The Big Bang biopic that loses more stars than it creates.
Genesis Noir is the only game in the world that combines improvisational jazz with the terrifying, inevitable heat-death of the universe. So far, I guess. Kickstarted in 2018, this ‘cosmic adventure’ grabbed eyes with its abstract blacks, whites and golds as well as the mother of all loglines: a noir about a cosmic being trying to stop a gunshot that happens to be the Big Bang that created our universe. In order to save his love, he has to traverse the entire history of our known reality to find a way to destroy it.
Hell yeah, right? The inherent confidence of such a concept immediately captured me, and having only played a brief online browser demo a year before, I didn’t have much clue what Genesis Noir had to throw at me. Most blatantly, the powerhouse of the game is the visual splendour. With no dialogue and little exposition, abstract animation and clever imagery flit between two and three-dimensional planes effortlessly to tell its tale. You may notice parallels between this and the latest Pixar feature Soul, and if you liked the abstract geometric animation and character design as much as I did, this game will hit the spot.
Sound design along with themes of music also interlink with the story. In one chapter, vibrating radio waves of the Big Bang gets you to adjust the frequency until it creates smooth jazz, which transforms into a line of meteors whisking you to your next location. The characters have a charming warble much like the monochrome friends in Hidden Folks, and the opportunities to create your own music with these abstract visuals is a delightful sequence.
The actual chapters involve the player interacting with these visual and sonic environments, a point-in-click adventure with some puzzling. This, unfortunately, is where Genesis Noir suffers greatly. Puzzles that appear to be layered and interesting quickly reveal themselves to be one-dimensional and plain. Progress is either made in one click, or a series of fidgety or confusing mouse movements that don’t result in a ‘eureka’ but a feeling of ‘could I have done that the whole time?’.
Pacing can shift dramatically from magically fluid sequences with light interaction to extensively long 3D chapters with fetching, slow movement and mechanics that feel more like I’m doing what I’m told rather than achieving something I want to achieve. The timeline of creating life itself progressing to the history of mankind and present-day is charming, but the actual process of building cell organisms and following around cavemen was laborious, and felt like a departure from the gorgeous interactive narrative that clearly worked. It also made me feel ashamed for not listening in school.
After another unsatisfying walk and fetch, a sequence that appears to be set in feudal Japan lifts up the game from a slump. The story beat of this cosmic being living invisibly among us in history felt cool, and the ideas it put forward often rewriting our perception of history was genuinely thought-provoking. With the story more understandable, the lacking gameplay is more forgiving. The start of Genesis Noir doesn’t give you the character attachment and understanding of a coherent story to not be bothered by generic point-and-clicking. Without anything to connect with, pointing and clicking was all I was faced with.
Much like our universe, the narrative began to gather itself and seem less chaotic as the game continued and I understood more about the motivations and conflicts of the protagonist ‘No Man’. There are some fun sequences involving particle accelerators, and a truly wonderful set of scenes involving jazz with a double bass busker. Sprinkled between were still moments where I found myself constantly thinking ‘what is the point of this?’, but definitely less so. Just like life, actually.
With no surprise about its Kickstarter success, Genesis Noir is a gorgeous concept that ends up muddied with uninspired game design and poor pacing in its final form. My eyes lit up joyously watching as new stars of the universe became the glowing windows of skyscrapers, and as I dragged our solar system to create a supernova that rips everything apart. I love when games can become more experimental and I’m content with lighter gameplay, but the stretched length and jumble of ideas forced me into a slow, uphill battle with controls and with my patience during middle interludes.
Perhaps Genesis Noir is better as a smaller experience, or even remaining a browser demo. Making a game about the entire universe’s conception, history and scientific collapse after collaboration with cosmic beings and human nature’s own hubris is… a lot. But hell, it does it with style.