Honor Code, Inc. (studio)
10 May 2018 (released)
30 July 2018
It’s not uncommon to view the Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo market places without coming across at least a dozen or so First Person horror games. Many take the same old path, where you play as some unfortunate sod who’s stuck in a haunted house being chased after by the girl from the Grudge. So it came as a welcoming surprise when I saw Narcosis, a survival driven horror game (different from survival horror) where your character is stuck at the bottom of the ocean with limited oxygen, visibility and equipment to fend off the scariest crabs ever rendered.
Narcosis is what you could consider an unconventional Survival horror as it takes players into the depths of the Pacific Ocean rather than a haunted house. You play as an industrial diver who’s stranded 30,000ft below the ocean’s surface, in a place where sunlight is non-existent. Players will have to navigate with limited resources and take drastic steps to reach the surface, before your oxygen runs out or your sanity breaks.
The concept for Narcosis is rather brilliant as it takes us to a place we have little control and much like setting a game in space, tension comes through the small dynamics and dangers. While players are walking around in a half-ton, high-tech dive suit, you are vulnerable every second of your journey. There’s a horrific sense of claustrophobia as your stagger through tightly fitted passages, caves and flooded laboratories in near darkness and knowing that every breath you take a step closer to death. I felt as though my suit could become my coffin and I was never truly safe from anything.
The never ending sense of dread only gets worse when the main character begins to hallucinate as the crippling pressure grates on his nerves. Players will be left near defenceless and the game is a constant race against the clock to obtain oxygen and avoid some of the most dangerous creatures living at the bottom of the ocean. The journey is filled with gruelling intensity and seeing any one of your former colleagues dead, has a damaging effect on your health.
There are plenty of compelling ideas within Narcosis’ design, centring on a concept that’s truly innovated and rarely seen before. Gameplay is simple yet works well with the core theme, where players are limited in movement, but have to use their wits to evade giant predators, illuminate areas bathed in darkness and explore for life saving oxygen. There is some light exploration but the level design never complicates matters, nor does it get too linear and straightforward.
The big appeal to Narcosis is the scares and I must be honest and say it’s a mixed bag. While there are some genuine moments that unnerved me, others just seemed goofy and over the top. The simpler scares which are executed softly have the biggest effect. Checking out a door one moment and turning around to see an empty suit has more impact than a scary face jumping out. There was one moment which went a little overkill, cramming in5 different jump scares within 5 minutes.
Also the game gets a little too weird towards the end and it just feels a little generic for the most part. The distorted visuals, the softer jump scares, the unnerving silence and brilliant ambience are what makes Narcosis scary. The remainder make it a little too silly. The raw primal fear is what works, not the ghost, surreal moments. Also the narrator seems a little too calm despite being stuck underneath 30,000ft of sea water.
A side note is to praise the closing theme which is composed by the awesome Akira Yamaoka.
I do like Narcosis and it’s a horror game I can recommend with high praise towards it’s unconventional practices towards the survival horror genre. The concept is enthralling and many elements from the sound design, dynamic lighting and subtle jump scares. It’s only let down by it’s more surreal moments which feel ripped out of the more generic and duller survival horror games. This is still worth checking!
++ Brilliant concept
+ Intense atmosphere and some great scares
- Annoying and tedious jump scares
- Lack focus in the story in later stages
An Xbox One review copy of Narcosis was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review