Explore the deep sea and attempt to survive its horrors in Narcosis.
- Developer: Honor Code
- Publisher: Honor Code
- Genre: Adventure
- Release date: 28 March 2017
- Played on: PC
- Play time: 5 hours
Last time I saw Narcosis at the MIX Indie Media Exchange 2015, it already felt like a game that absolutely had to be played in VR. Sitting in and strapping an Oculus Rift to my noggin really sold the idea of VR to me that fine evening in downtown Los Angeles. It takes place entirely underwater as you step into the boots of a diver who’s part of a research vessel in the deep sea, where all hell breaks loose when a major earthquake causes the entire structure to flood, leaving you to fend for yourself and hopefully find a way topside. The constricted view of the diving suit made for the perfect analog to the bulkiness of Oculus back at that show, but for the purposes of this review, I played it in standard mode, which all things considered works totally fine, albeit it obviously misses that physical and visual combo that felt right before.
Without stepping into spoiler territory, it’s safe to say that Narcosis really likes to play up the fact that it’s an up-in-your-face jump scare affair. Sure, the dark and moody underwater environments help set in a tense mood all throughout the game quite well, but even those tend to get really old if the entirety of a gaming experience solely relies on that as its shtick for setting an atmosphere. In that regard, Narcosis is decently set up. There’s a fair bit of repetition visually to the spaces you explore during the four to five hours you’ll spend playing this. Even though it makes sense that a research vessel’s corridors would look the same, that notion shouldn’t be applied to nature. But it is in Narcosis — it all tends to just blend in in boring fashion during the stretches of gameplay that take place outside the research structure.
The same could be said about the dangers you’ll face there. Oxygen is your lifeline in Narcosis, and any scare or threat that your character faces increases its consumption, whittling down even more of your precious commodity. Then again, you’re able to recharge it quite often thanks to handy recharge stations and the apparent lack of tidiness from other research station workers, which kills any notion that you’re scrounging up trying to survive, but merely hobbling about from point A to B.
Physical threats come in the form of wildlife, like octopi and blowfish that really have it out for you it seems, charging in on first sight. You can defend yourself by slowly swinging a jack knife that if timed right can take these pests out without them ever touching you. Spiders, on the other hand, can kill you in one hit by puncturing your suit. Outside of a few encounters that are unique to a couple of points in the game, these are the only dangers you can ward off in an easy manner.
Annoying, however, are the threats where you’re forced to rely on platforming. First-person games have never really done precision jumping fun in the years since ol’ Doom, and Narcosis is no exception, even more considering it takes place underwater and your movement is limited by the diving suit. So it comes as a surprise that so much of Narcosis’ progression relies on having you jump from spot to spot in order to reach the next checkpoint. Even with the quick boost of your suit’s jets, these sections of the game tend to be especially tricky and downright irritating, because more often than not, the last checkpoint is at the very beginning of the series of jumps you’re failing so badly at doing.
Now, I have to apply a similar argument to this review that was used and was absolutely admonished back when Final Fantasy XIII hit shelves: the really good part in Narcosis comes after you’re practically done playing through the bulk of it. Granted, you’re not forced to play it for over thirty hours in order to get to the good stuff like in Final Fantasy XIII, but safe to say, the final ten minutes almost redeem the uneventful experience you’ll have with Narcosis. It spins the entire story and ties all the little bits of dialogue that are delivered all throughout the game.
All in all, it feels like Narcosis is best played in a VR setup, if only due to its presentation. Be it the visual kind, which to all intents looks good enough but is ultimately repetitive, the physical one of wearing a headset and being in a diving suit in the game, or even the audio, which rarely gets the love it deserves and is done somewhat decently here. The latter can be replicated in a standard setup with headphones, but even so, there’s no denying the fact that the actual progression in this game is severely lacking, regardless of how you’re able to play it or any cool story events that pop up all too late.
Overall Score: - 6/10