A peculiar and evocative epic marks the debut of Feral Cat Den in the world of videogame development, between noir atmospheres, astronomy and jazz sound.
Who would have imagined that the origin of the entire universe was to be searched in a love triangle between cosmic entities enchanted by jazz? An idea so surreal as to be convincing, to the point of turning into a campaign Kickstarter successfull. To promote it, we find the authors of Feral Cat Den, at their first test with the videogame medium. An evocative and peculiar debut, supported by the publisher Fellow Traveler and now accessible to gamers looking for a cryptic but enveloping sensory experience.
Genesis Noir it is a hybrid creature, which it calls into question both Italo Calvino and astronomy, music and the stylistic features of noir, to shape a synaesthetic experience that can be counted in the field of point & click graphic adventures. Between shades of white, black and gold, indie is available on Xbox One, PC (Steam; Epic Games Store; GOG) e Nintendo Switch. In addition, players subscribed to Xbox Game Pass they can avoid detaching the entrance ticket of 14.99 euros, since Genesis Noir is included in the Game Pass catalog. Our journey through the future, present and past of the universe took place aboard the Xbox Series X, thanks to the backward compatibility features of the new generation hardware.
Big … Bang: genesis of a universe
Genesis Noir owes its genesis to The Cosmicomics: the source of inspiration that led the small New York software house to give life to its first work is in fact the writing of Italo Calvino. For those unfamiliar with the pages of the Italian author, we are talking about a selection of stories that navigate in a primordial soup with a comic and surreal nature, to shape stories and reflections on the universe, space and time.
Preceded by a paragraph presenting simplified astronomical notions, each narrative transforms themes such as the speed of light or the expansion of the universe into crazy children of the writer’s imagination.
Feral Cat Den’s indie has the exact same structure, with each chapter of the short adventure preceded by a few lines calling into question astronomy, quantum mechanics and even string theory. The result is a “cosmic epic”, which accompanies the player to discover the Bing Bang, of the nothing that preceded it, of the echoes of its eternal present and of an imponderable future. An alienating and surreal journey, which could only be accomplished in the role of an exceptional protagonist.
Our alter-ego is indeed No Man, cosmic entity obsessed with flowing
of time, to the point of spending his quiet existence selling watches on the corners of a black and white metropolis. To disturb its existence in an irreparable way is the angelic voice of a jazz singer, the disturbing Miss Massa. It will be the night, the spotlights, the lady’s eyes or the alcohol that our No Man swallows too easily: the fact is that love knocks quickly on the door of his heart. A fatal relationship, which as in any self-respecting noir also calls into question a third character. Golden Boy, as talented as he is self-centered sax player, he burns with the same passion, but his burning will soon turn into mad jealousy and violence.
From a love triangle between cosmic beings one quickly gets to a bedroom in which the echo of a shot resounds. A great “bang” that transcends space and time and conceals the origin of the universe within itself, due to a bullet that encompasses billions of years of history in its wake. Shocked by the vision of his beloved’s imminent death, No Man witnesses the sudden stop of the flow of time.
At this point, improvised private detective, – complete with an ordinance raincoat – embarks on an epic that will lead him to witness the birth of life and its evolution on planet Earth, between prehistory and centuries of development of mankind, all in the direction of a possible future in which to save the beloved. “Possible” because the protagonist will finally be called to make a choice of cosmic scope, translated in-game into alternative endings: what to destroy and what to save in this universe?
A refined and silent journey
The sharpest weapon of Genesis Noir, we immediately highlight it, is its artistic sector. Indie puts on stage a chromatic and graphic minimalism that genuinely manages to amaze, also thanks to one truly brilliant virtual direction. The dreamlike suggestions, the “human” personalities of the cosmic entities and the peculiarity of the events on the screen have in fact repeatedly reminded us of the never too celebrated Sandman by Neil Gaiman. Great absent from the scene, however, is the extraordinary lyricism of the comic masterpiece, which leaves space and voice here for a valuable soundtrack, packaged by Skillbard, a small team of London composers and sound designers.
In fact, Genesis Noir is an almost completely silent work, under many
points of view. The characters met along the way, from cosmic beings to the first hunters and gatherers of human history, passing through street musicians and ambitious scientists, prefer to communicate only through gestures or silent dialogues enclosed in cartoons. It is therefore the notes of saxophone and cellos that mark the auditory experience, transforming the unfolding of the universe into a show from a refined 1950s New York jazz club.
The same silence characterizes the gameplay point & click adventure. In Genesis Noir, tutorials or indications relating to the dynamics of interaction with the scenarios that are gradually painted in front of the player’s gaze are completely absent.
From No Man’s home to the depths of the oceans, passing through ancient Japan to sidereal space,one is never explicitly guided in the action necessary to advance in the title. A choice that in our opinion is well suited to the dreamlike style proposed by the indie, guaranteeing a remarkable identification with the discovery of the world made by the protagonist. The expedient also works at the same time at a playful level: the proposed puzzle mechanics are in fact never excessively complex, making them legible even in the face of the silence that accompanies them.
The puzzles that our detective will have to solve in Genesis Noir integrate well with the narrative, becoming an essential component of it. Turning on the spotlight on the stage of a small club will bring our beloved Miss Massa to the stage, combining unusual geometric shapes will lead us to create primordial life forms, while manipulating unusual scientific machinery will open the doors to the study of advanced astronomical theories. The combination of gameplay and art direction creates suggestive snapshots in many cases, able to surprise with its refinement.
Unfortunately, this feeling does not remain constant for the entire duration of Genesis Noir, which is attested on About 5 hours. In the second half of the title, the puzzle component begins to suffer a certain repetitiveness, while the exclusively narrative sequences become even more dominant, often transforming the player into a mere spectator. It is at this juncture that even the still excellent staging has sometimes given us the feeling of a mere exercise in style, losing part of that ability to surprise and at the same time becoming more and more cryptic.
On the technical front, unfortunately, we point out a series of problems which – at least on Xbox Series X – made our trip less enjoyable. A general inaccuracy in the reading of the command inputs has affected several phases of the game, forcing us to turn off and reconnect our pad with a frankly unexpected frequency. Genesis Noir is also not free from frame drops – never excessive, but still perceptible – and bugs, with malfunctions that in a couple of cases forced us to restart the chapter we were facing from the beginning.
None of these elements, taken individually, is excessively annoying, but their addition has certainly reduced the identification in some phases. Finally, we highlight a perhaps excessive use of light and intermittent effects, which in some contexts – especially at the end of the game – have caused us a real annoyance. A circumstance which in all probability is strongly correlated to individual sensitivity, but which we have considered it appropriate to point out anyway.
Genesis NoirXbox Series X Analyzed VersionOverall, Genesis Noir is a work full of suggestions and charm, with a first-rate artistic sector and a soundtrack of absolute value. The latter are integrated with minimal gameplay, with mechanics built around intuitive and never too complex puzzles. A noir adventure with a “cosmic” declination, the debut work of Feral Cat Den is not without imperfections, but it certainly remains a bewitching and original journey. Able to satisfy fans looking for a surreal and dreamlike experience, Genesis Noir certainly pushes us to introduce the New York team among the independent creators worthy of attention.