I’ve always had a meticulous, even deliberate nature when it comes to gaming. I don’t just want to clear levels, I want to clear them with a minimum of mistakes — it’s why I routinely finish games with consumables/boosts maxed out; rather than use them I’d rather try again until I do it right. That has made me a natural at stealth games, and it’s what had me ready to dive into the ambience-soaked Calvino Noir, which promised no shortage of stealth and subterfuge.
Certain genres struggle to make the move from PC to consoles, but we’re usually talking about real-time strategy and that ilk. Calvino Noir, however, rips the user interface directly from PC and plops it onto the PS4 with unfortunate results. Every time you get near objects you can interact with prompts will appear on the screen — places to enter cover, pick locks, choke guards, etc. — but what may be easy with a mouse is an imprecise slog with a controller.
For example, let’s say you’re trying to incapacitate a guard. You sneak up behind, the “fist” appears and you try to select it, except you choose entering cover instead and are quickly whisked back to the last checkpoint courtesy of a bullet. Rather than assign a button to an action, you have to use “L1” to toggle through your available options and then select it with “X.” Not being able to simply attack a guard with the press of a button will lead to dozens, if not hundreds, of deaths.
There are other issues that, under different circumstances, would rate as significant, but compared to what’s going on with the UI they can be written off as inconveniences (relatively speaking). You cannot issue move commands, meaning you’ll need to individually move all three characters to set points to advance the story and hit checkpoints. At best, it’s time consuming. At worst, it means avoiding the same hazards repeatedly.
Ironically, the cursor to issue the move commands on the PC version remains, its lone function now to serve as a loose guide as to which direction you’re headed.
For all of its shortcomings, Calvino Noir does it right on the presentation front. The darkened streets and buildings, the torrential downpour, the interesting architecture and harrowing backgrounds, it’s all done exceedingly well. That being said, there are a few missed opportunities to have the environment affect the gameplay. Crashing thunder could drown out your footsteps, but it doesn’t. And for as dark as the game is, you never need the flashlight to see.
Working in lock step with the graphics is the musical score, which favors some very light jazz that serves to complement the mood. The dialogue is slathered in the cheesy clichés that have come to define the genre. Even if the story isn’t much, delivery is solid, and it’s easy to have a chuckle at some of the lines. It’s good stuff all the way around here.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with Calvino Noir‘s story, it isn’t going to move the needle, either. It manages to check all the usual boxes: world-weary lead (Wilt), simple job gone wrong, sinister maneuverings behind the scenes… check, check and double check. Paired with excellent gameplay it’d make for a perfectly satisfying jaunt, but that’s not the case here, and the story isn’t near compelling enough to entice gamers to overlook it and keep going to see what happens next.
Beyond the aforementioned control problems, the game is undermined by poor stealth mechanics; a real problem when you’ve developed a stealth game. At its core, a lack of transparency is Calvino Noir‘s undoing, and it’s a failure that occurs on multiple levels.
Stealth games by their very nature are meant to frustrate, forcing you to plan your movements and advance with patience and precision. What the good ones do, however, is provide all necessary info to succeed in that endeavor: guards’ line of sight, noise levels made by various actions, enemy awareness and so on. Calvino Noir does none of this, making it incredibly difficult to advance since you never really know if what you’re doing is being seen and/or heard.
Even when you seem to play by the rules, the game is still quick to dismiss your efforts. I lost count of how many times I snuck up on a guard, his detection meter not even starting to fill, and then when I went to knock him out he’d magically turn and shoot me dead in one fell swoop. The guards’ sixth sense is the theater of the absurd, detecting you from several floors above or spotting you hidden in the shadows. How? No clue. But it happens over and over and over again.
Lack of direction is prevalent in other areas, too. You’re equipped with a flashlight, which, as noted, you don’t need to see. So, what’s it for? To find collectable coins. And what does one do with said coins? Upgrade your characters… from the main menu. All of this I learned from emails with the developer. The game itself never mentions it. Even when upgrading, I was left to guess what the two icons represented: one appeared to be speed, the other? I’m still not sure, but it looked like an ear.
I had high hopes for Calvino Noir, but while the game offers a compelling world, the actual gameplay is anything but. Unfortunately, the whole thing is just a frustrating mess, and it’s debatable how many of its problems a planned patch can solve.