Narcosis was one of the most devilishly pleasant surprises at E3. I had no idea what I was getting myself into – little did I know that it was going to be a virtual reality experience based around one of my biggest fears: deep sea exploration. Narcosis is a survival horror game with a single goal: get to the surface with your body and mind intact.
Subtle narrative aspects are ingrained into the very framework of the game without taking the spotlight away from its immersive dread. You are an industrial diver stranded on the seafloor with only a small light and a few tools to help you survive – the rest is up to you. You are completely and utterly alone down in the briny deep, and the pressure of constantly running out of oxygen makes each situation more intense than the last.
Narcosis is incredibly deliberate in its presentation, using specific triggers within the game’s world to help propel players in the right direction with a series of events. These scenarios are often unexpected and can lead to a myriad of unforeseen and inevitable consequences. In the hands-on demo I played at E3, I entered a very small circular room with an industrial diving suit facing me as it stood up against the wall. It took a few seconds to realize there was nothing here for me. I thought it strange that this room had nothing in it, but I couldn’t afford to think on it for long. I was running out of oxygen, and honestly I was terrified as shit. After physically moving my head to look around for a few seconds, I turned around to leave. This is when I realized how intensely the game plays on the player’s psyche as things got surreal pretty quickly thereafter.
The door was gone. I continued turning past where the door would have been as it was the only thing I felt like I could do – you can’t jump underwater after all. As I spun, that industrial diving suit began passing by at various locations from around the incredibly claustrophobic room. Sometimes it appeared farther away from me, other times it was eerily close to my face. I felt surrounded by these suits as I continued spinning, getting more and more worried as each suit passed by my vision. The door eventually appeared instead of a suit, and I immediately ran out into the very location I was so terrified to explore beforehand.
Even without jump scares or fast-paced gameplay (it is underwater after all), Narcosis does an immaculate job at fabricating terror with its environment alone. The game is convincingly abstract in the empathetic delivery of its narrative. Environments contain discoverable audio snippets of the game’s story, exacerbating its already terrifying atmosphere to an anxiety-ridden intrigue that somehow convinces you to continue forward.
Narcosis truly tests your ability to push yourself through a multitude of situations you would never want to experience in real life. Despite its authentic instillation of horror, however, the macabre and subtle delivery of the game’s story generated enough intrigue for me to be willing to whether the storm.
Narcosis is developed and independently published by Honor Code. Look for it to release on PC, Mac, and Oculus Rift later this summer.
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