PataNoir is like a cold trip down dementia lane.
It's also an Interactive Fiction game that uses metaphors and similes to progress the story and solve puzzles. You play as a Private Investigator hired to find the missing Baron's daughter. You also have a fondness for simile and metaphor, a fondness which seeps into reality, allowing you to interact and change it.
It's not very clear at first why you have this ability, but it becomes useful right away when getting hired for the job. The gentleman who came to your office was about to leave, wanting to hire another investigator, a glance at the man noted his face was like marble. Naturally, I used my special powers of simile to take the marble from him. The cigarette on my desk had a glow like embers, so I removed those embers and gave them to my would-be client. This act perked him up enough to convince that I was his man.
The graphics aren't much. The layout is a book; you read the story as it goes along, typing in commands when prompted. You can flip backward and forward, letting you read previous encounters with relative ease. The images presented at each location weren't much to write home about but kept the tone dark and ominous enough.
Gameplay is simple, standard for your interactive fiction games. You look at things by typing examine followed by the item name. You talk to things by saying talk and typing the person's name. You remove similes from the world in the same way, stashing them in your coat for later use.
Though the world was only six locations, you could have little sight seeing adventures by diving into people's lake-like eyeballs or canyon-like scar tissue. Scenic detours like this characterize PataNoir's surreal landscapes and vistas. One moment we were one place, in the next we are bending our brain over trying to imagine this happening.
In many ways, the imaginative quality works perfectly for this style of gameplay.
PataNoir is working with the concept of the Pataphor, a metaphor which becomes reality. Mixing this with the hard-boiled detective story strikes one as a winning combination, and in PataNoir, it is.
While at times the puzzles can be frustrating, and certain scenes required me to talk to my helpful imaginary friend, Mr. Smith Wesson. His helpful tips would point to interactive points within the room, and at one point he was so kind as to climb up and grab an icicle for me. Part of me was wondering if I hadn't just shot the icicle down, but with a guise in elaborate metaphors and similes. One can't be too sure here.
Characters take on dynamic qualities with the introduction of the Pataphor as gameplay. We can manipulate people within the world by applying metaphors that suit their, or our, needs. The losing poker player with a face like putty gained significant benefit from the marble simile I had tucked away.
The writing is fun, exciting, and strong enough to keep you wanting to look deeper into it.
The game isn't too long, but you may find yourself wondering about, typing every word you possibly can to find some of the solutions, so you may end up devoting five or more hours into it. Luckily, the writing is fun, exciting, and strong enough to keep you wanting to look deeper into it, attempting to find metaphors to use and change the world with, like some strange wizard.
The story is a high point, if only for taking us into the vistas of a mentally estranged individual whose grasp on reality is tenuous but nonetheless quite effective. While much of the story is you walking around this city block collecting metaphors or interacting with whoever is nearby, your interactions form a greater tapestry which will eventually lead you to your missing person. The climax reaches a point of mild deflation, but the build up to solving the case was strong enough that the deflated climax lent itself to the fatalistic noir stories from where it derives its inspiration.
If you're interested in interactive fiction and want a new take on an old pie, PataNoir can give you a dose of the unusual while staying grounded in a familiar setting, ripe with mystery, like strands of glistening grapes.
PataNoir is strange, unusual, at times frustrating, but creates an amazing surreal landscape in such a short time. By using similes and metaphors to interact with the world, PataNoir delivers a fresh style of gameplay on an old classic of PC gaming.