Beginning right in the middle of a protagonist’s story is an engaging way to kick off your game, particularly if the protagonist you start as isn’t the one you end up as, that being a man who appears with his pants around his ankles and his gun in his hand (not a metaphor).
This is your introduction to Milanoir, a retro twin stick shooter — with some stealth elements, but mainly guns — by Italo Games (and from the publisher that brought you Hotline Miami, hem hem). Inspired by 70s Italian crime films, but with a 90s pixelart look, Milanoir succeeds in feeling like a movie despite sometimes being-side scrolling and sometimes being a bit isometric.
In the space of about half an hour I ticked off a lot of the essential crime action-thriller moves: leaping over boxes, knocking out bad dudes from behind, shooting people advancing menacingly with knives, rolling into cover, chasing a van down a motorway whilst dodging machine gun fire, and being ambushed by a naked woman who had been hiding in a bath. Low health is indicated by the corners of the screen crinkling up, like film stock burning. You can feel words like ‘pulp’ and ‘hard-bitten’ and ‘maverick’ starting to jostle around your temporal lobe. You want to yell things like ‘Eat this!‘ as you fire over the hood of a vintage car.
The controls are simple enough. Aim, attack, run, take cover, and reload (which is accompanied by a satisfying click) is a combination that’s easy enough to pick up that you get cocky and die, returning with a more tactical mindset. It makes you feel smart. Piero, the character I played as, is smart. Or at least, confident. He’s the archetypal amoral cool dude, with long sideburns and dark shades, and the kind of square-hipped character model that means his crotch must, relatively, be about a foot wide, which is a design I always find incredibly endearing.
Piero commits bullet hell ultraviolence, with blood splatters and explosions blossoming all over the place, but the pixelart keeps it all stylish, a skilful suggestion of horribleness that lets you fill in the gaps. Not that the design is lacking — there’s a lot of small detail in the backdrops, and most frames of the game could be used on a Pinterest board called ’70s Colour Inspirations!!’ — but you’re a step removed, so it’s enjoyable rather than gratuitous.
Apparently people compare Milanoir to Quentin Tarantino, and the devs tell me that he was influenced by the aforementioned Italian crime movies, so it’s all come full circle. If telling you that the game is like QT is what gets you interested then so be it. But Milanoir isn’t awkward to handle, isn’t annoyingly self indulgent, and doesn’t impose its own foot fetish on you, so in my view it’s better than Tarantino. In Milanoir you can shoot at road signs and the bullet ricochets off to hit an enemy behind cover. Tarantino isn’t that cool. It’s fucking great.
Milanoir is coming soon to PC.