence on television. But playing the main character, PI Lewton, and indeed Death, Nobby Nobbs, and many others, was some guy called Rob Brydon.
Now it's impossible not to try to hear the faint Welsh lilt in his American accent for narrating Lewton, rather than concentrate on what he's saying. Which is quite distracting already, since his "American" accent sounds extraordinarily like Terry Wogan, making the whole game feel a lot like an episode of Stop It & Tidy Up. (I think I'll start talking about Janet Ellis on Jigsaw next, just to ensure anyone under the age of 30 feels entirely alienated.)
But no matter how all over the place his voice may be, the delivery is spot on. And it's packed with jokes, most of them hidden for when looking at background incidentals.
There's one particular line I distinctly remember from playing this through in the decade before last, and it still works now:
"The river Ankh - probably the only river in the universe on which you could chalk the outline of a corpse."
Works for me.
Unlike a lot of Discworld Noir. Just getting this working on a modern machine was quite the trial, eventually finally loading in a virtual machine running Windows 2000, with a registry hack, and forced to play it in a tiny window. But less literally, the game itself is surprisingly poorly structured despite its pleasant turns.
The game features so few puzzles, instead opting for you to trudge about, chatting to people based on the increasing numbers of clues on the pages of your notepad.
Ask about one subject to the right person and it'll unlock a new conversation option to ask of someone else. But worse, doing this will occasionally trigger something to change elsewhere, with no connection.
For instance, you'll need to read a note from a client in order to progress at one point, which requires you to guess that you need to head back to your office, and then notice the few pixels that had changed on the screen since the last time you were there.
And that's pretty much how it trundles along. In the first chapter you solve literally two puzzles, each so simplistic that a passing bee completed them for me. The rest of the game is spent having a chat.
But it's a good chat! And that's why, despite itself, I still find a fondness for Discworld Noir. It avoids so much of the grating knowing tweeness that haunts the previous games, while remaining very silly and offering lots of Pratchett's pleasing turnings of phrases.
There's also some really splendid music. An excellent score is accompanied by songs. Songs! So few games have songs, and if they do they think they're a novelty for the closing credits. Today I take this platform to cry that more games must include incidental songs.
So, I guess I am saying that it's unDiscworldness is what makes me fond of this chat 'em up, and so I'll still incur the wrath of gentle, dedicated fans and one fierce daughter. And I feel I should add that I have a massive amount of respect for Pratchett, his dedication to writing, and his extraordinary work within the Alzheimer's community since his diagnosis.
Still, the first two games were crap, eh?