In gaming terms, “survival horror” is typically synonymous with the supernatural. Zombies, ghouls, spiteful spirits, and all manner of the undead that the player usually handles by way of an inventory system complete with a variety of weaponry. Developer Honor Code, Inc. completely redefines that classification by opting for realism by way of a riveting story steeped in plausibility. In Narcosis, the player faces a variety of threats, but none so big as the looming depletion of oxygen miles below the surface.
Playing as an industrial diver, the first-person narrative unfolds after a catastrophic event leaves the player alone on the sea floor, scrambling to locate other team members and find a way back to escape to the surface before oxygen runs out. If that’s not terrifying enough, there’s also the hostile sea life to contend with. The player is only armed with wits, flares, and a small knife, and high stress situations further accelerates oxygen depletion. Between the alien terrain and the high stress situation, sanity becomes one more factor the player must juggle.
The immersion aspect of the game is mind-blowing. There’s a sense of wonderment, and simultaneous fear, exploring the foreign sea floor. That otherworldly feeling lends an unpredictability that’s mostly vacated current survival horror games. Being stuck in a half-ton divers suit exacerbates that further with an insane sound design. It’s an isolating experience, alone in the dark depths, and the eerie audio makes for one of the most atmospheric gaming experiences. The audio and visual aspects are married together so well, that I’m jealous of those that will first experience the game on VR.
The gameplay mechanics are simple. The player follows a mostly linear path and combat is modest. There are some platforming elements, during moments where the suit’s thruster is used and in moments of hallucinogenic terror, and the heavy weight of the suit forces a slower pace. Those that prefer to zip their way through their fear will find themselves bound to the deliberate, panic inducing stride of the “walking coffin.” There’s a bit of an overabundance on flares placed throughout the game, so there’s never a worry of depleting stock. Overall, the gameplay simplicity lends well to the game’s primary focus; the compelling story that unwinds in unexpected ways.
The main story will take around 3-4 hours, though there is a light replay value in terms of collecting missed items or unlocking achievements. The game is so well paced and immersive that the short length feels irrelevant. Every facet of Narcosis feels singular, from the surprising narrative to the well rendered, unique setting. The foreboding sense of dread and unpredictability makes for one of the most exceptional survival horror gaming experiences. Did you know that the spider crab can grow to a leg span of 18 feet from claw to claw? Narcosis is happy to visualize that fun fact for you. There’s an impressive level of detail on display, particularly in details meant to unnerve the player. A war of emotions wages when playing this game. The gripping desire to keep exploring this strange world is at complete odds with the icy fear of what’s lurking in the dark. And there are things lurking in the dark; both in the mind and in the ocean’s depths.
Narcosis is available starting today on Steam, Oculus, and Xbox One.
Narcosis [Game Review]