The world of games has had brushes with the film noir aesthetic, to varying degrees of success – L.A. Noire, White Night, Hotel Dusk stand out in recent memory. Genesis Noir aims to shake up the formula and deliver the shadowy cigarette-and-trench-coat aesthetic with even more style. Incorporating cosmic themes and featuring a psychedelic trip among the stars, Genesis Noir has the pensive musings of Kentucky Route Zero and the exploration of charming worlds like Botanicula.
Genesis Noir is Feral Cat Den’s debut title, the fruit of a successful Kickstarter campaign that made it clear that there is a demand for artistic experiences that challenge the boundaries between grand storytelling ventures and interactive experiences. Their influences for the ambitious game range from Italo Calvino’s book Cosmicomics and the 1965 French neo-noir film Alphaville. Can this rich tapestry of inspirations create an experience as timeless as its individual influences?
Story – A Cosmic Romance
You play as No Man, desperately looking for a way to save Miss Mass from the murderous passion of Golden Boy and the Big Bang itself. The premise is as fantastic as it is confusing – but it only made the prospect of diving into cosmic mysteries more inviting. Mixing the story of a jilted bandmate and the creation of the universe is quite interesting, and I was eagerly awaiting throughout the story to see how the story will tie these metaphors together.
Throughout the story, No Man meets a whole bunch of characters, who also serve as facets of his growth on his galactic adventure. As the player character, he’s a perfect blank slate (complete with some comedic chops to spare), so it was very easy to follow his journey through the neatly sectioned vignettes the game is divided into.
While the journey really dives into the heavy-handed metaphors of the beginning of the universe – we are treated to very technical terms and descriptions accompanying the chapters – it feels like Miss Mass and Golden Boy are merely props for No Man’s self-actualization. I was really intrigued with the two other main characters and wish their roles could have been utilized more in order to tighten the story and what they represent.
Despite how vague some of its themes come across, Genesis Noir does succeed with its environmental storytelling, especially in the latter half of the game. The worlds that you explore, guided by the locales of each section, feel realized and independent – and helps that it’s never visually boring to traverse through these scenes. However, I attributed my desire to push through the narrative to my curiosity. I wanted to find out what’s next in the menu of sensory experiences that the title provides rather than a real investment into the story. I let the game happen to me without thinking too hard about it – and it’s a valid way to experience Genesis Noir.
Gameplay – Looking Pretty, Feeling Clunky
Gameplay is an area that actually suffered from the highbrow style. Moments that were meant to be innovative felt clunky and unintuitive.
Genesis Noir has been described as a “point-and-click,” but I found it more of a “click-everything-and-see-if-anything-happens” kind of experience. While many other titles have done and run away with the latter style, many of the minigames inserted into the gameplay feel unnecessary. My least favorite is the sections where you need to clear away bubbles – usually when No Man consumes some alcohol. This gimmick has been used for speech bubbles and stars.
Every time it came up, I was exasperated at how much the game insisted that I do the chore of sweeping around the cursor and clicking everything in sight. It’s not fun and doesn’t even lend to the storytelling at all. In these sections, they could have also used the touch-screen capabilities of the Switch to make the puzzle functionality better.
The transitions between cutscene and gameplay just turn on and off in a way that makes me feel very impatient and could have been handled better. After a cutscene, I click one object, and then I’m watching another lengthy cutscene. I hold the joystick, traveling to the right of the screen until I am forced to stop. Some of the actions feel like chores just to check if you’re still paying attention to the game. It just doesn’t feel good in terms of interactivity. There are also times when cinematic black bars frame the screen. This switches between the gameplay and cutscene sections, so there are actually times, I’m waiting for more animations to come on because of the cinematic black bars, but it turns out I have to move!
The best sections are the ones that lean into the character of the environment that you are exploring. Some of these delightful moments include jamming with the bassist, performing kintsugi on broken paraphernalia, and calibrating scientific instruments. They were the most tactile and satisfying gameplay experiences because these actions make a lot of sense given their context.
The initial Switch release of the game had been patched to fix some game-breaking bugs, but I found myself experiencing two crashes and another softlock. Having to play through sections again definitely soured the overall impact of the experience.
Audio and Graphics – A Symphony of the Stars
If you aren’t impressed with Genesis Noir’s aesthetic and presentation, I want to know what games you’ve played. From the introduction alone, the title delivers such a unique and high-quality art direction that your main motivation will be to see just how far the designers will push the beautiful world they have built. I’d never thought I’d see a world so beautifully fleshed out in only three colors – just black, white, and a pale, melancholy yellow that reminds me of starlight or the sheen of white gold. The dedication towards this style and attention to detail really paid off.
Throughout the whole game, the sound design never misses a beat. Every section is served extraordinarily well with its jazz soundtrack and sound effects, adding a layer of atmosphere alongside the gorgeous visual elements. The music, film and book influences make themselves loud and clear. Genesis Noir is a love letter to these works of art, and it resulted in an indie game with one of the tightest presentations and executions around.
Genesis Noir was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch with a key provided by Evolve PR.