Review – Narcosis
Narcosis is a horror walking simulator that likes to dabble in puzzles and narrative. And developer Honor Code, Inc. fully understands what it means to plunge players into an immersive atmosphere that refuses to let go until the very end.
Players will explore the bottom of the Pacific Ocean through the eyes of a deep sea miner whose crew has been wiped out by an unknown disaster. The facility is falling apart, pitch black, and teeming with sea-life that doesn’t want to be disturbed. Your only way out is through the facility and up to the surface through a bathysphere that you’re not certain even exists. While your oxygen tanks rapidly deplete, you’ll outrun the algae infested ghosts of your crew, and the creeping itch of insanity.
The horror of Narcosis comes from the claustrophobic environments, isolation, audio design, and the occasional, albeit underwhelming, jump scares. Each time your diver gets too close to a threat or is startled, his heart rate increases, depleting oxygen at an increased rate, only further adding to the urgency of the situation. Players will find themselves constantly on the hunt for spare 02 tanks and refill stations. Balancing exploration with backtracking to your last located can feel tedious at best, especially while completing puzzles.
I chose to say “completing puzzles” over “solving” them, as the puzzles in Narcosis are too simple and linear to deem them anything more than a necessary inclusion. The narrative-driven genre that has been less than affectionately referred to as “walking simulators,” rarely provide buyers with a substantial amount content beyond story and atmosphere. As a result, developers will include brief sections where players are asked to complete tasks to proceed, introducing breaks in story progression.
Narcosis’ immersive design and intrigue is its strongest element, so the aforementioned puzzles were a tragic distraction that took away from its strongest aspect. From the very get go, Narcosis throws players into the deep end without giving them any warning or flotation devices. The game opens at the bottom of the ocean, already in your suit and ready for work. It’s rare that a game can woo me with its user interface enough to overlook so many gameplay flaws.
The game’s tension comes almost exclusively from its claustrophobic setting, further emphasized by the container that is the diver’s suit. Every piece of information that the player needs is displayed within the diver’s helmet. Oxygen levels, air intake, thrust levels, and flare inventory are all displayed on the inside of the diver’s helmet, acting as the player’s HUD.However, the suit itself is a constant reminder of how dire your circumstances are. Acting as a walking coffin, the diving suit impressed me more than the rest of the game.
As you search the station for an escape, you’ll encounter territorial giant crabs, squid, and octopi that will defend their home at all costs. Crabs will pierce your suit and the tentacles beasties will crush the helmet; no matter how you look at it, you’re bound to drown. Your only defense is a small scuba knife that you can swing slow and aimlessly. When disturbed sealife approaches, you’ll find yourself slowly flailing through the water as you attempt to knife innocent wildlife to death with five or six blows. Sadly, these action sequences are more tedious than they are exciting, leaving Narcosis to fall heavily into the walking-sim genre, despite its efforts to break out.
Narcosis is a fairly quick playthrough, clocking in around five or six hours. Unfortunately it gets repetitive all too quickly. For those players who are willing to commit the time, there’s a truly unique twist ending that shows how clever the game could have been. Sadly, Narcosis simply doesn’t reach its full potential.
Reviewed on PC. Also available on Xbox One and PS4.