Cue the two-dimensional saxophones.
It’s late evening, and rain is pouring in thick, heavy sheets into the dark, dank crevices of a small European city. The streetlamps aren’t doing the roads they service too many favors but then again, who would bother walking the town tonight?
A lone figure emerges from a darkened alley to the bar attached to the room he’s boarded at. The Bartender is a jovial – but dense – and offers the man a stiff drink. “No thanks,” he says, “I’m just going to my room.”
“You received a message. From a woman,” the bartender says in a thick, German accent.
“Thanks, that will be all,” the man replies, as he makes his way to his lodging. The room is dark. The rain is torrential, and it warps and obscures the outside world against the windows that, on any other day, would give a clear view of his surrounding areas. Picking up the phone, he makes contact with a woman who, as it turns out, needs his help. His expertise. It’s going to be a long night…
Intriguing, no? It’s just what you’ll find on the outset of Calvino Noir, an indie point-and-click Film Noir-style adventure game from Calvino Noir Limited. If the idea of running around with a ragtag group of mercenaries, spies and moles to uncover and thwart a 1930’s conspiracy bubbling from the seedy criminal underbelly of post-yet-pre-wartime Europe sounds good, we’ve got your game right here.
I’ve never really checked much out in the line of film noir, crime thrillers or mystery novels but I have to say, Calvino Noir sure does make a strong case for the genre. You play the role (primarily) of Wilt, a mercenary for hire looking to make ends meet through odd jobs in a foreign land. Wilt is contacted by Siska, a young Russian-sounding woman who needs Wilt to assist her in retrieving certain plans, via a mole who’s infiltrated the government building in which they reside. Things take a pretty hairy turn, and the story unfolds and twists around over the course of three acts and seven scenes.
Gameplay is simple at first. Point to where you want to go, and you go there. Options exist for the character in play to walk, run, use a flashlight for better visibility and so forth. When navigating the areas your characters are in, certain icons will appear for interactions with their environments; doors can be opened and closed as well as escape hatches can be hatched, levers pulled, valves shut, locks picked and guards messed up. Each of the several characters you’ll meet and use will have a special ability that will get you through the stage at hand. Siska, for example, can pick locks and see into the next room without opening a door, while Wilt is the only one that can take out a guard. It’s a lot like The Lost Vikings in a lot of ways, since all characters are active but only one can be used at a time by the player.
This makes for a sometimes-confusing, sometimes-clunky game on the outset control-wise, but with a bit of practice (and a few attempts in the really sticky parts) it’s more than manageable and it feels great to overcome the really complex sequences that require the utmost care, precision and timing. As the story progresses, some characters will leave or cross paths, and the player’s entourage will change with different skill sets, requiring them to change tactics and master each character to make it through as unharmed as possible. After all, if you’re shot by an angry guard? That’s it.
All the while, the game looks gorgeous and sounds fantastic, with a 30s-style jazz complete with muted trumpets. A perfect accompaniment to the dreary, moody setting. Muted color is used to awesome effect and it really almost feels humid and damp with heavy rain, fog and mist as you traverse the city to your final objective. Though the characters are small, they also have some pretty good detail, and lighting effects from flashlights are particularly impressive, especially filtering through various ladders and grates.
There’s also good news for those of you off-put by the likes of The Hunt for Red October; foreign accents such as Russian, German and the like are, in fact, fairly accurate, rather than just cheaping out and doing an English one. The narration as well is as riveting as the story being told. Excellent work.
Which brings us to Colvino Noir‘s length – it is entirely possible to play and complete Colvino Noir in under five hours, making for a slightly short game; with an average length of a little over twice what a movie runs nowadays but at a price point that matches that much movie’s cost at the theater, Colvino Noir may leave a little more to be desired. However, what’s here really, really good stuff; not overbearing, doesn’t overstay its welcome and challenging and entertaining in all the right ways. I wouldn’t mind checking out more film noir if the subject matter is this good, the kind of inspiration that, for me, happens only very rarely. If you’re already into film noir? Get this. If not? Well, take a good look; it may well be worth your while.
Final verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (reviewed), Playstation 4, iOS ; Publisher: Calvino Noir Unlimited ; Developer: Calvino Noir Unlimited ; Players: 1; Released: August 27, 2015 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $24.99
Full disclosure: This review is based off of a review code provided by Calvino Noir’s publisher.