Pixel Noir Review

I Stepped Into an Avalanche

Most people who know me personally are aware that I will go down with a sinking ship when it comes to reviewing a game. Despite feeling frustrated, a part of me always wants to give a game the benefit of the doubt and to find a glimmer of optimism that my time was well spent. When turn-based RPG Pixel Noir by SWDtech was announced, I was ecstatic about the idea of Lovecraftian horrors mixed with a noir setting. With the game now out of Early Access, the excitement I once felt has been unfortunately replaced by disappointment.

In the opening moments of the game, players are introduced to a police detective investigating the death of a man who has fallen out a window. During the case, he is prompted by a homeless man who grabs his attention and lures him towards a decommissioned hospital. This homeless man transforms into a monster, and the detective’s partner, Cold, shoots it dead. Given the opportunity to explore the hospital, the detective stumbles upon a mysterious lab and a Lovecraftian nightmare before an explosion occurs. Finding out that the decommissioned hospital was a squatter community for the homeless, with the explosion killing numerous people, the detective is blamed and sent to prison. Working through his sentence he helps countless individuals, including solving a crime that happens within the prison’s walls. Given parole, the detective decides he must attempt to prove his innocence for a crime he didn’t commit, and figure out why he is having frequent hallucinations that allow him to see monsters.

There are excellent foundations of Pixel Noir‘s story. Each of the game’s chapters does a great job of building off of one another, and there are lots of little threads to follow and piece together. Like any good detective novel, Pixel Noir offers the right amount of information without overwhelming the player and asks them to put all the evidence together. There are dialogue choices that can be made, though many of them are more about siding with one person’s thought process over another. Some of the dialogue is a bit cheesy, but it perfectly captures what an old-style noir story should be, giving it a point in its favour. The mystery surrounding the detective’s ability to sense horror is intriguing and makes for a great plot hook.

The scene of the crime.

While the story has a great base to build upon, the payoff at the end leaves a bit to be desired, as not every thread is equal and some plot lines are much stronger than others. There is also a decent amount of side quests, and completing them will offer players, a fun storyline to complete, some extra cash, and experience. From a drug-laced kitty to a missing son who gets involved with a fight club on the docks, there are a lot of great side stories to explore. While there are a few typos, it’s not enough to detract from the overall experience. Pixel Noir also could have pushed its elements of Lovecrafian horror further, but what does appear in the story is very engaging.

Pixel Noir’s soundtrack, composed by Kunal Majmudar, fantastically transports players into the story and does a great job of capturing mood and tone. The game’s opening theme borrows from 1950s detective films and paints the eerie backdrop of a city bustling with crime. Every track does a great job of fitting into what is currently happening in the story, with many of the tracks highlighting the use of piano and brass instruments. The game’s pixel graphics are also wonderfully crafted with a lot of care and detail being placed within the environments and character sprites. While there is a fair bit of asset reuse, the world presented feels lived in, and every locale is different enough, with many distinguishing features that really highlight just how cold and dark Pinnacle City truly is.

Combat is a standard turn-based affair, mixed with timed button presses. Beyond timed hits, characters can also use skills, defend, or attempt to run away in combat. Unfortunately, the window for timed hits is quite small, though success is clearly indicated with dealing critical damage, highlighted in red. The timed hits take a bit of getting used to, as does the sequence of button presses involved. As players upgrade skills, party members can do more damage, though the button sequence will change based on the level that skill is currently at, increasing in difficulty. For people with slower reaction time, these button-pressing sequences can be very difficult and it is very easy to trip up. Timed blocks, however, have a much bigger indicator, with a better success rate. It’s a mostly serviceable battle system that gets the job done but isn’t very remarkable. One complaint that is worth mentioning is that running away in combat is useless, as it annoyingly requires the player to tap L2 and R2 at a rapid pace when it could easily have been a simple command. It never works.

Three against one.

Unfortunately, Pixel Noir is marred by a ton of issues. On numerous occasions throughout reviewing this title the game crashed frequently, and to the point where progress was lost. At various times, achievements popped, then didn’t, before suddenly popping again. There were also numerous moments where the game ground to a halt, frequently stuttering. Even worse is the pathfinding, which added to the stuttering and caused tons of problems, as characters would get stuck in the environment or briefly full-on disappear. If the player gets caught in a battle during these moments, they will only have one or two characters to use when battles are already challenging experiences. This is on top of the fact that the game when it’s working fine is just not exploration-friendly. Players are constantly being bombarded by enemies, and even after a completed battle, the enemies don’t stay defeated long enough for the player to look around. There is even inconsistency in how long enemies stay down, as there were numerous occasions when an enemy was defeated, only to have them jump back up seconds later and re-initiate combat.

Even more aggravating is the fact that during multiple battles there were moments where the inventory disappeared. There were instances where I knew I had unique bullets I could use, only to attempt to switch them, and the only for the only option to be rubber bullets. The biggest kicker of glitches was at the final boss where the game full-on crashed before the boss was completed. In the thirteen hours it took to get to the end of the game, the only feeling was that of frustration with many of the glitches encountered, whether it was frequent crashing, slowdown, or not even having Steam achievements pop.

Pixel Noir is a wonderful concept that I felt so much excitement towards. What the game gets right, it does incredibly well, but what the game gets wrong falls flat on its face. The game is clearly a labour of love by SWDTech and that is apparent in all facets of the gameplay, story, and presentation. Unfortunately, the game is so riddled with game-breaking bugs that it can’t be recommended in its current state.

Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.

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'Above Average' -- 2.5/5

Fabulous soundtrack

Interesting story

Pathfinding and stuttering issues galore

Frequent crashing

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