Even today, there are few places on this planet more terrifying than the ocean. As proven by Subnautica, SOMA and Zelda (because who doesn’t still fear the Water Temple?), the very idea of something awaiting below the waves is chilling. As a result Narcosis, takes this to an absolute extreme, trapping you at the bottom of the ocean in an armoured suit, with seemingly no way up.
For what could have been an extremely sci-fi concept, Narcosis proves to be remarkably down to earth at the end of the day. There are no aliens, no eldritch horrors, not even a proper kraken, just you, your mind, and some potentially quite hostile sea life. After a massive disaster kills most of your team and wrecks the base you have been on, it’s up to you to try and find your way back and survive the chilling abyss before you.
While it is obvious that this is a budget game, there is no denying that Honor Code did an excellent job with what they had on hand. The grim, bleak near-sightless realm of the deep sea is utterly horrifying to witness, with bizarre and horrifying forms of life stalking your every step. As you can only see a short distance ahead, you can never be sure what is lurking just out of sight, and the game never gives you a moment to become at ease with your environment. From vast open areas dotted with hostile creatures to narrow confines which can lead to an easy death, many sights and sounds put your character’s very sanity at risk, causing him to become terrified and use more of an already limited air supply.
A sanity based stamina meter isn’t the only Eternal Darkness related idea which shows up here, as there are hallucinations a-plenty to be had. Some are minor at first, showing you glimpses of things which never existed or false hopes to throw you off, and become increasingly surreal as time goes by. This ties heavily into the main story itself, especially a major twist, and constantly leaves you second guessing the reality of what’s taking place around you. It allows Narcosis to pull off the best kind of jump scares, without them ever wearing out their welcome.
What unfortunately holds this game back stems from a few amateur mistakes. There are quite a few times when the “is it real or not?” angle is pushed that bit too far, until you stop being terrified and just go “Okay, hang on a second, how did THAT ever happen?” In addition to this, it often overexposes certain elements without ever making them a real threat. Oxygen in your suit is limited but you’ll rarely feel as if you’re short on the stuff thanks to the sheer number of tanks and recharge stations. There are plenty of dangerous monsters, but their presence is so openly telegraphed that there’s rarely a true shock moment to be had, and the sheer number of times they show up can quickly destroy any sense of isolation. It also doesn’t help that - barring the spider crabs - most are very easily killed, so they become more of a hindrance than a true threat.
Many aspects and elements here are certainly well crafted, but they almost seem overly by-the-book. As if they were made by someone who has taken all the right notes on how to execute a classic horror experience with a great twist, but lacks the experience or innovation to turn Narcosis from a great title to an excellent one.
If the idea of being trapped at the bottom of the ocean terrifies you, if you find yourself wanting something more from Dead Space’s hallucinogenic trips or SOMA’s creeping horror, then this is worth your time. It still has more than enough high points to stand out and, while Narcosis often feels a little too much like a proof of concept, it nevertheless still ticks all the right boxes of a horror release. Definitely take some time to give this one a look.
NARCOSIS / DEVELOPER & PUBLISHER: HONOR CODE, INC. / PLATFORMS: PC, XBOX ONE (TBR, APRIL) / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW