As you regular readers probably already know from last month’s Blues and Bullets review, there’s just something about the Noir aesthetic that gets me excited to play a game. When you think about it, film noir is filled with tropes that sound like they’d make for an excellent video game. There’s action, adventure, intrigue and a dark, gritty tone that would make a game’s world incredibly tense to explore. It’s kind of strange that the noir genre hasn’t been adapted to video games more often. Luckily, Calvino Noir’s Limited new stealth adventure Calvino Noir absolutely nails the noir experience, while also offering some solid (if frustrating) gameplay to go along with it.
In Calvino Noir, you play as a disparate group of “scramblers” (ie. spies) in an unnamed European city in the 1930s who gradually become embroiled in a delicate conspiracy that threatens to turn the underworld on its head. Guiding the characters through three acts full of tense side-scrolling stealth gameplay, you’ll experience a well written and intriguing story that hits all of the familiar noir notes. Each of the three protagonists has his or her own special ability (for example, being able to silently take down enemies or become “invisible” to patrolling guards) and most of the game’s levels are built around switching between characters and success comes from learning when to use each character effectively, kind of like the old Commandos games. Don’t think the game is easy, though – Calvino Noir is tough as nails and to survive you’re supposed to progress at a snail’s pace and plan ahead carefully. At least, that’s the idea.
Unfortunately, while it’s nice when a game provides a real challenge, Calvino Noir can sometimes be frustrating since many times your success boils down to trial and error, and the game can go out of its way to trip you up. Due to Calvino Noir being a PC port of a mobile game, the touchscreen inspired controls are often confusing or don’t feel responsive and certain UI elements aren’t clear enough, which really hinders the precision the gameplay demands from players. A particularly frustrating example is the game’s “hide” prompt, which doesn’t tell you where your character will take cover (it may appear in front of a locker, making you think you’ll be climbing inside the locker, Metal Gear style, when your character just presses up against the wall instead) and, more often than not, just puts you in worse danger of being caught. When it comes down to it, this game isn’t a pleasure to play with default mouse and keyboard controls (which you can’t even remap) and using a gamepad is definitely recommended.
On a positive note, Calvino Noir‘s graphics are fantastic, and the game barely looks like a mobile port at all. The buildings you’ll be sneaking through are intricately detailed and the architecture is authentic to the location and time period. Although you don’t get to see anything up close due to the game being a side-scroller, the characters and environments are all quite charming to look at, and the world itself is atmospheric, dark and frightening, just as a Noir setting should be. Although everything’s in full 3D, the graphics bring to mind the careful spritework of an old point and click game. It’s a true shame that the gameplay doesn’t match the polished graphics.
So, would I recommend Calvino Noir to someone looking for a fun stealth adventure? While the game has a great premise and the gameplay (when it works as intended) is solid, in the end it feels too much like a smartphone game and the flaws get in the way too much to be worth it at full price. If you can get Calvino Noir on sale, it would be a great purchase to spend a weekend with, but for $24.99, there are much better games on offer.
Check out Calvino Noir on Steam here.