Audacious house of cards
Game is about love, murder and the Big Bang theory
Available on Mac, Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One
If a crime writer, a cosmologist and a mythologist collaborated on a video game, the result might be Genesis Noir, the most conceptually audacious game to hit digital storefronts in many moons. Unlike most games, Genesis Noir leans into abstraction and associative logic with unabashed zeal. A narrative log sums up its lofty conviction, “Just because something is a game, doesn't mean that your thoughts, your feelings, your expectations are trivial, or irrelevant, or meaningless. For it is in these that lies a game's true beauty.”
Here is one of those rare titles that would not be out of place in a gallery.
Genesis Noir unfolds through a series of title cards interspersed between playable sections. The cards set out the principles of the Big Bang theory. Like a refrain, they circle back to the subject of myth as it relates to the human propensity to come to terms with the mysteries and verities that underwrite existence through archetypal stories. Here, these stories take the form of events that span the range of creation from the flowering of life in a bed of water to the world-devouring darkness precipitated by a black hole.
Players assume the role of No Man, a tall thin man in a trench coat and a hat. He's referred to by different names: the Eternal Demon, Beat Brother, Ancestral Spirit and Time Traveler, which reinforce that he is more of a symbol than a conventional character; his actions should be read metaphorically.
To start, he's selling watches on the street. Returning to his home in a clock tower he finds a number written on a napkin belonging to a love interest.
After calling, he hears distressed sounds coming from the other.
Racing, falling and crawling on stairs and streets that take on impossible angles he arrives at a building where he wrenches on the door handle until the door shatters like a pane of glass. Bursting into a room, he sees another man point a gun at a woman and pull the trigger. In Genesis Noir's cosmology, this is the cause of the Big Bang.
The would-be victim is Miss Mass, a singer who leads a band called the Divine Jazz Section. Her assailant is her bandmate and erstwhile lover Golden Boy, a saxophone player jealous of No Man. Viewed through the lens of the Big Bang, the symbolic relationship of these three is clear. Miss Mass held the universe of the band together until her head was turned by No Man. Golden Boy shoots Miss Mass and triggers an explosion of energy that echoes throughout time and space — elements associated with No Man, who literally peers into the explosion hoping to reverse it.
A beautiful jazz score and ultrarefined minimalist line art are entrancing. Overall, there's a richness to the game's esthetic form which leaves me with the unsettling feeling I haven't done it proper justice.