Horror titles send gamers all over the place, with a lot of typical venues being a creepy haunted house, a deadly forest full of strange creatures, and even alien-infested Space Stations. The ocean isn’t so common though, and whilst it’s been done brilliantly in the past in the likes of Bioshock, it’s not an environment that gamers have started to tire of yet.
Set deep under the sea, Narcosis hopes to bring underwater frights to gamers with its recent release on the PlayStation 4. Is it a gripping thriller though, or does it deserve to drown away amongst the plethora of horror titles that currently crowd the PlayStation Store?
Narcosis puts you in the heavy shoes of a deep sea diver who finds themselves stranded on the ocean floor when the station he was working at gets flooded. With the crew presumed dead and oxygen on the decline, you have to find your way to safety quick or suffer the fate of your fellow colleagues.
The story is cleverly told in the form of a radio interview and flashbacks, which actually adds a unique take on the adventure. It’s something I haven’t seen done so well before, and it really worked in adding an additional sense of isolation to the world – something which Narcosis is really pushing for. It makes for a really intriguing mystery and one that kept me hooked in right until the very end.
Whilst the narrative is at the forefront of the experience, you’ll also spend a lot of time exploring the deep ocean and the now flooded station. In fairness, there’re a lot of impressive sights to see in the game – sure, it’s all dark as hell and there’s a dingy feel to it all, but there’s a real sense of presence to the world around you that makes every little thing you see feel that bit more fascinating.
The problem is, exploring this world can feel too sluggish at times. Whilst it works contextually given that you’re in this heavy diving suit, it can feel like a chore getting around at times as you slowly trudge your way across the sea bed. It’s even more apparent when you enter the station, where some tighter hallways and fetch-quest style puzzles see you navigating areas hunting down keycards and the like. In fairness, you do have thrusters, but they don’t fully alleviate the feeling of slowness that comes with making your way around.
It’s not all exploration in the game though, with a big emphasis placed on survival. Your oxygen is limited in the game, so you’ll have to track down oxygen canisters to save yourself from suffocating. In fairness they’re pretty common to find, but it does place an extra sense of urgency on all of your actions – even I found myself dying because of it a few times.
Of course, there’s also the deadly sea creatures to watch out for too, with plenty of vicious marine life out for your blood. You’re armed with a knife so you can find them off, though you can certainly expect to be blinded by a squid’s ink or thrusted at by some anglerfish on more than a few occasions. And seriously, don’t get me started on those semi-invincible sea crabs aka the most lethal creature in the sea…
Narcosis places more of an emphasis on avoiding these encounters with the vicious creatures as opposed to taking them on, with stealth mechanics in play to help you get around. This could be a little frustrating though, especially with just how dark the game world actually is. You can use flares as a distraction, but constantly throwing them and trying to sneak around lost its appeal quite quickly.
Still, it did add to the suspense as did the constant need for oxygen. Narcosis has this uneasy eerie feel to it throughout, and whilst some of the jump scares felt a bit flat, there were certainly moments in the game where I was more than a little bit spooked out.
Visually, the game is a bit of a mixed bag. There’s no doubting that there are some impressive sights to see across the ocean and it captures the vibe of the locale perfectly, but some of the textures and character models just felt a little dated. Add to that some iffy animations here and there, and it’s easy to see that Narcosis isn’t the most visually pleasing of horror titles.
One thing that’s worth mentioning is that the game supported virtual reality devices when it released on PC – unfortunately, PlayStation VR hasn’t had the same treatment. It’s a shame too, because Narcosis would’ve been a lot more enjoyable played in virtual reality. I don’t think there are any plans for it to come to the platform in the future, so for now it’s a bit of a missed opportunity.
Narcosis isn’t going to be for everyone, with the often sluggish pace and some sketchy gameplay aspects certainly proving noticeable throughout the game. However, if you can look past those blemishes you’ll find an incredibly intriguing narrative, a unique setting, and a genuinely eerie atmosphere that’ll stay with you throughout.
I can recognise that Narcosis is a flawed game, but it’s certainly not a bad one – I never grew bored at all during my four-hour runtime. I could end up feeling a little frustrated though which is a shame because there’s a lot of potential with its gripping tale for it to be so much more.
Developer: Honor Code
Publisher: Honor Code
Format(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive