Deleuze once wrote a chapter in one of his books called "Be Like The Pink Panther", and Ben Croshaw has internalized this idea, consciously or not, in his excellent stealth-adventure game, Trilby: The Art Of Theft. When you play this game, you feel like a fucking slink, I mean it's really something. Film noir meets your fingertips; the outlaw within paced down to taps and leers. This general aesthetic is that of Croshaw's adventure games, but Trilby is the embodiment of noir, a perfect flicker of stark white on black. The game is a happy marriage between platforming and adventure gameplay, wedded in a dark chapel where all the gifts got ganked.
At first the game seems nothing special, an Out Of This World wanna-be fifteen years late to the party, but then you take to the controls. The animations are smooth, the way Trilby creeps along, hitches his taser/umbrella to jump a floor, nonchalantly zaps a guard; each action paints a complete portrait of a man who defies the slowness of time. It's like controlling Spy vs. Spy, albeit much better than the half-baked license title of the same name; I'm talking about a vision of the cartoon played out frame-by-frame, and then you get the narrative. Anyone who's played Croshaw's games or listened to his sharply satiric reviews knows the man can write, and with simple, free strings of text he paints a world more compelling than that of all the Splinter Cell games combined. The character of Trilby is interesting in his ambivalence, no doubt as Neutral Evil as Croshaw himself claims to be, which is likely overstated. The truth is, he's more like Chaotic Neutral, but with the veneer of someone who is Neutral Evil. I don't see why more critics don't dissect characters using the D&D alignment system.
The game is challenging, but less so as you learn the levels and invest in skills with your experience points gained from thefts, lock picking, electronic sabotage and other feats of repute. The pre-scripted, puzzle-like character of each heist location is what gives this game its Adventure feel, coupled with the sublime character details. As you move foward though, you need to replay the levels less and less, and begin to internalize the mojo of the master thief. The timing, the poise, the casual dash through a laser grid or camera view, you stop re-acting and begin pro-acting, you begin gaming the system instead of fighting it. There's always a weak point, Kurt Godel said so.
I know I always yank on about how splendid and artsy games are, or at least I tend to, but this game is definitely the best I've played in the past couple of months. Thats a pretty tall order, and it wouldn't qualify on its polish and design alone - it's the style points that put it over the top. I'm also a bit biased because I'm currently producing a game called Loot, which follows the same theme though from a very different angle (top-down, multiplayer, 18th Century London instead of side-view, single, Gotham). I think there's something incredibly appealing about being a purely side-stepping agent; just weak enough to slip through the cracks, something I think the likes of Splinter Cell and MGS have failed to realize in their incestuous tangle with the FPS and 3rd-person action genres. Playing a shadow is therapeutic to understanding the shadow within.
(Ed: Not noir, really; the signature of noir is bleakness. This is more like a caper novel. But never mind.)