Milan, 1970s. A scene of corruption, treachery and sordid mob violence. Milanoir follows the story of Piero, a criminal working for the Italian mafia. After being released from prison for a crime he was set-up for, Piero hunts for the truth of who framed him in a city that wants him dead. Primarily acting as a cover-based shooter presented in a pixelated environment reminiscent of ‘90s action games, the game seeks to be a homage to Italian crime movies of the 1970s. Think Hotline Miami meets Caliber 9.
The story of Milanoir will keep your interest for the majority of its length. While full of cliché lines and hyper-violent action sequences, the themes of the game feel appropriate for the genres it’s parodying. Italo Games’ commitment to this vision is demonstrated through dialogue that feels authentic to the Italian crime films of the ‘70s (a genre known as poliziottesco). “We wanted to write a story that is different from your typical videogame narratives,” writer and designer Emmanuele Tornusciolo said in a livestream with Good Shepherd Games, “usually in games you have good characters and bad characters. We wanted to make something different. There are no good characters in noir, everyone is a bad guy and there are very few good cops, and so we wanted to take inspiration from those movies.”
Upon playing the first stage the player will notice immediately the presence of unlimited ammunition and a regenerative health system. It is clear Italo Games intended for the player to have fun with the sensation of being a badass; of performing perilous dives and vaulting over tables much in line with the classic movies that inspired it. The weapon inventory is limited to a pistol – and later a submachine gun – with the option of also using grenades and molotovs. Enemies will also occasionally drop revolvers which deal one-hit-kills, so you can shoot the place up Dirty Harry style, though it is only limited to six shots. There’s even an incredibly satisfying ricochet system where shooting at street signs will deflect the bullet towards other people. While the gunplay is reliable at first, it becomes problematic later as enemies toughen up and you’re left with your weapons feeling like peashooters, which is only exacerbated by the lack of cover later stages offer.
It’s important to mention Milanoir is also a difficult game. On normal difficulty Piero can only take a few shots before getting his ticket punched, while enemies swarm and will take upwards of 7-8 shots to kill. This is fair, as Italo Games want to emphasise using cover and smart movement to survive. Even in the later stages there are still areas that provide ample cover from enemy attacks. But beneath this lies another problem: The game isn’t difficult because of clever design, but instead because of poor control schemes. It makes use of a cursor to aim around the character much like Hotline Miami, however the sensitivity feels too low even when turned up to max. Enemies swarming you from multiple directions therefore don’t give you enough time to line up your shots before you’re killed.
Any time Milanoir isn’t being a cover shooter is also when the gameplay is at its weakest. There are multiple on-rails vehicle sections littered throughout the game that feel restrictive as you have little to no control over your movement and no opportunity to avoid being killed. These segments detract from the pacing as it induces frustration in the player due to restarting the level multiple times. There’s also a forced stealth stage with similar results: Piero must navigate a market area without being spotted. While less clunky than the vehicle sections, it was still a pain to be clearing an area out only to be spotted at the last second and sent back to the beginning. If you ask me, this would have been a stronger title had Italo Games scrapped these levels and focused more on the shooter aspects of the game.
The game brings a local co-op mode in case you wanted to bring along a friend to Milan. The levels still perform as they do in solo play, except with an additional player fighting alongside you. The stages don’t necessarily feel easier or harder with the presence of a player two, as the overlapping interfaces can feel obstructive at times. There’s also a bonus arena mode, where you are dropped into a modified stage from the game and must fend off multiple waves of enemies against a countdown timer. Both of these modes are fun to an extent, which breathes new life into the game once the single-player is exhausted, but it still holds the same aforementioned problems the campaign had.
Milanoir (Reviewed on Nintendo Switch)
The game is average, with an even mix of positives and negatives.
Despite hitting a lot of the same notes, Milanoir is not the Hotline Miami successor many were expecting. The game has a lot of style, enough for its 6-8 hour campaign to keep you engaged, but it is hidden underneath a layer of extreme frustration brought to light by its technical issues and extreme difficulty curve.