Horror games are interesting. They inhabit such a small portion of the colourful genre spectrum, and yet within this genre there’s such a wide variety of experiences. Narcosis is one of those experiences. The deep sea is an untapped resource for horror games to explore (literally) but Narcosis does something different. It doesn’t necessarily tell a story. It profiles a character. It does it well. Though despite this unique direction it ambitiously takes, it sometimes feels like the destination isn’t worth the journey to get there.
In Narcosis, you play as a diver who is one of the only survivors of an industrial catastrophe. The facility you’re working in, which is situated deep in the ocean, has flooded and most of the members of your team are dead. In a bid to survive, you done a diving suit that lets you survive underwater for as long as you have oxygen. The goal from that point is simple – survive and get out.Narcosis is a pretty simple game. It’s tempting to call it a walking simulator, given its driven to tell you a story, but Narcosis is slightly more involved and interactive than your typical walking sim. For one, there’s threats that your diver must physically avoid (and even fight against if you so wish). There’s a few (but not heaps) of puzzles to solve, items to find and areas to explore. Narcosis’ experience is rooted in exploration, building tension and telling a story. As a result, it’s completely unpretentious.
There’s a few conceits here that attempt to make Narcosis interesting. For one, you don’t have health, but your suit has oxygen which drains as you move about the sunken station. Perhaps more interestingly, your breathing can affect how quickly you consume oxygen. Getting attacked by a creature or looking at things that unnerve your character will increase how much you consume oxygen. It’s an interesting idea, but Narcosis throws so much oxygen replenishment at you that it never seems to be truly threatening.You have a few other tools at your disposal too. The knife is slow moving but allows you to defend yourself against enemies. Flares can be thrown in the distance to illuminate the darkest depths of the ocean, but they can also be used to distract enemies if combat isn’t your thing. Which is understandable, since Narcosis’ combat is quite clunky. I’m sure this is a purposeful design choice, but at the end of the day combat doesn’t exactly invite participation.