Calvino Noir is one moody game. From the very moment Calvino Noir boots up, its unique art and moody lighting effects do a good job of creating the 1930’s world that is yours to delve into.
Besides sounding like the name of a bottle of wine, Calvino Noir is a side scrolling adventure game set in 1930’s Europe. Beginning the game as the sardonic Wilt, a character pulled straight from the noir films that the game is heavily draws it’s inspiration from. Wilt is tasked with retrieving some documents, but of course the job quickly goes south.
Working your way through the 1930’s streets after curfew, the game does a good job of creating a world that is moody and dark, using varying shades of grey to great effect, which is only enhanced by the lighting from swaying light bulbs, or the way the screen flashes during a storm. Guards too carry flash lights, and their beams effectively cast shafts of light through each gloomy nook and cranny as they carry out their patrols.
Early on in the game you are introduced to a variety of characters who you can play as besides Wilt, each with their own special ability, such as Arno, a chemical weapons expert who can operate machinery. Wilt has the ability to knock out guards, but for some reason whenever the fist prompt would appear over an unsuspecting guards head nothing appeared to happen, regardless of which button I pressed. I quickly stopped trying to subdue guards and play the game in a more stealthy way,especially as the guards were all equipped with pistols that could drop Wilt dead with a single bullet, but it was frustrating to know that the main characters ability was effectively useless (or at least poorly scripted to make it almost impossible to pull off). This frustration was only increased in the slow reload times between death and respawn, a delay of mere seconds but just enough to annoy as you are sat waiting for the game to reload as the guard who has just dropped you runs around and over your now dead corpse, rubbing salt into the wound.
The ability to switch between characters with differing abilities is a nice touch, and can be done so on the fly during a level by pressing the triangle button, to make the most of your current line up with a choice of three characters who become available as the story progresses. Each has a relevance to the current section of the game, there is no character select screen or anything like that to pull you out of the story, and this does work well to help create a living breathing space in which you occupy. One of the more frustrating aspects of the character switching mechanic is that certain actions require both characters to be in the same room at the same time in order to progress, which often means replaying certain sections twice but from another characters perspective. On the one hand this means you have to use a variety of play styles, going in and taking guards out as Wilt (if and when it works) or sneaking by as Arno or Saskia, but on the other hand it does become a bit of a hindrance, and quickly gets repetitive with nothing really in the way to help truly distinguish between the characters you play.
Obviously the level of exploration is limited because of the 2D nature of games like this, but the game has a nice system at play where rooms you have already visited appear on the screen lit up, including any guards who may patrol within them, while areas yet to be discovered remain blacked out. This encourages you to explore each room fully, just incase a door or room is hidden in one of the blacked out areas that border the rooms you have already paid a visit to. Controls can become finicky in the instances when a couple of objects of interest are grouped together, or downright frustrates when trying to navigate staircases in and around buildings, which is only increased when pursued by guards.
Overall Calvino Noir is a nice, story driven entry in the 2D side scrolling adventure genre. Certain aspects do frustrate, and it can trip itself up in places, but when these are overlooked what lies underneath is an interesting stealth game, built up around a 1930’s story that is helped along by it’s fully voiced cast.
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