Author Topic: Milanoir (Switch) Review  (Read 1201 times)

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Offline Crimm

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Milanoir (Switch) Review
« on: May 31, 2018, 06:00:00 AM »

A brutal Italian crime-drama, accompanied by brutal and unrefined enemy encounters.

“No! There can’t possibly be more!”

Fear the driving sequences.

Raspy and distorted by frustration, I barely recognized my own voice as I shouted at the TV. It was my fifth attempt to shoot my way through a blockade of super-fast vans, each lobbing grenades at my car. My little Italian coupe lilted around like a wounded elephant, while their supernatural maneuverability allowed them to navigate the traffic as if on a rail. Boxed in, I was at the mercy of their superior firepower. Their ironclad skin absolutely absorbed punishment of my comparatively puny armaments. After firing every bullet to ever reach the Italian peninsula, I finally eliminated the fourth set of these vans; the road cleared and it looked like only progress lay ahead. But after a moments relief, the cycle began anew with three more vans screaming into the screen. I died and, predictably, found myself right back at the start of the sequence. It was yet another of Milanoir’s poorly balanced gameplay sequences, a game replete with poorly balanced gameplay sequences.

Milanoir sells itself as video game take on the ‘70s Italian crime films, a genre collectively called poliziotteschi. These movies were gritty, dark, and took no issue playing out vivid - almost nihilistic - revenge plots. In that regard, Milanoir hits the mark, embracing these films’ corrupt and bloody worlds filled with sadistic and unmoving killers. It even goes so far to even borrow character names from major films in the genre. Our hero, Piero Sacchi, is a mafia lieutenant who’s brutality upsets even his peers. Sent away for life after the particularly savage slaughter of an entire family, his release is ultimately earned not by rehabilitation but by the political maneuvering of his boss. Once out, he returns to his life of crime, swearing to figure out who turned him into the police - only to be betrayed yet again.

Sensitive depictions of prison life are not on offer.

This game ties itself so tightly to cinema that it’s important to underscore that it ultimately doesn’t do a great job telling its story. Piero is a terrible hero. His genre-appropriate unrepentant nature only works when we see him held up as an example of all that’s ill in the world, and here he’s often shown with a collected but flat personality. The reason so many of these films star sadistic, but uncorrupted, cops who bend the rules to bypass their corrupt bosses was that the genre reflected a frustration with crime and corruption that had taken hold in 1970s Italy. Granted, Piero slays a huge number of mafia-types in order to affect his revenge, but you never want to cheer for him or his mission and he lacks a “law and order” foil to make Piero the anti-hero. The larger cast float in and out of frame: hitmen, bosses, prostitutes, and other ne'er-do-wells show up, say a line or two, and then start shooting. None ever really establish much character of their own, with maybe the exception of the the unwilling prostitute-turned fellow revenge seeker Luca. One former-enemy just shows up out of the blue to help Piero because she was “betrayed” completely off-screen. Piero, unconcerned that he’s about to team up with a former foe merely shrugs and lets her tag along.

For whatever issues I have with the story, it would be at least somewhat engaging if the gameplay didn’t constantly let Milanoir down. The above driving sequence is broadly representative. At its heart, Milanoir is a twin-stick shooter. The left stick moves Piero around and the right adjust his aim. How the cursor moves gives away the game’s PC origins, it would feel more natural with a mouse, but it works. Unlike more console-specific twin-sticks, you aren’t just aiming in direction, but also distance. The soft lock-on engages with the cursor moves onto a target, and disengages when it’s moved away. Guns have effective ranges, and the cursor changes when it moves beyond them. The majority of the game is Piero moving through seedy locations, shooting everything that moves. Eventually you reach a boss encounter, and after the boss’ defeat you drive to the next story beat. There are light stealth mechanics, a combat roll, and cover shooting.

Everyone in Italy wants you dead. Understandably.

The problem is the game stacks far too many situations that just don’t feel balanced. There’s a sequence where Piero is shooting his way through a subway car. Each car has three enemies in it, and more continue to board the car as he kills them. The confined spaces of the subway car make use of the combat roll to dodge especially difficult, and the limited real estate with no effective means of cover gives enemies with shotguns the ability to coat the entire car in lead. One particular arrangement of enemies in the third car took 20 minutes of failure to clear. Spamming the roll and fire button, with some help from a seemingly distracted AI, finally let me reach the fourth car. Checkpointing in this game is about half as frequent as it should be, and in this case death would result in a return back to car one. This was disheartening. Boss battles are predictably unbalanced.

Two tweaks would fix most of the encounters. First, more aggressive checkpointing would reduce the frustration of not making progress. This game asks a lot of you, frequently in succession. Making some progress, even slow, is infinitely less aggravating. Secondly, boss fights should be more focused on getting your shot, rather than pure attrition. The respawning enemies do those fights no favors, especially when the boss themselves take so much punishment and are so frequently invulnerable.

Mechanically, most of the game is perfectly functional. The only major tweaks the game needs is for the combat roll to automatically move you towards cover (rather than drop you inches from safety) and a better ability to lock onto the enemies so you can aim for the guy sporting the one-hit-kill gun, rather than the guy with a knife - and maintain that lock as you dodge. It really is just the encounters, their difficulty and lack of polish, that mar the game. So much of my total playtime is just long sequences of frustration that the taste it leaves is intensely bitter.

Look at this casting-call mobster!

Milanoir shows true craft in its presentation. The world, the color, the music, and the characters are all right out of poliziotteschi. Many characters look cool and have great designs, filling their archetype flawlessly. The moody, seedy, and otherwise unwelcoming settings are perfect for a crime drama.The ‘70s-sounding soundtrack is full of hooks that work well with the tone,  and 16-bit inspired art looks fantastic. The color palette is perfect for ‘70s film, and even includes period-appropriate effects like a color gel “over the lens” when the decidedly powerful magnum is used (accompanied by the pleasurably piercing twang of its shot). The only real knock is the fact character’s have a pallid, gray complexion in their portraits. It’s minor, but I’d rather my mafioso not look like stereotypical space aliens and it stands out in the otherwise well-realized art.

Milanoir is a disappointment. It’s frustrating stage and boss design mar what was obviously a work of pride by people who care deeply for this period of Italian cinema. But, Piero’s misadventures simply aren’t fun to play. When things are working well the game is at best “good,” but it’s never an elevated experience. At its worst, Milanoir is a frustrating test of patience. 20, 30, even 40 minutes might be required to hit the right combination of luck and skill to skate past some encounters. To be sure, some of this is my own incompetence - failing to notice the street signs that can be used to ricochet bullets. But much of it is the fault of the game - the eight-person ricochet off stop signs only hitting two of eight foes in a scene designed explicitly to tutorial that very feature. For that reason alone, I cannot recommend Milanoir. If you want to experience the story of a sadistic killer who’s plans have gone bust, you’re better off watching one of the game’s inspirations, the 1973 film Almost Human. Just know it, and Milanoir, are not for the faint of heart.

James Jones
Mondo Editor
Nintendo World Report