The video game industry is saturated with AAA titles that are held to an exceedingly high standard, thus creating an atmosphere of graphically-intense titles that are criticized when one tiny portion of their finished product is not on par with ever-rising expectations. The great thing about indie projects, however, is that developers have the creative freedom to pick any direction they desire and plug ahead, and gamers’ expectations are lower due to the understanding that such creators generally have less financial stability to create a AAA product. Nevertheless, independent developers take whatever they have available to create the best game they possibly can. Milanoir is a shining example of what two passionate individuals can achieve when they come together and allow ideas to flow freely.
Taking inspiration from Italian crime flicks of the 1970s (the same films Quentin Tarantino reveres), Milanoir is a “pixel-packed action game” set in Milan. Players take control of recently-released prisoner named Piero, a man looking to exact revenge on the person who framed him. With retro graphics that look more suitable for the Super Nintendo, old-fashioned audio, and an action-packed story that unfolds under hilariously absurd circumstances, Milanoir is shaping up as a reminiscent homage to more archaic gaming systems.
When first thrust into Milanoir, players will notice the way the old-fashioned visual style makes the game pop, offering an endearing throwback to the Super Nintendo or 1980s arcade games. The pixel-art graphics are appropriate for a game based on movies from the 1970s, and deliver an immersive, groovy feel through the hairstyles (namely afros or shoulder-length and shaggy) and large, round sunglasses. While the visuals actively resist the pressures of modern video game standards by turning away from the realistic displays of more established developers, they provide a nice offset to the more intense gameplay that players cannot help but admire.
True to the chaotic, exaggerated action common to Quentin Tarantino’s bloody films, Milanoir’s gameplay epitomizes violence. The player’s base weapon is a pistol that requires constant trigger mashing on the Xbox One controller to fire, all while using the right thumbstick to aim the giant circular crosshair in a side-scrolling shooter. Other weapons, which can be picked up from defeated enemies or found throughout different levels, become available throughout the player’s journey. One such weapon is the Uzi submachine gun, substituting trigger mashing with holding down the trigger for a fully automatic effect. Meanwhile, bullets fly into stereotypically dimwitted henchmen and can even be shot at signs to intentionally ricochet bullets at enemies hiding behind cover. In addition, the game offers boss fights, with each individual boss utilizing different mechanics to challenge the player. For example, the first boss calls upon her henchmen to keep pressure on the player while she hides behind a van. To damage the boss, the gamer must kill her peons and then use the signs on either side of the van to bounce bullets into her. The second boss commandeers a train to chase the player, with little grooves available at scripted intervals for players to duck into, where different weapons can be found or a brief reprieve from the boss’s train can be obtained. Shooting the boss quickly and relentlessly is required to take him down, and just when the player thinks they have succeeded, the boss makes a last-ditch effort to achieve victory.
Aside from the story, Milanoir offers a survival mode in which players fight waves of enemies until they finally become overwhelmed. Much like the game’s campaign, the survival mode is playable both solo or via co-op. Mechanically, survival mode functions similarly to the game’s story in that enemies will drop weapons for players to pick up to give them an edge. However, weapons gamers scoop up during combat have limited ammunition, while the base pistol’s ammo is endless. All of these features blend with amusing sound effects and music that make Milanoir an enjoyable experience.
Milanoir’s soundtrack is charming, the melodic elements delivering that nonchalant surf music and rock often associated with films such as 1994’s Pulp Fiction. When heard in conjunction with the pings of ricocheting bullets and lively, indecipherable shouts of angry foes, the game’s musical score is an appropriate fit. Unfortunately, the game lacks any voice acting, with dialogue and story devices conveyed via white blurbs that appear above characters’ heads. This tool is often used in low-budget, indie video games. Nevertheless, Milanoir is one of a select few modern titles in which the lack of voice acting does not detract from the overall quality.
When an industry is buzzing with a wealth of different games, seeing something simple yet ambitious is refreshing. Milanoir is unlikely to raise the standard or break new ground in video games, but it does have a captivating appeal. The pixel-art graphics are well-crafted, the gameplay is addicting, and the audio is elegant but simple. A specific release date has yet to be announced, but the game has a general release window of fall 2017 for PC.