Narcosis - Review

Author: Fabio "Kenobit" Bortolotti
Date: 2020-07-30 16:17:42
Narcosis is a textbook case on the difference between VR games and those on traditional screens. It is an atmospheric horror set at the bottom of the sea, with a strong narrative component and a hint of survival. Played in the real world, like a normal PC game, it is pleasant but forgettable. The slow underwater movements of the protagonist evoke more snails than suspense and the graphics are not exactly those of great occasions. The interactions work, but they are nothing memorable and the rhythm of the adventure thrives on ups and downs.

Wearing HTC Vive (or Oculus Rift), everything changes. Those slow underwater movements become an advantage, because the extreme subjective of the viewers makes them more realistic and credible. Word of cacasotto: in some moments they made the experience TOO credible. The other detail, not least, is that the slow underwater movement satisfactorily solves the so-called "locomotion problem" of virtual reality. For those who are not following the world of VR, I can sum it up like this: how does movement work in virtual reality? How can we give the player control over the movement of his avatar without regurgitating the 2016 panettone?

Virtual reality is a great illusion for our brain, and the concept of "walking without walking" creates a short circuit which in many cases leads to nausea, or at least to an uncomfortable experience for the player. Many games solve the problem with short distance teleportation, but it is clear that such an artifice would ruin the idea of atmospheric horror at the base of Narcosis, which therefore adopts a more traditional control system, with a normal controller (or if you want with a keyboard). The aquatic movement does not break the illusion of VR, and has allowed me to play Narcosis in two sessions of a couple of hours each. If I hadn't been interrupted by real-world commitments, I think I could have shot myself the whole game in one hit (by being sponsored by Pampers).

With HTC Vive, the same atmospheric horror that on the traditional screen knew a little already seen is ... terrifying. It takes ten seconds to no longer notice the graphics, which by the way is perfectly in the average of the VR productions of recent times, and you get lost in a world of darkness, tension, claustrophobia. It is easy, in front of a screen, to step up and go to that dark corner, after hearing a disturbing sound. With headphones and visor, the flares to make light become a precious resource, more in psychological terms than in actual play. The pace becomes tight, because every meter is scary.

As in the best horror films, in Narcosis there is more fear when nothing happens than when something happens. Audio also does its part, with exceptional ambient sounds that make the use of headphones absolutely mandatory (like anything in VR, but in this case even more). The noise of the protagonist's breath is perfect. It conveys anxiety, relief, panic, proving to be a phenomenal narrative tool.

I don't want to spoil surprises on the plot, also because in fact we are dealing with a relatively short game, but you just need to know that after an earthquake the protagonist is lost in an underwater structure, and that the only chance to survive is to find a way to go back to the research lab. Too bad that the earthquake blew up the light and created all sorts of pitfalls. The game is divided into fourteen chapters, which orbit around the exploration and resolution of small puzzles (some more successful than others). Again, the secret is all in VR: the atmosphere and tension make these simple gameplay moments much more intense and interesting. Bonus points for texts and interface, very legible and comfortable, even after hours of play.

The rating you see below refers to Narcosis played in VR. Moreover, it is not a normal game that also supports VR, it is a VR game that can be played in the traditional way if desired. In any case, I am convinced that the future of horror and that of virtual reality go hand in hand. These are exciting times to be a gamer.

Sensation of motion sickness : low, despite the absence of teleport

Game speed : slow

VR effect : high

I played Narcosis with a code received from the developer. I played it all with HTC Vive, in about four hours, and then tried it faster in traditional mode. To hurt myself, I used excellent headphones that completely isolate from the outside world. Number of suspicious spots in underwear: 3 every 35 minutes.