Genesis Noir is one of those critically-acclaimed indie games that might have slipped under your radar, and one reason might be because it's hard to explain what it is. Its mechanics drop it firmly into the point and click genre, but everything else about it feels as massive and intangible as the concepts it's based on.
On one level it's the story of a detective trying to save his ex-girlfriend from being murdered. On another, it's about the birth of the universe, because the detective is actually time, his ex represents mass, and the murderer is energy. Still with me? If you're not, it doesn't really matter, because the game is still gorgeous. The world is represented entirely in shades of black, white, and gold, and the scenery shifts and changes as you wander through it, figuring out what you can interact with, and why you would want to.
According to developer Feral Cat Den, the game is inspired by Italo Calvino’s 1965 short story collection Cosmicomics, but an understanding of the science of the creation of the universe won't help you, and a lack of one won't stop you from enjoying the experimental, dreamlike state induced by wandering through the game, listening to the jazz score rise and fall. In fact, at times the game felt more akin to a walking simulator than a point and click, a story I was just bumbling through and interpreting at my own pace.
Even when I was working through the puzzles, growing flowers by shifting the ground like radio frequencies, or applauding a giant saxophone solo, it always felt more like I was intuiting what the game wanted me to do, rather than following a logical pattern. There's no dialogue or instructions or even any annoying, angry bleeps when you're doing something wrong, so it all becomes a process of gentle trial and error until something clicks. You could be connecting a network of gold, white and black orbs to light up a constellation, or trimming tree branches, or planting seeds to suck up lines of white light blocking your path.
It all sounds complicated, and it is on paper, but in practice, there's a soothing, smooth progression that pulls you along, without ever leaving you so stuck you're tempted to shut it all down and angrily google a solution. Each section is minimal, often with only one or two things you can interact with within a whole scene, so if you're really struggling you can just go with the age-old method of waving the cursor around until the icon changes.
Little game, big ideas
For all their bluster and bombast, it's not often a big blockbuster game gets me pondering the big, energetic accident that resulted in the universe and me sitting at a desk in sweatpants clicking at a big glowing screen. What Feral Cat Den has managed to do with a few simple, beautifully created tools, and a powerful artistic vision is to be applauded, even if it all sounds too woo-woo for you to ever play it. Give it a try though, and you might surprise yourself.
Genesis Noir is out now on PC, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One.