Calvino Noir has been one of the most difficult games for me to score in a long time. The developers self titled inaugaral release is a dark, gritty film noir stealth action game set in an alternative 1930′s europe.
Wilt, your stereotypical anti-hero, is a criminal; and a very good one at that. Hiring himself out to the highest bidder, sometimes his jobs aid the corrupt and powerful and sometimes, just sometimes, it helps to topple those same corrupt and powerful figures.
Your latest job is painted as one of the latter, with you tasked with infiltrating a secure building with help of an insider, ubiquitously named “the mole”, who will help you retrieve documents that can bring down a corrupt official. you are soon betrayed by your accomplice and left to take the wrap for the theft, and you are left with a smattering of clues with which to track down your betrayer and peice together the reasons ultimately behind your betrayal.
The first thing you notice, apart from the very simplistic monochromatic art style, is the unique way in which levels are laid out. From the outset, a simple type of fog of war covers areas not in your immediate vicinity and as you transition into these area’s they become fully and permanently revealed.
The levels are made up of multiple zones, stitched together vertically and horizontally, to create one seamless whole and as you progress through the level you see how each area is positioned in relation to others you have encountered. Its a very simple, but aesthetically pleasing mechanic.
The world of Calvino Noir is a bleak, dark and dingy place, with extremely good use of simple weather effects and background descriptions to really bring it to life and give it that true film noir feel to it.
This would not be possible, without the fantastic voice work that quite an eclectic gathering of actors provide. Wilt’s quip filled dialogue is fantastically on point and its delivery from Anthony Howell is perfectly provided, as too is the dialogue from your old colleague Arno, voiced by Wolf Kahler, and the world is brought to life by the overarching narration provided by John Bowe. Not all the voice work matches the quality of these three actors, but for the majority every line and background description breathes life into the characters and world inhabited in Calvino Noir.
Sadly, despite its artistic depth and stunning aesthetics, Calvino Noir is ultimately hindered by another aspect; the gameplay itself.
as mentioned previously, Calvino Noir is a puzzle based stealth action game that expands both horizontally and vertically, and for the most part involves elaborate interiors with elevators, ladders and stair wells linking these zones together.
The first of the problems occur when interacting with the latter of these. During my time playing Calvino Noir, nothing gave me a greater sinking feeling than unveiling a new zone only to find it filled with stairs. These stairways appear in both the foreground and background of the zones, and to navigate them you must first push diagonally up or down to move between floors.
With the focus on moving quickly, quietly and stealthily around the area to avoid the patrolling guards, (more on them later), I far too often found myself struggling to get Wilt or his accomplices to interact correctly with the environment.
The second problem comes from wilt’s inate ability, or more precisely the ability to use the ability. Each of the playable characters has their own benefit. The mole for example can pass guards unnoticed being an insider on the first job, Arno can operate most machinery, where Wilt has the ability to subdue guards.
Zones have a patrol of guards, each with a set rotation. patiently waiting and watching these rotations is key to traversing the levels but sometimes you need to sneak up on a guard and clear the way. To do so, Wilt must move extremely close to the enemy, and this will activate an action icon that can be used to overwhelm the sentry. Sadly, the same action button is used for all context sensitive interaction and more often than not the guard will stop at the most inopportune location to strike, directly over a background icon. changing icons on the fly is done with the shoulder buttons, but the guards have such a quick rotation that for the majority of attempts to use this ability I either heard Wilt’s monologue about the background item, or opened and closed nearby trapdoors, and should I be lucky enough to get the correct action icon selected, the guard will have already turned and fired the single round required to kill Wilt and restart the level.
This becomes even more infuriating as it resets the entire level playthrough. As you will be using two characters the majority of the time, and key investigation points regularly remind you that both characters need to be present to interact, having succesfully run the gauntlet with one character only to fall at the final hurdle with the other character quickly became controller destroyingly frustrating. This could have been lessened with a checkpoint system independent for each character reaching the trigger point, but instead both characters are reset and sent back to the start of the level to try again.
Apart from the one shot kills that the guards can perform to destroy any will you have for continuing, they also bug out at times as well. Each guard has an indicator to show how much noise you are making in his vicinity, to give you evidence of how slowly you must move to avoid his unwarranted attention. This would be fine, but on numerous occasions it would shoot up to full even when moving at the same speed you had used to carefully avoiding his senses before hand, and even worse, sometimes they will psychically detect your character through closed doors to kill him off hand and reset you once again.
The slow pace at which you must proceed in order to navigate safely, mixed with the fiddly controls, extra sensory guards, full resets and lack of checkpoints changes the game from being rock solid difficult to being just plain frustrating, off puting and akward.
Calvino Noir does as many things right as it does wrong which is an incredible shame as the world the team have created is amazingly fleshed out.
Midlife Gamer Rating: 6/10 Format: PlayStation 4 / PC / iOS Release Date: Out Now
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Calvino Noir by the publisher for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of a week. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.