The boss tasked Piero with taking out a rivaling syndicate’s Lieutenant who goes by “Africana.” He’s told she frequents a brothel in a shadier sector of Milan, and he needs to go make sure she never makes it home. This is a normal Thursday night for him; Piero is used to dirty jobs, after all. If the pay is right, he'll get the job done, and in style too. You play as Piero, an ex-convict just released from prison. While on the hunt to find the man who framed him, you'd better believe he's going to paint Milan red.
This is Milanoir, the maiden voyage of studio Italo Games, comprised of three talented creators from Milan. In Milanoir, we take the role of a gritty ex-convict and sneak, choke, shoot, ricochet bullets, and weave in and out of traffic, all to get the job done. This is a fast paced, story packed stealth action shooter where you use cover and quick reflexes to take assailants out before they take you out. We'll hit on the control schemes, and how they mesh with the display of the rest of the game further on, but for now, does this indie gem with unique controls, highly stylized pixel art, and a funky soundtrack stack up to the competition?
When we started Milanoir, three things were immediately apparent. First, this game contains a great soundtrack full of style and funk, each track harnessing the immense style and taste of the late 70s. Next, it has an innately familiar visual style while still holding its sense of individuality. Pixel art is nothing new, but it is a tried and true approach that definitely does not disappoint. Lastly, and chief among the details that first hit us, was that this game does not mess around, nor does it hold back.
In just the initial chapter of the game, we experienced a wild variety of over the top scenarios. We saw a hitman shoot someone in a bathroom stall. We stealthily choked out a mobster watching two people have their way with each other in a brothel. We were told to “p*** off” by a greasy, one-armed Chinese man. We then stabbed said man in his remaining hand with a butterfly knife because we needed information. Our assigned target, Africana, hurriedly eluded us in the nude. This all happened in the span of maybe 25 minutes of gameplay. Milanoir really does not hold back, and for that, we are thrilled. All of this is further enhanced by the excellent choice of musical and visual style, giving Milanoir a phenomenal sense of self and individuality.
The musical style of this game immediately had us hooked. Often times, the soundtrack in a game like this, that's not riding on the laurels of AAA graphics or genre defining mechanics, is “make or break,” as it were, so the style really hit home. In moments where we would wander around the map, looking high and low for non-existent collectibles, we would bask in the quiet, funky notes making Piero’s swagger and red leather bike jacket all the more stylish. We were untouchable. Speaking of his swagger, his bow-legged, wide stanced trot was a big highlight of the game’s presentation. It may be a minute detail, but the small details and loving touches are what can really set a work apart from the competition. Little things like this are what make it so apparent that the game was crafted with a lot of love and attention to detail.
Additionally, each and every frame of the game oozes personality. The dilapidated streets are covered in sporadic puddles, discarded garbage, and parchment strewn about, and on-lookers throwing sly comments your way. The two components marry together to make a wonderful mix of a 90’s era arcade beat ‘em up with the stylish aesthetic of Italian mob movies from the late 70s.
Herein lies where a small team can sometimes drop the ball. As we pursued Africana through the damp and dark back streets of Milan, it became apparent the chase seemed a little longer than what would normally feel sufficient. It just kept going. This was repeated when we came toe to toe with the first boss, and her health bar shrunk at a regular pace, but the method for hitting it was redundant. It was a play on the same mechanic the last several screens had us practicing for far longer than was comfortable. We also noticed that, in many instances, our cursor would not lock onto an enemy, where other times it would snap right in. The cursor is huge in that whether or not it works right will be the difference between clearing out all your pursuers, and getting mowed down in three or four shots. This inconsistency more often had us scratching our heads and losing all immersion than dipping in and out of cover, skillfully executing the hordes of thugs pursuing us.
It's not to be missed, however, that in the same vein of the rest of the game’s great attention to detail, the ammunition gauge is placed right next to the reticle for rapid response time. This was a nice touch, as it can often be tough in fast paced games to let focus leave the target to check things like ammo and health. Milanoir does a great job of making these key details natural and responsive. Additionally, the ability to roll in any direction with a bit of invincibility frame is a nice touch, as well. The only gripe that could be brought up here is that, in all of the movement, it's far too common that we'd find ourselves catching on the edge or corner of some obstacle in the way that was not apparent initially. The pacing and control schemes just felt off, and we feel a little more play-testing time would've helped in ironing these small gripes out.
The last noticeable detractor from the overall experience was the driving sequences. If aiming wasn’t already hard enough, the format of having to drive and shoot, while not crashing all at once, was definitely overwhelming. Milanoir would've been just fine with these being more scripted and less player controlled, or just flat out
omitted, and the game would likely be better for it.
While Milanoir does a whole lot of things right with its fair share of positives and highly stylized aspects, it still manages to drop the ball on some key elements like crucial gameplay mechanics. Regardless, this game is a fun play, and we'd say it's definitely worth your money, assuming you are looking more for a solid story and over the top experience than you are for the smoothest, frame-perfect gameplay.