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January 2021

Coffee Noir

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: DOJI
Developer: NAOS Software
Release Date: Q4 2020


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PC Preview - 'Coffee Noir'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Oct. 23, 2020 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Coffee Noir is a combination of a business management game and detective novel with elegant graphics in a noir comic-book art style.

For many people, coffee is one of the most important things in the world. Without it, they can't wake up in the morning and function during the day. Coffee Noir takes that one step further by setting it in an alternate 2021 Neo-London, where coffee has become everything: the most important product in the world, mixed into food, advertised everywhere, and a staple of every meal. It's a world economy dependent entirely on that precious beanwater. Players take on the role of Arthur Oliver, a PI and former cop. His career ended tragically when a mistake during a sting killed the woman he loved. Now he's returning to Neo-London to help her daughter find her missing father, the biggest coffee baron around.

From this description, you might think that Coffee Noir is a mystery game, and you're half-right, but it's actually a mystery-solving business simulator. Arthur's cover as he investigates is that of a coffee salesman who runs his own shop. Nobody is supposed to know he's a detective because they're not going to talk openly about the kidnapping of one of the world's richest men to a PI. Instead, Arthur is a detective pretending to be a salesman while also being a real salesman to disguise that he's a private eye. The tale certainly fits the twists and turns of a noir story.

The coffee shop simulator seems by far the more complex of the game elements. This isn't a simple minigame, so you'll need to manage workers, keep track of finances and loans, sign contracts, engage in negotiations, and generally run a business. Even from the demo, it's clear that this part of the game could very well be a title all on its own. I can imagine that people would be perfectly happy just playing the coffee business simulator while putting the detective work on the backburner.

Of course, being a detective plays into being a good businessman, and one of the most important parts of business is contract negotiations. When you enter into a contract with someone, you're going to want to do so on the most favorable terms possible. To do that, you need to know more about who they are and what they like. Doing this involves scouting out clues that can come from all sorts of locations. One of your workers may hear about an event that gives you precious information. When you feel ready, you'll enter into a negotiation, where picking various options raises or lowers the prospective client's opinion of you. The more they like you, the more favorable contacts you can make with them. Screw up, and you might find yourself locked into a contract that loses money.

All of this ties into the overarching story. For each new person you meet or new discovery you make, you'll not only make new business connections but also gradually get a hint as to what lies beneath the seedy, coffee-filled underbelly of Neo-London. Not only do clues give you more information about clients, but they can also lead you to events that advance the story. It's a neat concept for a noir-style game in that it really feels like you're undercover and having to balance work and your true duties.

Coffee Noir is honestly shaping up to be a distinct game. The combination of a character-driven plot and a business simulator is one that I don't recall seeing very often. Just having goals that have a context beyond "get rich" really helps make your decisions feel more weighty and meaningful. Assuming the final version lives up to the demo, there is going to be a lot to like here. We'll see, since Coffee Noir is scheduled for a later 2020 release, but as of this writing, you can also play a demo on Steam right now.

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