It seems like the noir genre is a style fitting for the world of gaming, doesn’t it? The art style is beautiful when done right, the music and aesthetics of the era are unique to that one period of time and the stories that can be told within the noir framework are boundless, whether they cross genres or remain in hardboiled territory. While Calvino Noir manages to capture the noir look and feel quite well, its artistic aspirations can’t hold up the atrocious gameplay.
The plot follows a typical noir setup: Wilt, the cynical, quip-spouting anti-hero is paid to steal certain plans from a certain group, and after he’s immediately betrayed, he begins to piece together what the plans mean and what the group is after. The story doesn’t do much to deviate from the generic framework, mostly ticking the checklist of noir cliches.
Dialogue is full of gritty, cheesy quips that made me grin just from hearing how cliched it was. In more ways than one, Calvino Noir captures the feel of classic noirs, and the script, while definitely hammier than the classics, is no exception.
However, the visuals and music do the best job of bringing the jazz era to life. Torrential downpours drench the 2.5D world in oppressive atmosphere, while simple jazz melodies lazily follow Wilt from objective to objective. The black and white aesthetics look great here, even if they’re nothing new.
Unfortunately, the praise ends here, because Calvino Noir is one of the most punishing games I’ve played in quite some time, and not in a challenging Dark Souls manner. Wilt and his crew use stealth to get around, and each character has a unique ability that can be used to get from floor to floor. For example, Wilt can choke out guards, while support characters can operate machinery, peek through keyholes, or walk amongst guards undetected to name a few.
Each stage usually finds Wilt and a companion making their way to the end together, with control switching between the two at the press of a button. It’s actually a pretty good setup for a decent game, but the execution wastes all of the potential.
Stealth games are inherently difficult, asking players to be patient and methodical when all they want to do is reach their goal. However, a good stealth title will give you indications of how aware enemies are of their surroundings and how much your actions affect that awareness. Calvino Noir does no such thing, imbuing its guards with superhuman abilities and making it impossible to figure out just how careless you’re being.
While playing as Wilt, you’ll primarily try sneaking up behind guards and choking them to get them out of the way. As you walk closer, a sound bar appears above the guard’s head and fills if you make noise. However, it’s never clear how much noise any action will make, and even slowly walking towards a guard will result in him turning around, gunning you down with a one-hit kill and leaving you swearing furiously at the last checkpoint.
The sound bar jumps rapidly as well, as one tiny tiptoe down a stair will send the guard into full lockdown mode as he kills you in a heartbeat. There’s also no indication of how far a guard can see, and although certain parts of the background are accessible as hiding spots, guards tend to spot you anyways and take you out before you can move.
Movement speed rests at Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture levels of lethargy, making escape hardly an option. The 2.5D viewpoint creates some good visuals, but it makes climbing between levels an absolute pain. The game can’t seem to decide if it wants to let you move up, down or right past the stairs, so it will randomly generate a decision for you. At one point, I was pushing the stick up and right to head upstairs and the game stubbornly kept leading me down and to the left.
This wouldn’t be such a huge problem if the guards weren’t superhuman, but mixed with slow movement speed and one-hit kills, it’s insanely infuriating. Even opening doors becomes unnecessarily painful: once you’re able to look through keyholes and pick locks, you have to switch through all the different prompts the door gives you with L1, looking for the right one while pressed for time.
Of course, this is if the character abilities work at all. The very first stage lets you play as an ally whose ability allows him to walk past guards undetected. I tried walking into a room full of guards and they immediately shot on sight.
Lots of games have managed to take the “style over substance” criticism and make themselves a fun, mindless romp, but Calvino Noir suffers from a lack of any substance. It tries to introduce an interesting dimension of stealth to its admittedly moody world, but the gameplay is just bogged down by missteps too numerous to forgive. This title was released on mobile platforms as well as PS4, so maybe it was meant to fare better on tablets rather than here. Regardless, this is a title that wastes fantastic noir artistry on extremely poor gameplay. If the developers ever manage to match their technical skills to that of their artistic aspirations, then they just might stumble upon a much better game.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 version of the game, which was given to us for review purposes.
An excellent noir aesthetic doesn't save Calvino Noir from its utterly incompetent and buggy gameplay, making for an infuriating stealth title.