by Johnathan Irwin
reviewed on PC
Readers to the site know by now how big of a fan I am of horror games. Whether I’m dealing with paranormal ghosts, the demons of a protagonists mind, a vicious alien, or even just a nutjob with a weapon; I love a game that can make my heart race, and get me to yell a few times. But, there’s one sort of horror title I all too rarely get to touch. A horror that is the result not of an entity, but of catastrophic events. Games based around major events like earthquakes or massive floods.
A few titles I’ve had the pleasure in playing over the years have ventured into that idea. Disaster Report and Raw Damage, lesser known titles of the PS2 era. I Am Alive, a title of mixed reception, and a few others that unfortunately have their names escape me at the moment. One that’s going to stick with me for some time to come though is Narcosis.
The game begins with what at first glance appears to be a standard tutorial. An off screen voice laments for the player’s loss of weekend leave in favor of high-pressure dive suit training. You are immediately introduced to life through the visor of this suit, with your HUD being in the bottom left and right corner and not always visible depending on where you are looking. Your head motions turn slightly faster than the suit does as well, accurately simulating the movement speed in an air-rich environment inside the suit versus the water outside. After jumping through a few hoops, the screen starts to turn black as the unseen voice shuts off the lights... or were they?
In actuality, the tutorial was a brief flashback. When you can see again you will find yourself at the bottom of the ocean, only yards away from a decimated industrial wreckage. 50 miles away from the epicenter of a deep sea earthquake, an off shore deep-sea mining operation finds itself decimated with casualties unknown to you. Immediately there is a sense of dread, of being alone. With your time alive being regulated by your oxygen intake, you have two goals in mind. Find any survivors that you can, and survive yourself. Your only hope is to reach one of the small submarines and take it to the surface.
Slow, Cumbersome, Atmospheric
In most settings, you won’t see me use the words slow and cumbersome as a compliment to the game. But here, there is no other way to put it. Being in a suit in a high resistance aquatic environment, you really do feel at nature’s whim. Each movement must be taken carefully when there are predators nearby (more on some of those in a moment) as well as watching your step in a hazardous environment. Even in the water, you always want to look before you leap. Don’t do what I did and just assume you can make it across a medium sized gap with the suit’s thrusters.
The slow pace of the game mixed with the atmosphere keeps it straddling a line between a horror, and an aquatic walking simulator. Traversing the depths, both interior and exterior of a crumbling mining facility, there’s never a shortage of sights to see. Or things to be concerned about. When you have been seeing an odd amount of small crabs (what I can only assume are Japanese Spider Crabs because of their appearance) only to see several more skittering passed you away from something, you grow concerned. Quickly. Usually, with good reason. If fauna is on the move in a panic, you should immediately pop a flare and see what’s in the direction they are moving from.
You will save yourself a close encounter with a cuttlefish, an angler, or something a bit more intimidating than the two former. Intimidation is something that matters more than just to the player at the keyboard however. When your character is in distress, his breathing will elevate and oxygen will be used up more quickly. Thankfully, O2 refills are rather abundant. I’d be surprised to see someone actually die from running out of air playing the game. These situations will trigger when you are in immediate danger, or when you are in proximity of one of the bodies of the team you are searching for. They also trigger during a few moments throughout the play time where the character will suffer a hallucination, which I can only assume is being brought on by just trying to deal with the nearly-certain possibility of his demise at hand. Needless to say, those moments are also littered with some pretty good jump scares so you can understand just why your O2 is being used up so quickly.
Coming Up For Air
Narcosis only runs a few hours in length, not short enough to be a waste of time but not long enough to wear out its welcome. Even still, it could’ve been another hour or so longer but perhaps that’s just because of how much enjoyment I was finding lumbering around the wreckages and sea caves. With a scenario rooted more closely to reality than other horror games, well executed voice acting on part of the player character’s VA and adequate performance from side characters in other instances, you really feel like part of a survival story. The replay value itself isn’t high, but for $19.99 it’s worth visiting it at least once if you’re a horror fan. Even more so if you can experience it in VR.
Movement reflects deep sea environment adequately, constant tension and well placed moments of jump scares, beautiful environment and use of flora and fauna.
O2 refills are too abundant, a little on the short side.