Pressure can mean a few different things; It's either force physically being exerted upon an object or a situation imparting emotional force to a person. Honor Code has expertly combined these two definitions into one game in Narcosis, a new horror game set deep beneath the sea. Not all of the gameplay hooks are executed as well as I'd like, but the care put into the atmosphere and overall sense of dread as you attempt to escape from the ocean floor very successfully makes Narcosis a narrative experience worth trying out.
Virtual reality can be a powerful tool for immersion and it's worth noting that Narcosis was designed with this in mind. The game was originally released back in March of 2017 for the Oculus Rift on Steam. Only having a PlayStation VR headset, I played it on the Xbox One outside of VR. Narcosis puts you inside a heavy-duty diving suit with a very claustrophobic feel. Moving around the camera makes your character look around inside the suit to check your oxygen and objectives. This both keeps the VR players from getting sick and ramps how confined you feel inside your diving apparatus.
The main thing you need to worry about in Narcosis is your oxygen meter. Your air is constantly depleting, so you need to make sure it never drops all the way down. There are oxygen tanks laying around fairly liberally throughout certain areas, but obviously it's not quite that simple. Narcosis uses fear as one of the main mechanics in the game by having your rate of oxygen consumption increase anytime your protagonist starts feeling the stress. This could come in the from of finding a fallen companion, being attacked by the local fauna or even from terrifying hallucinations. This constant need for air creates the extra tension necessary for a stressful and fun horror experience. The panic induced by running low on oxygen with no refills in sight is one of the best things this game has going for it.
Not all of the game mechanics built into Narcosis are as successful as the oxygen depletion. Throughout the various environments, you're come across some "enemies" that will attack you. In the form of a squid and angler fish, they'll either suction onto your helmet or just bump you in a direction. Just being in their presence will elevate your oxygen use, but luckily you have a knife to deal with them. Killing these enemies is a pain in the butt and their presence often felt more like a mild to moderate frustration.
Exploration in the game is also a bit of a mixed bag. The game gives you very little in the way of instruction on the way you should be traveling. Often this does increase the tension, which is good, right up until you find yourself repeatedly dying because you have no idea of where you're going. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it breaks the atmosphere that Narcosis works so hard at creating.
As you travel through the unforgiving depths, occasionally you'll hear narration in the form of a TV show host interviewing the survivor of the failed underwater operation. These little bits of dialogue paint an intriguing picture of a man pushed to his limits by both the severity of the situation and the guilt of surviving. As you explore, you come across the other members of the expedition that have already perished and for each one you find, their portrait in the main menu goes black and white. It felt a little cheesy at the start, but hit me with a surprising punch by the end of the game.
- Claustrophobic feel creates a tense atmosphere
- Oxygen mechanic ramps up the tension even further
- The narrative beats pack a punch
- Fish and Squid attacks are annoying and not scary
- Occasionally hard to tell where to go
- Save points could have been implemented a bit better
Creating a foreboding and tense atmosphere is paramount when developing a great horror game. Narcosis does a good job of creating this tension, in spite of a few hiccups that occasionally bring the player out of the tense survival situation. The game feels intense and packs a good narrative punch, especially in the later parts of the game. If you have an Oculus Rift, I definitely recommend checking it out there, but it stands out fairly well as just a first-person game on the Xbox One as well.
Promotional consideration provided by Honor Code, Inc.