Horror games have focused on survivability traditionally, the fear of what could jump out around the corner or the worry of limited ammunition to be able to defend yourself against hordes of zombies or monsters. There are plenty of jumps or scares to be had in horror games such as Resident Evil or Silent Hill, but aside from a few change of underwear style moments, few games have been able to really get under the skin of the player and play on the brain like a well-made horror movie. All that is about to change as developers Honor Code present us with a game not like anything I’ve played before, Narcosis.
Narcosis greatest strength is its story in which it’s narrative is drip fed to you throughout your journey. You face the difficult task of escaping back to the surface of the ocean after your industrial underwater mine is hit by a freak earthquake separating you from your co-workers and trapping you at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s difficult to dive too deeply into the story without giving away spoilers, however the ending is certainly not what I expected and possibly up there with the big screen Hollywood giants. The gameplay is slow paced as you take control of your deep-sea diving suit lovingly referred to as a ‘walking coffin’ and it certainly feels like one. Walking underwater is slow paced (as you would expect) and the controls take some getting used to with one stick used to control movement, the other to control look direction. However because of the incredibly slow movement in everything you do it takes some getting used to. It also feels claustrophobic as you are restricted throughout your escape and when danger larks around the corner, your movement has to be calculated and thought out, you cannot simply runaway or frantically attack back, one false move normally results in death.
The core gameplay is essentially venture from point A to point B. Along the way are some relatively basic puzzles, but if the constant unnerving feeling of the unknown and isolation wasn’t enough, you struggle to overcome hallucinations. From seeing your deceased co-workers appearing alongside you screaming in pain to the room suddenly becoming abstract with seemingly no way out, it all messes with your brain and leaves you on edge. Aside from a basic knife your other aides include flares enabling you to either light the way in particularly darkened sections or to distract the spider like crabs that stand in your way, these are best avoided as they are able to penetrate your suit with their pincers with a single strike. You also have the option of thrusters able to thrust your suit forwards, almost as a short sprint, or the ability to be able to glide across gaps. The gameplay is simple with no complex controls or confusing menus, it’s all about immersing yourself into the story and focus on survival.
Narcosis isn’t a particularly difficult game, most of the levels are linear and most of the time it’s a matter of moving forward until you get to where you need to be. Thrown into the mix is the constant need for oxygen to survive, your suit displays how much oxygen you have left as a percentage, however it’s so easy to come by oxygen it was rarely a problem. However what I particularly liked is when placed in a scary situation your oxygen intake rises until you are safe again, it adds to the panic when put in this situation. There are three classes of enemies to deal with, one squid like enemy capable of shooting ink making your view in front difficult and when attacking they suck themselves to your visor completely blocking your view. Piranha type fish also attack when you get close to them, their power can knock you back and their teeth so big able to lock onto you completely covering your visor. These two enemies can be scared off or killed with well-timed knife swings, although unfortunately the mechanics feel clunky and ultimately would have been better not included. The third enemy the aforementioned spider crabs are indestructible and not for engaging with or face certain death.
Graphically the game is superb, the dark eerie depths of the ocean is portrayed beautifully. You get a real sense that you really are at the bottom of the ocean surrounded by water as you journey in your ‘walking coffin’ you constantly feel like you’re in a restricted and claustrophobic deep diving suit. The remaining oxygen, flares and battery for your boost is shown on a computer display in front of you, this is then portrayed as a reflection on your visor and as you progress your suit slowly begins to show signs of wear and tear, it’s brilliantly done. It’s just a shame that the only technical aspect that lets it all down is the painfully slow loading times. There are moments in the game that you are bound to die as it’s not immediately obvious what you need to do due to a current hallucination where you will die a few times whilst you learn what to do, it becomes incredibly frustrating having to wait for what feels like an eternity time and time again. It’s a real shame.
Rarely, if ever, have I recommended a game based on the experience alone, but this is what Narcosis is, an experience. It’s a good one, however once you have experienced it would you go back for more? I’m not so sure, once you have completed the game and you know what lies in wait there is little reason to go back. There are achievements and ID tags (think dog tags) to collect from your fallen co-workers, but ultimately there is very little replay value. The story is good, very good, but is over too suddenly at around 4-5 hours and that is why I’m unable to give Narcosis a better score. Think of it like a fond film you may have seen in the cinema that you came away thinking was quite good, sure you enjoyed the experience and don’t regret your trip to the cinema, but would you watch it again? Probably not. That said if you enjoy horror games and are looking for something different, Narcosis is a must if only for the short lived memorable experience.
Narcosis was provided to us by Xbox via a digital code for Xbox One.