ReviewsReview: Narcosis

Review: Narcosis

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Not a lot in life scares me, but the thought of being stuck at the bottom of the ocean surrounded by murky water is terrifying. I’m unsure whether it’s the fear of the unknown, my impending death, or the deadly creatures that scare me more. However, if you chuck in a cataclysmic event and a desire to escape your impending fate, then it’s going to be a pretty uncomfortable situation. Narcosis drags you into this hellish situation as you find yourself stuck on the seabed with no help and a small glimmer of hope.

Developed and published by Honor Code, this is a horror survival adventure game with a surreal twist. It focuses heavily on the adventure you undertake and the many characters that make up this solemn plot. It has a linear story that narrowly drives you from point A to B with little in between. I wouldn’t suggest jumping into this expecting an in-depth survival game like Subnautica as you’ll be left bitterly disappointed.

Narcosis is a story-lite character-rich experience.

I was a little surprised at the concept and mechanics incorporated within Narcosis. I came into it expecting the usual stat management system with some crafting elements and a whole slice of claustrophobic environments. Instead, I was treated to a bizarre character profiling that gives you a thorough insight into the crew you never meet.

The story-lite plot is told wonderfully through heartfelt narration. The highs and lows of your journey reflect the protagonists’ guilt and alleviation that they have survived. As the game focuses heavily on its journey from beginning to end I expected something a little grander. Instead, the game drifts from one moment to the next as you are funnelled between checkpoints and the bodies of your dead crewmates.

Light the way with flares.

A tragic event and a race to the surface.

The idea of being stuck at the bottom of the sea for hours on end blows my mind. The desire to earn the big bucks while risking your life is a big gamble and one that could have you meet your maker. In Narcosis you control an engineer who works as part of a deepwater mining crew. Everything is going well and then disaster strikes. Crewmates die, the base is decimated, and your only chance of survival is hitching a ride to the surface. This is where your dash, or meander, begins.

The game experiments with three core concepts; lumbering around the seabed like a manatee in a diving suit, collecting information about each dead crewmate, and attacking squid and cuttlefish. 

Core concepts. 

Hunting down your work colleagues tells you key information about who you worked with and helps to identify who the protagonist is. You slowly tick off a roster of crewmates as you find each submerged body, it’s gruesome but somebody needs to do it. As you encounter the corpses, your heart rate increase and you consume more oxygen. This makes your mind play tricks on you and you see horrific sights. These nightmarish images haunt you throughout and offer little more than a corny half scare. 

The slow progress from base to rescue vessel follows a set route between rocks and chasms. If you go off course your visor cracks and you die. This is obviously not advised. You tiptoe around and know you are on the correct course as some narration kicks in to progress the story. 

The combat is painfully basic, but cannot be ignored. Your fishy foes constantly attack you until you slice them with your trusty blade. It offers little in the way of a challenge and it’s tedious to the point of boredom. You’ll face spider crabs that can’t be hurt and these moments require stealth and patience. Sadly, even these encounters couldn’t improve the combat mechanics. 

One of the many crab spiders.

When is a survival game not a survival game?

Playing Narcosis left me with the reoccurring feeling that it was too easy for a survival game. So I asked myself, when is a survival game not a survival game? The answer? When you do not need to worry about surviving! Yes, the sea life can kill you, or you die by falling into a pit or running out of O2, but it’s unlikely to happen.

Conveniently the seafloor is littered with oxygen tanks, so one is never far out of reach (absurd, but very fortunate). You’ll never worry that you’ll suffocate or drown and this makes the gameplay hollow. If you fall into a chasm, you simply load it up and start again. You lose a small amount of progress, but it matters not. The combat is guilty of this as well, meaning you just don’t care. Death isn’t a concern and in survival games, it should be your priority.

Narcosis is horrifically claustrophobic.

Where Narcosis excels is its environmental presentation. The world you explore is dark, creepy, and fills you with fear. Though the story is linear, the paths to make progress aren’t always obvious. This leads you down dead ends and into deadly ravines. The reduced viewpoint from the dive suit restricts your peripheral vision, and this enhances the claustrophobic nature of this title. What wasn’t great, however, were the close-up details. It is dated, poorly designed, and set up for cheap scares. It ruins the visual aspect and needed more polish.

The audio, however, needs no polish! Produced to a high standard, you’ll be transported to the horrendous underwater world from the off. With realistic sound effects, the constant fear of consuming too much oxygen, and the wonderful narration, the scene is well and truly set.

Can you stay sane?

Slow gameplay, but easy to control.

Every portion of the game is as slow as molasses, except for the jet booster. This occasional burst of speed breaks up the glacial pace that envelops the action. Once you get used to the meandering speed, you realise that the game is easy to play. The basic tutorial teaches you the fundamentals, and every mechanic lacks complexity making it easy to master.

I don’t normally push people to go for the collectables, but you really should. Finding out every back story is fascinating and adds depth to the lacklustre story. The short adventure is over in around four hours and other than the collectables, it offers minimal replay value.

Narcosis is confused, lacks focus, and is a bit of a damp squib. 

Narcosis appears to have a split personality. Each segment wants to be the top dog, but this undermines the end product. As a narrated adventure it’s fantastic, its environmental presentation is wonderful, and its audio is top-notch. Sadly, however, everything else lets it down and it’s a bit of a damp squib. I was disappointed and I don’t recommend it, though you can buy a copy here! Working underwater is dangerous, but this is something else. Find your crewmates dead or alive and get to the surface if you can. 

SUMMARY

Narcosis tried to blend many genres but sadly it ends up being a confused mess. The developers should have focussed on the adventure elements as this is where it excels. Its short game time offers little replay value and few redeeming qualities.

+ Nice environments.
+ Excellent audio.
+ Simple controls.
- Slow gameplay.
- Uninspiring mechanics.
- Little replay value.
- Tedious shock and horror tactics.

(Reviewed on the Xbox Series X. Also available on PC, Mac and PlayStation.)
Daniel Waite
My gaming career started on an Amiga and spans many consoles! Currently, I game using an MSI laptop and Xbox Series X. A fan of every genre, I love to give anything a go. Former editor and reviewer for www.bonusstage.co.uk, I'm loving my new home here at Movies Games and Tech. I can be contacted for gaming reviews on the following email: [email protected]

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