When I first saw the name of the game, all I could think was luxury Coffee, surely? Anyone? Just me then…
To sum up my initial reactions, Calvino Noir blends a rich 1930’s Chicago Gangster aroma with a strange European 1940’s bitter-sweet taste, finishing with a dash of those black and white Private Eye movies. You know those ones that have smouldering unnamed blondes and close-ups of the lead’s eyes.
Visually the freshly ground depth of field works a treat with a 2.5D platforming affair, coupled with its dystopian grey visuals and depressing rain and thunder. It all works. The voice acting is top notch too, very in keeping with the mood. It’s almost as if the game at this point could have been a really deep and engrossing adventure game. Initially you have to get to your hotel room after an edgy sparing with the barman. Then there’s the classic phone call from the afore mentioned blonde, although in this instance it’s a Russian brunette. The game even feels like a point and click (and to be honest, I don’t know why the developers didn’t leave it like that!) What you have is a game that, on the DualShock, plays like it’s a platformer, but the weird thing is you are controlling a cursor that is locked to the floor. Wherever the curser is, Wilt, the main protagonist, will head that way. At times, though, I was using the controller like you would on a platformer, then watching the little white cursor as an indication of where I wanted to go, and not watching my actual character.
The worst incident with the controls was a little way into the first mission. You find yourself in a stairwell with a central lift, but the door you want to go through happens to be on the same floor, but for the life of me I couldn’t get the door icon to highlight so when I pressed the X button it would open that, rather than accessing the lift. In the end I had to get in the lift and go down one floor and run back up the stairs so I could select the door in question. Should have just kept the cursor to be honest rather than trying to accommodate a controller.
Control issues aside, the story really has you gripped from the get go, and again the visuals and music draw you deeper into this world. It’s just the nature of the game in itself that’s not what I expected. It works, it’s good, but that’s it, nothing more, it’s functional. Get from point A to B without being spotted by the guards. It’s a shame as I’d have liked a bit more of a puzzle-based adventure game in the classic Point and Click genre, where you had an inventory and things to combine.
However, there is some nice stealth gameplay to be had. Each of the guards has a meter that fills up if you arouse their suspicions – white, yellow then red. Calvino Noir also features those lovely one hit kills, on both sides. You get shot once, DEAD. You sneak up and choke a guard, DEAD. The tension remains nicely high, especially when you’re hiding in a darkened corner as a guard with his torch walks past and doesn’t see you. Do you wait for his fixed walking pattern and sneak out and away, or do you instantly jump out and snap his neck when he turns his back on you? Hiding can only be done at select parts of each room/area, denoted by an eye icon. These auto highlight when you are near, but again I think just like the PC version, we could have had a cursor. It would have still worked with the analog sticks, and would have remained just as intuitive.
As you complete the first chapter, Calvino Noir starts getting into its stride. Remember that engrossing story? Well, it gets even more engrossing, I got hooked! Then game also offers up a new mechanic, one where you use two characters to complete your objective. Wilt can take guards down, and the other characters all have individual skills that will be needed at certain points in the mission. This really adds a nice and unexpected touch to what would have been that dodge-the-guards one-dimensional gameplay that it initially felt like. What becomes apparent is that once you have two characters to get through a chapter, how much fun it is, trying to swap between them at the right moments to avoid the guards. With Wilt being the only one to sort them out, you start making tactical choices. It’s tense and fun in equal measure, and then satisfying when it all works out.
Calvino Noir is definitely one of those games that grows on you if you put the time in, and is a game worthy of sticking with. A very decent indie with some poor control choices for the PS4, but never the less no worse for it.
Richer, darker, distinctly continental.
Northlander Rating – 7/10