Genesis, Exodus, this Noir will do Numbers
Would you do anything for the one you’d love? Surely most of us would work hard, make sacrifices here and there, or even put aside our individual lives to join together with the other. But how many of us, if presented with the possibility, would manipulate time itself? Would you travel through the beginning and the end, seeing the lengths humanity will go to as our brazen arrogance builds mighty civilizations only to destroy them from within, just to pluck from time’s tapestry the very thread of momentary bliss that you shared that leads to your love’s demise? Or would the journey through eons see you choose a new lover in humanity itself?
If that sounds confusing, it sure is — I’m still pondering over the existential mysteries presented in Genesis Noir, a dazzling noir narrative that follows the birth and eventual death of the universe from the perspective of one insignificant yet somehow important being. Developed by Feral Cat Den and published by indie publishing powerhouse Fellow Traveller (Paradise Killer, In Other Waters, Suzerain), Genesis Noir is an emotionally riveting journey that was surprisingly spiritual and is well worth the time and money spent on the 5 – 7 hour sublimely trippy experience.
Players will take on the role of No Man, a cloaked figure who sells watches to passersby. A frequent patron of a local bar, he catches the eye of Miss Mass, a voluptuous jazz singer who has most men wrapped around her finger. One thing leads to another, and the pair hit it off; unfortunately, her saxophone player, Golden Boy, catches wind of the affair and takes matters into his own hands. Acting as a violently jealous lover, he pulls a gun on Miss Mass and fires, the shot tearing through the air and gunning straight for the ill-fated woman. It is here where No Man’s journey begins, curiously, as he finds himself staring at the bullet’s path, completely unaffected by time. It is here No Man will travel through individual points in time emanating from the gun — the Big Bang — to make sense of his place in the universe and the power he has to prevent this evil deed from occurring in the first place.
Controls are pretty straightforward, as they are predominately point and click. Arrow keys can be used to move No Man, which I personally preferred, but clicking the ground to the place you’d like No Man to go to will get the job done as well. No Man will be interacting with the various environments either by planting seeds, forcing the day/night cycle to pass quickly, playing the right notes at the right time, or fidgeting with knobs and levels to obtain a desired frequency. Although the gameplay is intuitive enough, the controls sometimes feel a little bit clunky, especially when trying to force the day/night cycle. The first time I tried it took ages, but the second time there may have been an update that seemed to make it go smoother; either way, it was not seamless at the beginning but became so as time went on.
Where Genesis Noir truly shines is in its aesthetics. What a visually stunning game! For a relatively short experience, I ended up taking a whopping 359 screenshots, and upon reviewing them, I feel like there’s still a lot I wish I had captured. Although it’s predominately black and white with clever gray shading to make certain aspects appear more three-dimensional, sprinkles of gold here and there add a gilded splendor that set off every last serotonin receptor. And while I won’t spoil the end too much, let’s just say LSD would be put to good use in certain segments (not judging — it was seriously spectacular). Coupled with the serenading music, I felt like I was playing through an extended gaming version of Fantasia, and I was absolutely engrossed in the audio and visual experience.
I don’t really have any complaints with Genesis Noir personally because I place a higher importance on how this type of game makes me feel over story and other factors; with that being said, there was a lot going on with time travel and parallel universes that I can see this being confusing to some. Hell, even I don’t quite understand how No Man, Miss Mass, and Golden Boy somehow exist in a universe but also the universe is within the shot of Golden Boy’s gun? And while the multiple endings offer some explanation of what happens depending on the route you choose, one still feels like it needs a little more explanation on what… changed. Despite these questions, I found myself experiencing what is known as yūgen, or “a profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the universe… and the sad beauty of human suffering.” A sudden burst of existentialist grief was cut short by experiencing a hypnotic beauty that surrounded all my senses; I daresay Genesis Noir was not only an entertaining experience, but a spiritual one.
Although I feel like I didn’t quite understand all of what Genesis Noir was trying to accomplish in story, I absolutely understood the emotional journey it took me on. From the joyous beginnings to the urgently depressing ending and even the loneliness, hope, and determination that came after, Genesis Noir is a celebration of humanity, the universe, and of life itself. Genesis Noir is a church for the religious and non-religious alike, and a spiritual experience worth undertaking at any price. Will you traverse time and space for the one you love? Or will you find love among the cosmos along the way? Genesis Noir knows the answer — find out by pursuing this mesmerizing journey on console or PC.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Xbox One, Switch, PC (Reviewed); Publisher: Fellow Traveller; Developer: Feral Cat Den; Players: 1; Released: March 26, 2021
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Genesis Noir provided by the developer.