The one and only game from Calvino Noir Limited (hence the name) stars a detective who delves into the criminal underground world of 1930s Europe. The object of the game is to tie stealth and noir aesthetics into an architecturally beautiful world while the narrator of the game tells a gritty and cheesy story. There aren’t many games that delve into the genre of noir, so it can easily be mistaken as a simple thing to do, which is proven wrong with this title. It has everything you would expect out of a title similar to games such as LA Noir or Blade Runner from the suspicious way that people speak to the long coats and fedoras on everyone’s head. The difference between this game and those I mentioned above are the play styles and whether or not those style match the genre that they are trying to present. Calvino Noir does not display the aesthetic of this time period with the gameplay well enough to consider this a great title, and that’s really disappointing.
The game is visually beautiful with the way that buildings are presented as well as the way that the characters are presented. You do not have visual access to every room in a building unless you have visited that room and more often than not, that room will have a few details that adds to the fun of playing in a noir-type game. The entirety of the game is followed by a narrator that narrates every written word in the game, acting as a kind of omniscient figure that adds the the experience of the game over all. The atmosphere displays a rainy setting, as one would expect from this type of game, and collectively makes the game very interesting and approachable, visually.
The real problem is the fact that it plays as a side-scroller while trying to implement stealth mechanics as well as trying to fit in the idea that this is a story about detective and police work. Most of the time is spend hiding in a shadow with the dim light of a flashlight pointed at some kind of officer or enemy while their patterns are followed before striking. Then the same thing is done again with the next enemy. It’s easy to mistake this for stealth, as you hide behind boxes and other objects to hide yourself before the enemy walks up to you, falling victim to your attack, but it doesn’t really work.
The stealth relies on the above, hiding and sneaking around while you study patterns, but this makes death much more frequent as the patterns do not include cones of vision for your enemies. You never know how far or how close you need to be before you are seen, but it’s not that that makes this game frustrating, it’s the fact that after discovering that you have died hundreds of times, you still need to pass in order to continue. But even as infuriating as this can be, it does not surpass the frustration you can suffer from when trying to be quick with your actions. C
onsidering that the gameplay focuses solely on pointing and clicking, the foreground can quickly switch into the background with a simple upward button press that can easily be missed in timing, leading you walking right past a staircase and into enemy hands when you actually meant to climb them. This as well as other simple acts such as peering through a keyhole, picking a lock, or even opening a door can prove to be frustrating when you are trying to select the icon above while an enemy is in pursuit. You feel more like you are delving into a losing fight rather than playing a game of espionage.
You are given some kind of advantage though, as you are given the opportunity to play as different characters with different areas of expertise so that you can experience death in many different ways. The characters are introduced to further the story and expand the gameplay, but they all fall under the same methodical routine of find the guard patterns, attack, fail, and die. The challenge is unfair and that really takes away from the fact that this is supposed to be enjoyed as a genre that isn’t touched upon often enough and unfortunately, this game feels soulless in comparison.
Unfortunately, Calvino Noir doesn’t meet the expectations that come with this genre and style. From the faulty mechanics to unfair challenges, it fails to present itself as anything more than visually beautiful. It would have been great without the jagged movements or difficulty surpassing your enemies, as side-scrolling point and click gameplay doesn’t fit a game of espionage. It’s disappointing because the scenery and the visuals are beautiful, down the cheesy detective lines, deep music playing in the background and all the rain (it is literally raining throughout the entire game). It was so close, but no cigar.