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Of all the games I’ve played in 2021, none have rivalled the intensely individual aesthetic of Genesis Noir, the debut from New York indie studio Feral Cat Den and published by Fellow Traveler, the name behind my game of the year in 2020, Paradise Killer. A work several years in the making, it’s a beautifully brain-teasing point-and-click adventure through time and space, love and death, and while it walks a linear narrative path its beats are wild enough for it to sometimes feel like a dizzying spiral into infinite possibilities.
Watch the launch trailer for Genesis Noir, below…
There’s no denying that this is the kind of game some might dismiss as pretentious, overly indulgent, almost unfriendly towards its user, such is its often unwieldy console controls (if you can play with a mouse, do) and occasional mystifying of the player as to what to interact with next (pro-tip: tap and prod and knock everything). But lock your step with its erratic melodies and prickly percussion, shot through à la the story with the illusion of freeform chaos coming together to form a focused whole, and there’s a great compulsion here; a pull like that of a black hole, sucking you towards an event horizon you’re both uncertain of and passionately excited for.
Which is to say: Genesis Noir’s violent love triangle spun out into an interstellar expedition through the first explosive breath of the Big Bang is an enrapturing document of the lengths some, few, will go for love. To preserve and protect and be there like they weren’t before; to stand up like they never did, and hold tight a force so powerful that the slightest release would spell disaster. It’s interactive storytelling that exists on the divisive edge of video game and visual novel, short on words but wild of fiery flair and rambunctious rhythms, underpinned by a kind of creeping unease that whatever future you make for yourself is only ever destined to be undone by cruel fate.
It casts the player as No Man, a man with a trenchcoat of watches and a head for wormholes, who determinedly ventures into a bullet-time void existing between worlds; an ethereal pause in the half-heartbeat from the pull of trigger and slamming of hammer to the shattering of skin and bone and life. He is here to prevent doom for Miss Mass, jazz singer and our surrogate Earth mother, a symbol of life in the sights of devastation: the heat and light of a universe burst into being at the end of a gun held by a wicked and jealous third party, Golden Boy. Embodiments all of the ballet of existence, where stars and suns spin around one another in a dance no human could ever map the movements of.
Genesis Noir asks you not to walk on suns and moons, but through them and into an elsewhere of brassy notes blown by narcissistic ne'er do wells. (That is, when you’re not orbiting around them to cast rings around bedazzling worlds.) It pops and fizzes like bubbles from a bottle swiped from a briefly unwatched table in a jazz bar; and as you pop and fizz its bubbles, so No Man progresses deeper into its mystery and music. Music that swings and just occasionally slaps but definitely never, ever in the manner of a godawful pop-star-goes-big-band album (you know the ones). It’s a sumptuous soundscape to soak in, but skronky enough so as to never leave you overly comfortable. Improvisation is impossible given the nature of this fixed experience, but there are several synchronisations of sound and vision where you’ll swear this collection of digital dots and dashes is writing its own story right there on the spot. Nevertheless, there are patterns to be found, and these are so often the doorways to the next destination.
It’s a puzzle game, absolutely, but one that’ll leave you more profoundly considering your own place in all of this than ever acutely perplexed at how to get to the next chapter, to take the next step from past to future. It carries you as much as you control it, and it’s better for it, flowing like the fabric of time itself on a fresh breeze. It’s hard to love at first blush, but sit, breathe, and let it surround you, and Genesis Noir will share itself generously with any open mind prepared to seek out the colour just beyond its otherworldly nothingness. Or, tl;dr: you won’t play another game like this one in 2021, so why not try it.
Genesis Noir is out now for PC, Xbox and Nintendo Switch (version tested, code supplied by the publisher).
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