“Coffee is a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup.” – Gertrude Stein
Coffee Noir is an ambitious amalgamation of genres, fusing business management with a detective noir visual novel. Despite the combination sounding like the proverbial chalk and cheese of the gaming world, Coffee Noir manages to meld the two-game styles in an intriguing and surprisingly organic manner.
Coffee Noir has the player take on the role of a failed detective returning to his hometown to look into a disappearance. The missing person owns a successful coffee manufacturer and trading company, providing the perfect front for questioning unwitting suspects.
The company’s production process, employees and finances must all be successfully managed in order to keep the business healthy and secure sales meeting with prospective clients. Research must be done into each client in order to both secure the coffee sale and effectively interrogate the customer without arousing suspicion. Neither the narrative nor management aspects of the game can be neglected as certain information must be obtained to progress the story and bankruptcy will end the game entirely! The level of involvement in the business feels a little superfluous to the investigation but the situation makes enough sense within the story to overlook this bit of hyperbole.
The game’s storyline, delivered via both the business-based gameplay and regular cutscenes, is a refreshing iteration of the familiar, dotted with a selection of the genre’s usual tropes; a failed detective, disgraced after the murder of his wife finds himself returning to old ground to help after a friend’s father disappears. The narrative has overarching themes of redemption and focuses on characters as well as events, particularly the playable protagonist.
Neo-London, the game’s unique setting is a futuristic city in which fashion, architecture and overall style all cling to a visual aesthetic, even allowing it to impact practicalities. In addition, because society acquired an odd and excessive taste for coffee in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the economy is almost entirely fueled by coffee, whether the caffeinated beverage itself or byproducts manufactured from coffee production waste! This makes for a less than subtle, but enjoyable, satirical social commentary on the rise of coffee shops, bearded hipsters and, of course, the flat white!
Coffee Noir adopts a visual style reminiscent of graphic novels, complete with comic book frames in places, it also makes use of a warm but muted colour palette and film grain effects that are well-matched with the faux-vintage setting of the game. There is also some minimal animation in places, which although a nice touch, were simplistic and didn’t add anything noteworthy to the game.
The in-game audio is brimming with cliches but somehow manages to make this feel wholly appropriate and brilliantly complements the visual expects. From its jazzy soundtrack featuring piano, saxophone and drums to the old, bitter and husky voice of the protagonist and narrator, Coffee Noir is instantly recognisable as a detective noir experience.
This is a relatively lengthy free demo, allowing plenty of time for the player to get a feel for the game and how it successfully addresses the challenge of combining two juxtaposing game-styles. Whilst there is a slight degree of separation between the business management and the more narrative-focused investigative aspects of the game, they are blended seamlessly and comprehensively for the most part. Overall, Coffee Noir is a uniquely fun experience that appeals to a range of players with the potential to broaden horizons with a taste of unexplored genres.