Take a seat, grab your gamepad and Rift, and prepare for a journey a couple miles deep in the pacific ocean with Narcosis, a new VR experience from developer Honor Code. Having played several standing VR games in the last week, I have to say it was nice that Narcosis says at the outset it’s intended to be played sitting down. Anyway, being able to sit down was a nice change of pace for me, but I wasn’t sure what kind of survival horror experience I was about to get into.
As it turns out, Narcosis doesn’t have a great deal of gameplay mechanics to it, but it’s compelling enough in other ways to make it well worth playing. You are an engineer or technician in a deep sea operation for the company known as Oceannova. Your part of a crew of about thirty people that one day are struck by the aftershocks of an earthquake which destroys underwater facilities and floods them. At the time, you are in a deep sea diving suit, returning from a job in the field. What was a typical day is now completely up-ended and you must seek to survive, and see if any of your fellow crew managed to survive as well.
Threats include running out of oxygen, long falls into the abyss, and some sea creatures like squid and large spider-crabs. You have a knife at you disposal for slow slashes that you have to time well, but these aren’t going to help against the large spider-crabs that can poke right through that titanium suit of yours. You have to avoid those creatures when possible by keeping a wide berth around them or using your flares to distract them. Flares, which you can carry ten of, are useful for that and to help light your path, although I found myself using them sparingly and whenever I found re-supply crates I often only needed one or two to restock. Oxygen is also plentiful, but encountering a dead crew member or a dangerous sea creature raises your heart rate, which depletes your oxygen faster. In any event, typically, there’s nothing to fear as oxygen refills and spare tanks are not too hard to find. ADR1FT on the other hand often made the race for oxygen a bit too high of a priority, I liked the more relaxed approach that Narcosis took with this aspect.
Speaking of ADR1FT, Narcosis does remind one of it, but it also reminded me of SOMA. There are horror elements in Narcosis, including hallucinations, dead bodies, intimidating sea creatures, but there are no jump scares or very disturbing imagery or scenes, and that’s not to say this is a bad thing. I thought Narcosis did a fine job of virtually putting me deep down in the sea, building a sense of loneliness and peril, but not weighing me down with constantly dying or having to find oxygen too often. Side note, the interior of your diving suit’s HUD acts as a good way to reduce motion sickness and it also shows you your percent oxygen, compass heading, and number of flares.
For the most part, Narcosis is a walking simulator, and I know that that phrase has a negative connotation with it, but I don’t intend it that way here. Narcosis is fairly short, about four hours but with twenty collectible items to find (most of which I did not, some are surprisingly well hidden). These items, including ID tags for the crew members you encounter, add a nice gameplay element that encourages thoroughness and exploration — which, since you are not typically rushed to refill oxygen, is actually more conducive to doing. Your diving suit, I should mention, is also equipped with thrusters, the status of which is monitored on the HUD as well. These short-range bursts let you move forward or backwards quickly for a few seconds, clear short gaps, and go up small ‘jumps.’ The thrusters burn out quickly, but their cooldown timer is very short. Still, some jumps are designed to where you need full thrust power, and if you jump too soon, you’ll fall into the abyss and start at the last checkpoint. Sometimes, these checkpoints are a bit too far apart for my liking, but for the most part, you’re going to progress through Narcosis at a steady clip.
Presentation quality is quite good, with the protagonist’s voice-acting being especially notable. Your character at times will have a brief monologue, talking about life working for Oceannova, and the guy’s voice reminds me very much of Tom Hanks’ own voice. The dialog is brief, but well-written, and these spoken moments come up at good intervals to remind the player they’re on the right path. The graphics are also very good and the game is comfortable to play.
Ultimately, Narcosis provides players with a compelling experience that’s easy to recommend.