One of my prized books upon my shelf is the definitive encyclopedia of “Noir”, filled with moody alleyways, raspy voiced detectives, whisky bottles and revolvers. It resurrects an era of film and TV that can suck you in, confuse and spit you back out again just like a Tarantino movie. I absolutely adore it.
When I spotted Calvino Noir making its way to mobile from PC, I was surprised to see such a gritty and mature title that wasn’t a fighting game or FPS making its way to iOS. Most mobile games supply quick bursts of action that can retain the player and possibly spend a few dollars on some IAP’s, so receiving a premium story driven denture is a massive treat, however, the level of concentration required for this game however delivers a crippling blow to its experience.
Blame It On The Weatherman
From the very moment you start up Calvino Noir, the lonely saxophones and hissing hi-hat jazz drums of the city accompany the heavy rain drenching the streets, forcing the vulnerable to retreat to the nearest bars and drink through the storm, it’s also the perfect opportunity for our main character Wilt, a “Scrambler” to rendezvous for his first objective in a dark European criminal underworld
The game is a cross between a 2.5D Platformer and point and click adventure. The narration, character design and voice acting are tremendous at setting the atmosphere to accompany the very appropriate metal powered noir graphic design. Calvino Noir succeeds in creating its 1930’s environments and populating them full of mystery and interesting characters that you actually want to know more about, including their intentions for the targets.
A series of taps is all that are required to navigate your way through the dark halls and stairways that lie ahead, tapping anywhere on the screen will place a marker which you can calmly walk to or, dash to by toggling the run button at the bottom of the screen. Contextual buttons will pop up near doors, hatches, items and other characters for you to interact with. There is the addition of a torch which should be used sparingly in dark areas of the game due to the eagle eye vision of the many guards you will encounter.
There are moments during dialogue where you can choose how you wish to answer other characters providing a nice dose of RPG gameplay Deus Ex style allowing for an extra layer of involvement from the player to steer the direction of conversations for extra information. All of the audio has been professionally captured with Wilt’s deep and bash English voice being my favorite representation of how noir dialogue should sound.
The majority of Calvino Noir revolves around sneaking or using brute force to steal as much criminally identifying evidence against corrupt, key individuals and encountering other skilled spies joining forces to shoot for the big prizes.
You will also have the opportunity to play as other characters which was a surprise when I had to wait for someone to give me a key and I in fact had to switch to that character and retrieve it myself. This particular mechanic reminded me of the first “Commandos” game for PC, your associates pack different skills and all work together to provide a spectrum of skills that will get the job done as quickly and quietly as possible.
It’s not just the information in the game that is expensive, the actual first act of the game will cost you $2.99 for three levels with acts two and three costing $4.99 for the extra six. It’s cheaper than its PC counterpart, but some may raise an eyebrow toward the price tag.
Everything up until this point was incredible, until I actually started playing the game for real on my first sneaky stealth mission.
Nowhere Is Safe
As the heading suggests, there really isn’t a safe place to hide in Calvino Noir, which is the key point of a stealth game. Hiding and not leaving a trace, let alone a standoff with a guard. The stealth mechanics of this game were so clumsy and fiddly that I actually haven’t made it past the first stage yet, the furious rage I would find myself descending into when I attempted to tap the eye symbols scattered everywhere to hide from the guard that is in my immediate proximity would result in crouching behind a trash can in plain sight, I may as well have taken out the torch and impersonated a lighthouse.
The game’s perspective certainly makes it difficult to determine how hidden you actually are when hugged up against a locker or crouched behind some boxes as a guard’s torch will saturate you in white and detected before they’ve even walked past you. It’s a real upsetting rock to the boat because the game had a lot of good ideas, however, the difficulty level is beyond accessible, it’s even harder to actually knock a guard out as I mashed the fist button above their heads and Wilt would be sent into a frenzy of running back and forth begging to be shot in the back.
At this time of writing, I am aware a few updates have been released for the game to address issues related to the stealth mechanics and other bugs, however, I feel my enthusiasm for the game has disappeared and its noir charm may not be enough to get me to go back and attempt to progress further especially with the risk of purchasing the extra acts and not being able to finish them.
The heart-breaking aspect surrounding Calvino Noir is that it had its own niche, even running on metal shows it didn’t have to be a blistering, eye melting graphics fest to obtain its beauty, everything that came after talking to other characters and admiring the architecture was a real slap in the face after being enticed with this tale of shady dealings, corrupt individuals, and what you were going to do about it.
Calvino Nair opened with a strong, powerful introduction to the world that has been crafted for players, but trying desperately to uncover its secrets and story will leave you clawing away into a hole as dark as noir itself.