Narcosis is a deep-sea title taking place at the ocean’s floor and placing players in a fight for their survival as a catastrophic series of events have ravaged the habitats they once called home. With declining supplies and limited resources, players will find themselves walking the ocean’s floor in an advanced deep-sea exploration suit in hopes of making it to the surface.
+Easily one of the most disturbing fictional horror-survival games to date
+Absolutely spectacular sound, atmospheric, and level designs.
+Sound effects are absolutely spot-on and help deliver the experience home
+Controls are easy to learn and absolutely pay off in the end
-Uninspired encounters leading to the player dying constantly or smashing their attack button until it breaks
If there’s anything I hate more than the idea of drowning, it’s drowning due to the fact my oxygen supply has run out in a deep dive suit while a thousand leagues below the sea. Unfortunately for me, the one fear I do have, the idea of drowning while my life support runs out has become a reality thanks to Honor Code, Inc., the developer behind the interactive horror title Narcosis, which sent me almost into tears more than once.
It wasn’t just induced due to the idea of drowning. Rather, it was induced by the idea that even though this was a game, I’ve already been drawn into the story, and now I am here – stuck deep below the ocean’s surface with almost no chance at rescue and very few resources available to keep me alive. To put it short. I’ve been stranded no thanks to a massive earthquake deep below the ocean’s surface and I’m stuck down here in a walking coffin – a 500-pound advanced metal diving suit, which was made to withstand the crushing pressure of the ocean’s floor.
In Narcosis, you take on the role of one of the researchers from the habitat, one that has been stranded due to the aforementioned earthquake and one that’s struggling with finding a way up to the surface. After all, both habitats have been destroyed, both of them are in disarray and your only chance of survival is getting to the second station, finding the life raft, and making your way to the surface.
The downside to all of this? Your support systems are constantly running out of support, your oxygen supply is constantly being diminished and your anxiety levels only make this worse. You are – for all intents and purposes – drowning. So now your goal is simple. Get from point A to point B. You’ll do this several times by completing puzzles, fighting off the ocean life such as anglerfish and cuttlefish that want to turn you into their next three-course meal.
But don’t let the idea of going from point A to point B deter you by any means. It’s not easy at all. It’s an unforgiving experience that will make you grit your teeth as you see your life support go from 1% to 0% and everything begin to blur. That, however, is where things get weird. Narcosis isn’t exactly a game. Consider it more of an interactive movie than anything else. While you will constantly navigate your character, you will find yourself in a haze of sorts as you move about, looking for the next cinematic piece that brings the story together.
Let me be quite blunt. This isn’t one of those games that simply decides to shrug off the idea of a story or atmosphere. Rather, it’s a slow burning story, one that has you biting your nails as you approach the end. Toss in the dark and abysmal depths of the ocean floor and you won’t believe what comes to life as the light begins to fade and the story that will begin to unfold before you.
For some, the lumbering and slow movement throughout the entirety of the four-hour story is one that could be problematic – painful even. Your movement is about as fast as molasses running down the side of a bottle. It’s one that can become an annoyance to some, but its impact isn’t to be an annoyance, but one that brings the senses of helplessness and claustrophobia to life. It’s one that wants you to know that with each step you struggle to take, that you are moving one step closer to the surface, but the crawling pace itself makes you feel as if all hope is lost. Even as you begin to face your fears, there’s something else just under the surface, something darker and more sinister.
Even as you stand, as I did, in that darkened hallway, you will find yourself staring down the long and dark corridor, wondering if you will ever leave or if that giant suit is truly your walking coffin. There are a few gameplay designs that help make this confined state become alleviated – but only bit a small bit. Your suit has a small jetpack-style thruster system that can be used. This will essentially serve as your jumping function and your way to assist you in traversing the terrain a little bit quicker.
If anything, the thrusters are just a convenient tool that will help you traverse some of the more difficult terrains, but ultimately, becomes a hindrance when hitting some of the puzzles and platforming segments of the game. Same games for looking around. Your view is limited to slightly up and side-to-side. Looking down isn’t actually an option unless you’re looking at the systems inside your suit. But that helps drive home the underwater atmosphere and the sense of hopelessness.
Combined with both the amazingly well-designed level design and sound effects, and you have a game that is just short of perfection for this type of title. Even inside of the habitat facilities – even though they are destroyed – the false sense of calmness and beauty of the ocean is still intact. You are lost, you have no idea what way you need to go but forward. That’s the point about the game though. The habitats are designed to give you a sense of calm before throwing you back into the wilds, letting you find a reason to be scared of the ocean floor.
Those segments are the very ones I found the most disturbing. The moments where I was left without help. The moments where I had no ability to control what was going on about me. The moments where I had no idea where I needed to go or ways to fight back against that of which threatened my characters very life. That – that is what makes this game a terrifying title – and I’m one that has consumed a plentiful amount of horror games and laughed them off.
But there’s a reason outside of my irrational fear of drowning and helplessness beneath the water’s surface. I wasn’t scared of the idea of falling down some gaping hole in the ocean’s floor, but rather, I was scared of the real-life sea creatures that called the darkened depths of the ocean’s floor their home. I was scared of being unable to fight back against the unknown that could be mere feet away from me. I was scared of the claustrophobia, the isolation, and the idea I could very well see myself in my character’s shoes.
But you may be wondering – why was I terrified by cuttlefish, anglerfish, and giant Japanese spider crabs? They’re terrifying, while uninspired, they are foes to be had in the game. While the anglerfish and cuttlefish could have served as excellent choices, we know there are more lethal foes at the ocean floor. I was hoping to see some of the more fearsome ones such as a giant squid (which we do see), a goblin shark, fangtooth fish, vampire fish (unless that’s the cuttlefish they used in the game), or even the Pacific viperfish.
Narcosis – PC, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed) and Xbox One
Developer: Honor Code, Inc.
Publisher: Honor Code, Inc.
Release Date: Available Now
Even with its slightly-uninspired foes, there’s not a lot to work with when it comes to deep-sea creatures. After all, we’ve only really begun to explore deep-sea regions and have only within the past few years hit the bottom of the Mariana Trench in order to see what mysteries that call it home. Which, fortunately, makes Narcosis a superbly structured game; albeit a very short one.
Even with its three-to-four hour run time, each of those hours left me gripping my controller, leaving me completely uncomfortable as I could possibly be. But if you are one to concern yourself with gameplay duration – then let this serve as a warning – but if you aren’t? Continue on and bask in one of the most interactive fiction titles to date. Trust me, the ending is completely worth it and left me holding my breath as the credits rolled.
Our review is based upon a retail version that was provided to us by the publisher of the game. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
Final Score: 8 out of 10
About the Writer(s):
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the boarders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.