REVIEW: ‘Genesis Noir’ Sets a New Standard (PC)

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Screen shot form Genesis Noir
Screen shot from Genesis Noir

Genesis Noir deserves to be in an art exhibit. Genesis Released on March 26, 2021, and was developed by Feral Cat Den and published by Fellow Traveller. It is a shining example of the potential for video games as an art form. Discussion about just what Genesis Noir is about requires breaking it into two distinct sections. The first is the more literal side of the narrative. The game follows a street corner watch salesman names No Man after he witnesses his girlfriend’s murder. To try and stop it he travels throughout the history of the universe, starting at the big bang. Without getting into spoilers that is where the literal side of Genesis Noir ends, but it is on the metaphorical side that its real value is found. 

See, Genesis Noir is about so much more than just a man traveling throughout time and space. At its core, it’s about the big questions of humanity. What drives us to keep going despite the struggles of life, what makes us fall in love, what connects us, and, perhaps most of all, the beauty of our own creativity. It is an emotional rollercoaster, with moments of pure joy and human connection interspersed with inevitable loss and the microscopic nature of our existence on the cosmic scale. It is heavy subject material, and the game does an amazing job exploring it all without spoken dialogue and little more than blurbs of text before the start of a level. 

Genesis achieves this by displaying a masterful understanding of games as a uniquely interactive and reactive medium. Each level has a similar structure. The level’s name and some introductory text introduces the theme, and then the player plays through a series of puzzles and sandbox environments to progress. 

For example, one level sees the player jumping into an improvised jazz jam session with a stand-up bass player at a train station in a big city. With a saxophone, the player at first has to repeat notes back to the bassist before switching roles and dictating the notes that the bassist then repeats and adds to. The level then transitions into a gorgeous set-piece that lets the player improvise music with a simple and easily understandable mechanic for as long as they want. The level is a highlight for Genesis. It effortlessly travels between emotional highs and lows, has creative mechanics for the player to fiddle with, and serves as an interactive exploration of the spontaneity of creation. 

It would be easy to go on and on about each level. There is an impressive amount of variety throughout the game as a whole, and each level is as strong as the last and could serve a full analysis, but they are better experienced blindly. There are brief hiccups in the game’s pacing as a few objectives or puzzles are very particular in their solution or are too obscure. However, they detract very little from the overall experience of the game, as Genesis lulls players into a surreal trance, absorbing its sublime visuals and score like a sponge. 

Genesis Noir

This is possible because of just how fantastic the game’s presentation is. Even if one has no interest in the allegory or metaphor in the narrative, the visuals are more than worth the playthrough on their own. The game is predominately black and white, but the visuals still carry a wide variety with them with gorgeous animation and compositions throughout. 

The animation does a lot of the heavy lifting for the narrative. The story of each level is told with a characteristic style that reflects the level’s tone and theme. Levels employ all sorts of techniques in ways that only video games can. From slowly trudging through a snow-covered forest to impart the isolation and barren nature of oppression to examining the beginning of life by guiding a plant’s roots through the earth, Genesis Noir explores all of its themes through its level design and mechanics better than most games manage to do with a novel-length script. 

The narrative is also delivered through the excellent jazz score. It is a diverse score ranging from frantic and panicked to subdued and somber. It works effectively to highlight the mood and key moments of every level and helps tie the experience together with the cohesion of the persistent jazz flavor. The music is great on its own as well and is accessible enough to ensure that any player can be drawn in by it, even if they have no taste for jazz. 

The best way to summarize Genesis Noir is that it is an art piece that is only possible in its medium. It is a beautiful experience full of emotional connections, and that is told genuinely and with such intelligence that it is deeply relatable. It is a profound experience and one wholly unique to the industry. 

Genesis Noir is available now on Xbox One and PC. 

Genesis Noir
  • 9/10
    Rating - 9/10
9/10

TL;DR

The best way to summarize Genesis Noir is that it is an art piece that is only possible in its medium. It is a beautiful experience full of emotional connections, and that is told genuinely and with such intelligence that it is deeply relatable. It is a profound experience and one wholly unique to the industry.