Calvino Noir exudes style. It’s clear from any screenshot that the game perfectly encapsulates film noirewith its gritty art style peppered with hints of light. The purpose of the game is every bit as dark, following an underground group thrust together by circumstance to fight for their city. On paper, Calvino Noir sounds perfect: dystopian society, underdogs, and mystery can make for some compelling gameplay. In play, however, Calvino Noir fails spectacularly.
At first glance, Calvino Noir actually appears a bit familiar – I, like many others, have sunk numerous hours into the hit This War Of Mine. Calvino Noir’s aesthetic and boxy rooms are indeed very similar to those in This War Of Mine, as is the idea of fighting (and sneaking and murdering) for survival in a city wrought with mortal danger, but the games are otherwise incomparable.
Related reading: Matt’s review of This War Of Mine on iPad.
Calvino Noir begins with a fellow called Wilt heading to his local watering hole to collect his messages and take a room for the night. As he moves across the landscape or inside buildings, he is able to interact with objects and speak with people. When he arrives in his room the phone is ringing: a stranger needs his help. They eventually meet and he learns her name is Siska, and she’s arranged for him to meet with someone who can help him on the mission. This format continues throughout the game, with new characters (and their new skills) being introduced along the way.
To get from one place to another requires a very keen eye and a very patient player, not only due to the need for extreme stealthiness but also because this is where the game entire falls apart. Calvino Noir is best described as 2.5D, as it appears 2D but the characters do actually have the option to move toward and away from the screen as well as left, right, up, and down. The reason 2.5D fails with regards to this game in particular is that is makes it extremely difficult to navigate through stairwells: you try to go up, your character goes down. I tried switching from using a controller (which the developers claim is fully supported) to a mouse and keyboard, but while it made the stairs easier it made sneaking more difficult, so I eventually gave up and got used to the weird controls with regards to stairs but never got entirely comfortable with travelling up and down flights in a hurry.
To be stealthy isn’t supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to take time, patience, and skill to be able to sneak undetected past armed guards. But Calvino Noir takes stealth to an entirely new level of difficult, and not in the good way. Characters can hide in the shadows, but if a guard comes anywhere near them it’s over; one must ask what the point of hiding is if you wouldn’t be seen even standing out in the open. Guards have flashlights, but there is no consistent way of knowing how far they actually see (or even if it’s the same distance every time). Guards can also hear things, and have little noise meters displayed. Sometimes a tiny step will get a character shot, but other times (and with the same guard!) you can stomp around and nothing happens.
As I previously mentioned, each character has their own special skill. Slight correction: each character supposedly has their own special skill. When Wilt is active, for example, the screen displays a notification saying he can take out guards. However, how he is able to take out guards still remains a mystery to me: after a solid half hour of sneaking up behind them and trying every button on the controller several times over, I had no luck. Another good example of these so-called skills is The Mole, who claims to be invisible to guards. If he were so undetectable, how did I walk into a room of guards, be seen instantly, and be shot on sight? Granted, The Mole’s skill sometimes functioned and that is more than I could say about Wilt’s.
Five minutes into playing Calvino Noir, I could tell it's a game much better suited for iOS than for PC or even PS4. This is clearly one of those times the developers couldn’t be bothered to put enough time and effort into the PC version to make it function properly at a basic level. I don’t know if the game functions any better on other platforms, and I don’t think I’d be willing to find out if it meant having to play again. Calvino Noir cannot be saved by its mystery storyline or impressive graphics because it is just too flawed on a technical level.
- Lindsay M.