This format is a shorter, more to the point, off-shot of the normal review/op-eds I normally do. A ranking will be given at the end from a scale that starts at (from the lowest to the highest): Bad – meh – fine – good – great. Anything not appropriate for these “scores” will likely warrant a more in-depth discussion, which is what I normally do, so this range does not cover all games, just the ones that I think are suited to this format.
Last year, when Xbox held the demo event with several demos for upcoming games, one of the games that stood out was Genesis Noir; it looked unique, it had a killer score, and was so weird and different, I was just magnetized by it. Fast forward to March 26th and the game releases on GamePass, so I am naturally very excited to try it out; a handful of hours later I can finally answer with some certainty what the game is, but whether that is something that will work for the general public is something I am not sure about yet. What I do know for certain is that, while the game is certainly not perfect and is pretty rough on the console due to various translation problems with its controls, it is one of the most unique games I have ever played and I am thankful it exists; it has some excellent features that deserve to be recognized and applauded, alongside some poor decisions that should be criticized, but regardless of any of that, a game that manages to be so peculiar in an entertainment industry that is so flooded with repetition and iteration is something to be cherished and recognized as special, even if it doesn’t hit every note it wants.
Taking the game objectively reveals a pretty simple set up; this is a point & click game with film noir inspired visuals, a jazz score, and is telling the story of the Big Bang in a dramatized, detective mystery, about a watch peddler who witnesses his lover get shot by a narcissistic artist (called Golden Boy) and goes on a journey through the history of the cosmos and try to prevent his lover’s demise. The story is much more ambitious than that simple description though; as the developers put it, the game is inspired by Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino and having heard of the series acclaim for its abstract storytelling and merging science with stories about humanity, they certainly replicate some of that here. The game touches upon various subjects with the same merging of facts and imagination throughout its runtime and some land better than others; the game can be seen as a series of story vignettes strung together through an abstract narrative. There are moments in the game that stuck in my mind as especially wonderous, with chapters like Hunt about humanity’s early struggles with feeding itself, or the fantastically diverse and surprising Voyage chapter, which is completely optional and is about the kickstarters of the game. While the game straddles the line between pretentious and ambiguously artistic finely (for the most part), the only major failure of the game comes at the overtly long and bafflingly convoluted ending sequence; depending on how your playthrough goes, you could spent the equivalent of your playtime up to the last chapter again just on the ending, which significantly lessens the impact of it.
That is a real shame, because the ending is where most of what works about Genesis Noir is at its best. The game is mostly presented in a film noir palette and tone, but there are some great additions to that genre that help make it more unique; the characters look like ancient pottery drawings come to life, while the black and white color limitations are moody and look picturesque, however the game uses a lot of color as well, its just targeted and executed for maximum impact. The animation is mind-blowingly good, while the entire presentation package is made doubly good by the incredible jazz score; I like jazz as much as any pretentious critic on the internet, but this made me question if I love jazz and simply don’t know it yet.
Finally, the gameplay is a mixed bag, at least on Xbox; this is a point & click game, but not the ‘inventory, combine, drag and drop’ style. It is a puzzle game that is focused on visual logic; you see something that stands out, you click it and so on. You see patterns, you repeat them, you see a character that stands out you click on them; it also tries to create an experimental type of puzzle, like gripping on to something and rotating the stick to progress it through its stages and get to the one you want. Those puzzles were less to my liking, because it wasn’t always clear what you had to do and those can get frustrating at times. Problem with playing with the controller was the cursor being more finnicky than I would have liked; sometimes it felt too fast and I was rushing past things I wanted to examine, other times it felt too slow like getting from one edge of the screen to the other. This wasn’t a particular issue, but more of an annoyance; similarly, I wish I was given the option to restart the puzzle, even though there are no fail states. I did get stuck once, but mainly I wanted to restart to reset the puzzle and take a better look at it to figure it out myself without needing to use guides.
Overall though, Genesis Noir is a GOOD game and one everyone with a GamePass subscription should play. Even if you don’t have that subscription, you should at least give it a chance; this is a unique experience, one that will drag towards the end, will not challenge your brain or puzzle solving skills, nor will it be the best story told through the medium. However, it looks astonishing, it sounds amazing, and works better as an experience holistically, than the individual pieces; I enjoyed my time with it and hopefully more experiences that are bizarre and unique like this will come along, but for now this is an especially creative experience that works quite well.