There was a great mini-resurgence of classic noir in the mid-90s. While Devil in a Blue Dress and L.A. Confidential hit out cinema screens, the computer monitor saw a couple of gems come to light (or dark as the case may be). I've already covered Noir: A Shadowy Thriller from 1996, but a year earlier The Dame was Loaded unearthed from the underrated Australian developer Beam Software.
You play as the Scott Anger, a down-and-out gumshoe with a tragic backstory. As our story begins he's just come back to the office after basking in a month-long drunken stupor caused by the murder of his fiancee. That does stop him from ogling the bearer of his first assignment. Carol Klein has scraped enough money to hire your services for three days and find her missing brother. Before long, the case gets you involved in a bank robbery, arson and even murder! You're also accused of knowing where some stolen diamonds are by some very unsavoury characters.
The story is entirely presented in full-screen FMV, with digitised stills making up the screens you can interact with. The quality is quite impressive for the time, with most similar games at the time playing their videos in a tiny box. Even the acting, as cheesy as it is, hits all the deliberately cliched notes with aplomb. Not every line of dialogue is filmed, with minor statements spoken in voiceover, but it's not exactly missed.
The game itself plays like a traditional point and clicker. The left mouse button interacts, the right looks and both together will bring up your notepad. This important book records what you're carrying in your inventory, any important topics of conversation as well as some useful notes of past events. You can also access your wallet and watch here which allows you to give people money and check the time respectively. Yes, the Dame is not just loaded, but timed.
I've always thought that being limited by time in an adventure game, however artificially implemented, is counter-intuitive to the style of gameplay adventures asked of the player. They invite trial and error, but you're dissuaded from this tactic for fear of losing time. It makes you truly think about your actions, and while The Dame was Loaded does occasionally give you pointers about the direction you should be going in, it's not always clear. For example, an eyebrow-raising encounter with a foxy widow sees her leave the room partway through to get some drinks. You can use this time to scour your surroundings and perhaps peep inside her purse. You can take anything from in here, but only one item won't be missed. You'll also need to get your nose out of there before she gets back. It's not like it's a game over either as you'll continue on towards a bad ending.
The saving mechanic also goes out of its way to exacerbate these types of situations. You can only save at your office typewriter, where you can do all other options that are usually reserved for the main menu. Naturally, this takes time out of your virtual day as any action such as travelling makes the minutes start moving. Some seemingly time-wasting activities will need to be performed each day too, such as a visit to the barbers to make yourself presentable.
This doesn't detract from an otherwise excellent adventure with an interesting mystery behind it. It's presented more humorously than Noir with more reverence given to the stereotypes of the genre than the time period itself. It is this lighthearted b-movie approach that makes The Dame was Loaded much more enjoyable. Highly recommended.
As of 19th April 2018, The Dame Was Loaded is now available to buy DRM-free on Good Old Games.
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The Dame Was Loaded is © Beam Software
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me