I’m not being subtle. I enter the apartment complex from the front door, walk past a fighting couple each of whom is complaining about the other to a third party, and head for the stairs. A few floors later and a long trail of knocked-out security guys in my wake, I kick down the bright red door of a sex worker named Africana, only to find a different woman lounging in a bubblebath.
“Where is she?” my hitman-or-vigilante-or-something protagonist Piero barks. (This might not be verbatim, but you get the picture.) The woman indicates an adjoining room. Piero kicks the door in and I start looking for a cabinet door he can interact with, when I hear a splash coming from the bathroom I’d just left.
The overhead camera zips up, and out of the bath pops the pale-skinned and blonde Africana, fully nude, with thick dark pubic hair on display and machine gun in hand. On the couch with my controller, I burst into laughter. And then die because Piero is standing in an open doorway and the other lady in the bath just brought out a shotgun.
This is Milanoir, an Italian crime game in the top-down style of Hotline Miami. Programmer Gabriele Arnaboldi cites as the team’s main influences 1970s poliziotteschi films like Caliber 9 and Almost Human. If you believe you’re not acquainted with the genre, trust me when I say you’d recognize all its markers: the shoot-outs in turtlenecks and giant sunglasses, the car chases through farmers’ markets, the extremely European nudity (like above). The scene’s fucking reprehensible, I literally just shot up an entire brothel and now I’m chasing this Africana woman through the city, killing innocent motorists and totally wrecking some guy’s fruit stand, but it’s all so campy it’s impossible to dislike.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think a period setting excuses regressive sex politics, even if a game is intentionally schlocky. If anything, a story with a retro setting is an opportunity to revise it for the better — I mean, we’re in a wave of 90s nostalgia right now, but do you see anyone sporting a 90s haircut or carrying a cell phone the size of a cement brick? Any act of nostalgia involves painting over the parts which haven’t aged well.
To its credit, after Africana’s memorable entrance, Milanoir introduces another female character, Lucia. She has femme fatale written all over her, granted, but she still makes her entrance saving Piero from certain death and then partners up with him for their run-and-gun car chase. (“Oh!” I say as Lucia drives up to Piero in a small three-wheel pickup truck. “It’s like Final Fantasy VII!” Arnaboldi sounds extremely offended by this comparison.) So I’ll hold off on rating the whole game’s treatment of women based on its first two chapters.
I haven’t mentioned the shooting here much and that’s because I suck really bad at twin stick shooters. Milanoir has a snap-to-target feature I very much appreciated, however: if your reticle gets within about one sprite’s length from an enemy, it’ll lock on immediately. There’s also an extremely generous ricochet mechanic, wherein shooting a traffic sign from virtually any angle will find your target every time. Or I was just lucky, but based on how poorly I was playing otherwise, I’d say it’s a design feature.
Without knowing more about how Milanoir‘s story unfolds, I can’t say if it’ll remain the over-the-top crime romp it bills itself as or develop an unpleasant aftertaste. If you’re in the mood for something Hotline Miami-esque with a more accessible difficulty threshold and an Italian twist, this will certainly appeal. According to developer Italo Games’ website, it should arrive on Steam in the next few months.