Narcosis Review Does this debut effort from Honor Code drown in its own fear?

This product was reviewed on a PlayStation 4. It is also available on PC via Steam, with support for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, and Xbox One. A code was provided for review purposes.

Note: The PlayStation 4 version of the game was handled by Skymap Games.

Overview

This first person survival story unfolds from inside a half-ton, high-tech deep-sea dive suit, referred to in game as a “walking coffin”. Following an industrial catastrophe, a diver takes desperate steps to escape, attempting to preserve his oxygen, and sanity, along the way. Will playing it make you crazy? Find out as we “dive” into the review.

Gameplay

Narcosis pits you against your fears by placing you in one of the most vulnerable scenarios. You are stranded, at the bottom of the Pacific ocean. Your underwater mining habitat, Oceanova, has underwent a massive disaster. Your primary objective is to survive. Along the way, you’ll search for other possible survivors as you try to prevent the madness of solitude.

From the moment the catastrophe strikes, it’s clear that this experience will be an unsettling one. Aside from the obvious threats of the deep; the potentially hostile aquatic life, you never really shake the feeling that there is someone, or something, watching you. Narcosis excels at making you feel vulnerable. From it’s marine life, to the near absence of light, this game preys on your weakness.

You’ll navigate in your heavy diving suit, treading along the ocean floor, inside Oceanova and back again. The controls are simple, and you’ll never feel overwhelmed in stressful situations because of complex control schemes. Traversal is slow, due to the weight of the suit, which adds a layer of fear in itself. The suit is equipped with jump jets to give you a slight speed boost, but they must be allowed a cool down period. Using them will not only speed up your navigation of the environment, but will also provide you with a quick getaway from aquatic life, or the right amount of momentum to cross a large ravine that would normally be the death of you.

Naturally, in your scenario, oxygen will be your most precious commodity. A meter on the HUD of your diving suit indicates the amount of oxygen left in your tank, as well as your breathing pattern. This pattern changes under stressful situations, such as an attack by a cuttlefish, or wondering across the body of one of your fellow Oceanova team mates. Being under stress makes you consume your oxygen faster, increasing the urgency to replenish your tank.

The low light setting is where this game truly shines. Pun intended. Light sources are incredibly scarce. At times, the darkness is enough to tingle your spine. Luckily, your diving suit is equipped to fire off flares. Firing off a flare can light up a small area, easing your tension, or revealing the intended traversal path.

The oxygen consumption and flare usage combined make for great usage of resource management. Resources are spread thin enough to add a sense of urgency, but not so thin that it hampers progression. This is an area where many horror games struggle, but Narcosis handles with care.

What Narcosis lacks in run time, it makes up for in depth. Exploring an underwater mining station, which has fallen victim to a disaster of sorts, there is plenty to see and explore as you hunt for that next oxygen tank. Occasionally, you’ll happen upon the bodies of your fellow Oceanova crew members. Approaching them raises your stress level, and, therefore, your oxygen consumption. Those brave enough for the risk though, will find that each crew member carries an ID tag to collect. Picking these up logs that person in your Personnel log, providing a bit of background information about them, as well as the Oceanova project overall. Further exploration of the environment might lead to a collectible object. These objects, of various nature, are logged under Personnel as personal objects of varying crew members of Oceanova. A bit of insight on the owner, and the object itself is provided. Both the ID tags and the personal objects provide incentive to explore the environment, as well as a sometimes needed break from the stress.

A major theme of Narcosis is in the name. Narcosis is defined as a state of stupor, drowsiness, or unconsciousness produced by drugs. At times, you’ll perceive things differently than they actually are. You could enter a room, only to turn around and find that the landscape has changed, and you’re trapped. In addition to elements of fear, this also adds some shock value to an already chilling experience.

Narcosis is a rather short experience. Taking your time to fully explore environments, attempting the at times puzzle-like traversal, or just hunting collectibles and other easter eggs, the game clocks in at 3 to 4 hours. While this may seem excessively short to some, the narrative of Narcosis doesn’t suffer because of it. You’re left wanting more, but not because there wasn’t enough.

The PC versions of Narcosis contain full support for HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. The PS4 version, on the other hand, features a lack of support for PlayStation VR. This feels like the biggest handicap, as this seems like an experience that would be amplified tenfold by virtual reality. It seems to be a missed opportunity, for both the developers, and fans of survival horror alike.

Graphics/Sound

The visuals of Narcosis are quite the marvel, especially considering the circumstances. Developed as the very first project by a new team, and a rather small one, Narcosis captures the beauty of ocean depth in a sometimes awe-inspiring way. From the flora and fauna, to the lighting, to the design and layout of Oceanova, it’s clear that no time was spared on attention to detail. It’s often easy to get lost in exploring the captivating undersea world, forgetting to manage your resources along the way.

There’s almost no words to justify how well designed the sound is. The voice acting is superb, and serves nicely to unfold the narrative. Every step in the dive suit sounds as heavy as it feels. The various parts of the environment all sound as expected, and it adds tension. All of this is backed by what I feel is some of the best background music in a horror game. Play this with some surround sound headphones and prepare to feel fully immersed.

Summary

Narcosis represents the best of what horror games should strive to be. It’s immersive, in nearly every possible way. With an interesting and well presented narrative, you’ll find yourself not wanting to stop, as you turn every corner with a sense of dread as to what lies ahead. While the play time is somewhat short, and the absence of support for PlayStation VR is a drawback, there is more than enough in the package to appease true fans of the horror genre. With it’s unique setting and atmosphere, Narcosis is a true dive into fear itself.

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Narcosis

$19.99
9.8

Gameplay

9.8/10

Graphics

9.5/10

Sound

9.9/10

Performance

9.8/10

Pros

  • Thrilling atmosphere
  • Fantastic sound design
  • Excellent use of resource management
  • Enthralling narrative
  • Interesting choice of theme

Cons

  • No support for PlayStation VR

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