You are Douglas Reilly, a detective for hire. One day, you receive a notice from the Baron: his daughter, Lisa von Bulow, has run away with a no-good scumbag named Erik McAllister. It’s up to you and your trusty servant Wesson to find Lisa, ensure her safety, and maybe even convince her that she can do better. And so begins PataNoir!
PataNoir’s main appeal is that it’s based on similes. Places you explore will be littered with descriptions that mention similes: hard like a brick, cold like ice, sharp as a knife. And it’s up to you to figure out what to do with that brick, ice, and knife. The few real-world objects you collect usually cannot be combined with the simile items, but you can apply them to people, such as putting marble on someone’s face to make them unexpressive. You also have a servant, Wesson, and you’ll need his help to accomplish some tasks. Otherwise, you can ask him for a nudge in the right direction. He’s basically the game’s hint system, and I found this helpful and unobtrusive.
There’s some elements to PataNoir that didn’t feel quite right. For one, the parser is simplified so that you can just type an object’s name to interact with it, or “[object 1] [object 2]” to apply something to something else. I realize this might have been done to help people more unfamiliar with IF, but it wouldn’t always give me the right action I wanted by default. I found the interactions between the real world and the simile objects kind of inconsistent – I initially assumed it was a clear-cut “theoretical objects can’t affect real world ones”, but there’s multiple puzzles that go against this, despite the game telling you otherwise. There’s also numerous puzzles or items that didn’t go anywhere: what was I supposed to do with the angry giant, trumpet statue, or old knight and mummies? There’s no real distinction between something that’s just there for silly flavor text or an integral part of a puzzle. It got a little confusing, but thankfully, Wesson can tell you if you still need to do anything in the room.
I thought the characters and story in this game were simple, but strong. Douglas is a straight-laced detective who never wants his work to get personal, but respects his rules and guidelines. His dialogue with others isn’t mind-blowing, but it gives him some nice character. Throughout the game, you’ll visit classic noir locales such as a casino, a dirty apartment, and a dingy bar. The plot has a few twists and turns, and it kept me engaged and wanting to play more. There’s even a bonus scene you can get before the ending if you solve an optional endgame puzzle, which I was satisfied with. I was a bit split on how I felt about the very last scene, though, which shows up no matter which ending you get befores; I found it a bit depressing at first, but I realize it was foreshadowed well and ultimately doesn’t nullify everything you’ve done.
Ultimately, I had fun with PataNoir. It never gets too frustrating, there’s no game-breaking bugs and very few chances to get a game over, and the idea of being able to use similes to your advantage is creative and executed well. This isn’t one of my favorite IF games, but it captures the genre well, and it’s a good time if you want something light.