According to theologians, philosophers and, seemingly, the makers of Genesis Noir, the ultimate whodunnit (and its subordinate mystery: howdunnit) is the origin of our universe. The game’s title says it all: here is the story of the world’s beginnings as told in the mode of a detective thriller, and the style of a Saul Bass animation, all spartan lines and quick cuts.
There is a fleeting glimpse of an apple tree, a serpent and a divine watchmaker, but the primary allegory is that of a murder mystery: a jazz singer shot by a jealous saxophonist. Playing a trilby’d gumshoe, you arrive on the scene at the moment the killer pulls the trigger – the big bang, as it were. Frozen in time, you must piece together identity and motive via a series of dreamlike sequences that whisk you from the depths of the primordial sea and outwards through human history.
At times, Genesis Noir feels like a piece of arthouse cinema where the director, not the player, controls the action and viewpoint. Our role is limited to swipes, scrawls, flicks and rotations of the mouse pointer used to gently prod the narrative forward. In a less exhilarating world these interactions would feel pedestrian and repetitive. Here, though, where each click is embellished and elevated by fireworks and flourishes of jazz cymbals and horns, they elicit an intimate dance between game-maker and player. One moment you might be tuning a radio to find a note in the static in order to draw a sapling from the earth; the next you’re sketching lines between the stars to describe constellations; all the while, your character, hunched and clutching his hat, plods on into the mystery.
The game sizzles with invention, and its hyperactive flits from the cosmic to the prosaic combine to produce an astonishing, memorable and novel piece of work. The game’s ambitions lie not in producing a pixel-perfect representation of the world, but in something deeper and truer.