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27 December, 2016

Renoir Review – Not So Elementary

An intriguing noir-inspired murder mystery riddled with difficult puzzles make this a hard case to solve.

How far would you be willing to go to solve your own murder? That’s not a rhetorical question. It’s a question I had to keep asking myself to see if I was willing to push through some frustrating mechanics and puzzles in the noir-inspired Renoir to unravel the case. Though I enjoyed my time with Renoir, it is one of those games where patience truly is a virtue. And, at times, that is a virtue I did not possess.

Renoir is an interesting mash up of genres, which I’m still undecided whether it completely works. From a story perspective, Renoir runs in a similar vein to Murdered: Soul Suspect with police officer, James Renoir, investigating his own murder. It’s an interesting hook with a lot of potential and one that hasn’t been completely done to death (pun intended). 

As you might expect, the story element of Renoir searching for his murderer is heavily emphasised so you’d be forgiven for thinking this would be a narrative heavy, adventure driven game. But instead Renoir plays out as a 2.5D platformer. It’s an odd pairing of genres, with the emphasis taken off the narrative and instead put on solving a bunch of increasingly complex platforming puzzles.

I love engaging my brain to solve noodle scratchers as much as the next bloke but, boy, did I encounter some frustration in Renoir. The premise behind the puzzles is that Renoir has the ability to control other phantoms around him, and use them to solve environmental puzzles (such as avoiding sources of light and directing phantoms to operate platforms). In doing this, Renoir recollects his last living memories to search for clues that lead back to his murderer.

The difficult of these puzzles ratchets up quickly and, unfortunately, I found myself turning to video guides quicker than I had hoped. Instead of being engaged by a potentially captivating murder mystery, I was instead trawling through Youtube looking for help. Perhaps this says more about my (lack of?) puzzle solving abilities, but I was disappointed that the emphasis shifted from the story to solving environmental puzzles. It didn’t help that the controls were not always the most responsive, when many of the puzzles required a fine degree of precision.

Nonetheless, let me say this though – the game looks visually stunning. I have a warm and fuzzy soft spot for noir-inspired games, and Renoir fits the part beautifully. Gorgeous black and white scenes are occasionally punctuated with a dash of bright colour, like something ripped straight out of a Hollywood noir movie or graphic novel. In fact, Renoir gives off a Sin City vibe. Or if you’ve played Blues and Bullets or The Detail, then you know what sort of game you’re in for. Renoir captures that moody, jazz-esuqe atmosphere particularly well and is an absolute pleasure just to sit and drink in scene after scene.

For more information, you may wish to read our review of Blues and Bullets: Episode One and The Detail (Episode One and Episode Two).

Renoir will not be a game for everyone. Underneath some frustrating mechanics lies a game with a fascinating story and some genuinely challenging (yet rewarding) puzzles. Unfortunately, the the complexity of the puzzles and mechanics may be enough to turn some people away, especially those who would prefer to focus on the narrative. And that's a shame too, because the gripping story should be the selling point of this game rather than a bunch of difficult environmental puzzles.

Stephen Mitchell


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