I have been following the release of Genesis Noir for some time now. The striking light and dark aesthetic of the game was an immediate attention grabber but it was the themes of love, substance abuse, and noir mystery that made me check for news of this game every few days to see when a release date was pinned down. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, Feral Cat Den announced that the game would be releasing on March 26th this year. I bought it the moment that it was available, but I kind of wish I had waited a few more weeks.
Let’s start at the beginning
You play as No-Man as he attempts to stop the murder of the woman he loves and in doing so, stop the Big Bang. Genesis Noir is focused heavily on the story of No-Man as he dives into different dimensions and time periods of the universe in an attempt to learn how to stop what has already been set in motion. As you jump from different pockets of the universe, you must figure out puzzles that rely on light and motion to solve.
There are some really creative examples of these puzzles like the rotary phone in the beginning of the story. No-Man picks up the phone and wants to try to call the woman he’s infatuated with and in so doing, the rotary dial displays over the giant clock face in the back of his apartment, where the player inputs the numbers. No-Man must find the number and understand how to dial them. It is a simple warm up puzzle that is perfectly executed from a visual design standpoint but this quality in execution is not uniform throughout the game, more on that in a little while.
The story might go over some people’s heads as it becomes more and more complicated the further No-Man travels through the universe. However, it’s beautifully done with some of the most unique visuals I have ever seen in a video game. The heavy emphasis on shadow and light is reminiscent of noir films while at the same time coinciding with the far out space setting. It works on both levels thematically and I appreciate that tremendously. In fact, there are a lot of references to the sources of inspiration in the game from famous quantum physics ideas to works of art like Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. Finding these tidbits of influence were always a joy during my time playing.
What would noir be without a solemn soundtrack? Genesis Noir uses its soundtrack to help strike a balance between its noir and science fiction routes; it plays with its sound to enhance the emotions that are occurring on screen fairly well. The moment the player takes control of No-Man on the street corner, the jazzy tunes from the club nearby coincide with the motions of the No-Man’s mannerisms. Later in the game, as space becomes a greater influence, the lack of sound is also played with to emphasize the literal and figurative isolation that is being felt at different points in the game. The premise will have you slowly piecing together the backstory of what truly has transpired in No-Man’s life and the far reaching consequences of the Big Bang’s catalyst.
Gensis Noir frames its gameplay around thematically accurate exercises. Unlike a point and click adventure like Grim Fandago, where the tasks relate to concrete examples from the world, a lot of the tasks in Genesis Noir are inspired by space, time, and light. This can lead to some very creative ideas, like grabbing the sun and forcing day cycles to happen more quickly so plants will grow. Or when No-Man helps a scientist find the correct parameters for the Martian Accelerator by working through research notes and applying them to the knobs and switches. These were fun little tasks that are engaging and required some thought but they were also some of the only examples of Genesis Noir being a game.
As No-Man explores the universe and different time periods, he is introduced to different characters who inspire their own unique gameplay elements to solve their chapters. For the most part, these sections offer varied interactions for No-Man to complete like collecting items for a feudal lord or tracking down a buck through the forest. These sections are more about experiencing the time period rather than offering any sort of challenge to the player.
For the most part, the different puzzles presented to the player only require their mouse pointer to clear alcohol bubbles or to hit A to applaud a performer. Often, Genesis Noir only needs the player to be present for the ride rather than an active participant and that is one of my biggest complaints of the game because it felt like the story would have been much better if it was told in a different medium.
I would have loved if Genesis Noir was an animated short; it could have retained its jazzy, noir shadow art style but left out the tedious and frustrating parts that make up the “game” portion. It feels like Genesis Noir was more focused on how cool and thought provoking it was rather than how fun it was to play.
Patience is a virtue
Ironically, one of the smaller themes in the game is patience and yet the developers (or publisher) released a game that has some of the most frustrating bugs I have experienced in quite some time. Part of this is because of the nature of the game. Genesis Noir is committed to being an experience that must be played organically. It doesn’t like telling its players what to do, which is fantastic and more games should definitely do this; however, if you don’t know what’s supposed to happen when you complete a task, you might not realize you have a bug preventing you from progressing.
One of the first times Genesis Noir prevented me from moving forward with the plot was in the first section that takes place away from No-Man’s home. I was supposed to walk to the top of the hill and have a scene with another character called Golden Boy. The problem is when I arrived at the top of the mountain nothing happened. I planted a bunch of light and dark plants because I thought they would interact with the character and nothing. I wandered around the level looking for something I missed and nothing. It wasn’t until I looked it up online that I realized the game was glitched that I restarted. These moments happened frequently to me during my time playing.
The most frustrating one was when I was trying to solve the constellation puzzle, which requires that you make every star in the system have light but it doesn’t tell you this, so on the last constellation when it was all lit up, I thought I needed to do it in a specific order. About 30 minutes later, I looked up the answer and saw that I had completed it long ago but the game wasn’t registering that it was correct.
From invisible walls, to tasks not registering, to transitions freezing altogether, I had to restart a few dozen times. That doesn’t sound bad until you realize that each time took until I looked up what was supposed to happen at that particular chapter. By the end of the game, I had become so frustrated that I didn’t even care about some aspects of the story anymore; I just wanted it to end.
Genesis Noir is one of the most visually stimulating games ever created but unfortunately the buggy gameplay on top of already lackluster puzzles creates an experience that is more frustrating than thought provoking. It would have made a phenomenal animated short but as it currently plays, Genesis Noir is just a subpar point and click adventure.