I have long been openly afraid of the sea and all its unknown exploits. The vast unknowingness terrifies me, and the large, emotionless creatures that inhabit its every crevice are equally scary. It’s not that I do not think it is a beautiful thing, hell I would love to take a cruise ship to the Caribbean and get to enjoy the wonder that it is, but it’s just the thought of actually being deceived by its beauty that’s scary. With that in mind, it has always been a wonder to me why I am so drawn to ocean-based games like Bioshock and Abzu. There is something gratifying about being able to take control in a digital realm of something that I am otherwise hesitant of in real life. Narcosis, on the other hand, does not truly give you control, but rather brings to light all of my deepest fears about the depths of the sea (minus the sharks, thank god.)
In the depths of the ocean, there is a lot to be discovered. The year is 2019, and you are a crew member stationed in the OCEANOVA, a high-tech deep-sea research facility. Everything goes wrong when as you are approaching the facility, returning from some sort of external trip that required you to suit up and leave the pressurizing comfort that you now call home. When a freak explosion occurs, you are sent off course. There is no communication with your fellow researchers, and with one fatal discovery after the other, you realize that they are more than likely dead or dying. With only your suit and knife, as well as limited oxygen, it is up to you to keep your composure and find a way to get topside. Though it’s not space, still no one is going to be able to hear you say a damn thing.
Honor Code’s Narcosis is, in essence, a survival horror title. It has its scares, but in the long run it is more or less a suspenseful thriller. Though I played on the Xbox One, it is also available as a VR title, which will make a lot of sense when playing through. You are equipped with a half-ton titanium deep-sea diving suit, which has a HUD that details your oxygen levels as well as monitors your oxygen consumption. Being half a ton in weight, mobility is limited, which only furthers the stress levels when put in tight situations. All is not lost, as the suit is also equipped with thrusters that serve as both a way to jump as well as sprint. It still does not mean traversal is an easy affair, as it was clearly designed with VR in mind. While most titles with a first person perspective have a full field of vision, Narcosis limits you to the constraints of your helmet. While this is done to increase the submersion and tension, successfully so might I add, it is a bit uncomfortable and unwieldy from behind the analog sticks. For one, it is hard to navigate and get your bearings, especially when attempting to look towards your feet. Additionally, you also move very tank like. Again, it is understandable, but also quite uncomfortable when considering the control scheme.
While being in the suit embellishes a certain sense of claustrophobia, your surroundings just embody a sense of pressure, urgency, and loneliness. Your time undersea is spent roughly half and half inside the OCEANOVA station, as well as outside in the open. While on the bed of the ocean, there is mostly darkness, but your path will typically be guided by colorful and vibrant flora. With various caves and rock formations to traverse, your travels are rough, but keep your composure and you just might survive. While inside the research facilities, you will not feel quite as lost. The facilities are bit more homey, with dorms and common spaces that have a personality all their own. From cool stickers to posters of fellow indie game titles, Honor Code did a great job at decorating the interior segments, keeping them from being bleak and gray by inspiring hope by way of symbolism. It is not all rainbows inside though, as the explosions did quite a number on the place you once called home.
With the hull of the station compromised, both locations are now home to wildlife that considers you invasive, making them dangerous to cross paths with. Spidercrabs, Cuttlefish, Anglerfish, and Octopi are all present, and all looking to make your nightmare even harder. Spidercrabs are hauntingly ominous, again playing into that emotionless creature aspect that I have no love for whatsoever. These cannot be killed and must be avoided at all costs, considering that their legs can pierce the hull of your suit. They will chase you down, but can easily be outran considering you know where you are going. The cuttlefish and angler-fish are a bit more aggressive, getting directly in your face. They can be attacked and killed with a knife, but engaging in combat with them will increase your breathing and expend your oxygen faster. Thankfully there is plenty of oxygen to be found considering the circumstances, as I was never too far away from my next canister of fresh air.
Narcosis does a pretty solid job of using these aspects to build the tension. Early on in the game it leans a bit too much on jump scares as opposed to building a natural fear, but the second half of the game really ramps up the immersion and anxiety to the next level. The further you progress, the more impact the situation has on your players psyche. Seeing things that are not there become more regular, with halls becoming endless and hallucinations becoming frequent. Using this kind of anxious momentum worked great in the games favor, resulting in some memorable and well-crafted moments. The climactic ending chapters are phenomenally paced, leading up to a breathtaking ending that was well written. While I was not entirely gripped early on, by the end I was more than satisfied. The narrative arc was only furthered by some tremendous voice acting from Jeff Mattas, who not only guides the story along but somehow manages to make you feel less alone.
Narcosis is another great indie title that I get to say I had the opportunity to review. I thought it would be a relatively short experience, it actually took me a little over six hours to complete. I do not think that will be the case for everyone, but there are some fun achievements and collectibles that give the game a hair of replayability after going through it once. It has a well written and well-acted story, especially in the later moments of the game which are highly, highly note-worthy. The title does not come out swinging in a sense of engagement, but give it time and it really pulls through. As a fan of horror titles, especially ones that play on the mental state of the player like Layers of Fear, Narcosis is a great addition to the genre. Nautical and horror enthusiasts alike will most certainly find some entertainment in this pressure-packed survival game.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purposes of the review
Final Score: 8/10
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