Review: NORCO – Destructoid

Welcome to a dystopian vision of New Orleans

When I played a preview of NORCO last year I was tentatively excited to play the rest of the game. It had the makings of a really cool experience, but I was also disappointed with such a promising start before. I’m still in shock after finishing the game, but one thing I can say for sure is that this is by far my favorite game I’ve played so far this year.

As I said after reading this preview, NORCO is a really weird game. However, he doesn’t fall into the trap of being weird just for the sake of it – he uses his weirdness to throw you off balance in a way that ties in very well with the main themes of the game. Every plot point and character is nuanced, and the game sympathizes with every idea it introduces, no matter how ugly, off-putting, or pathetic it may initially seem.

Developer: Robot Geography
Publisher: Rawfury
Released: March 24, 2022
MSRP: $14.99

The visuals in NORCO are some of the most stunning and evocative I’ve seen in a game in a long time, and it features some of the most beautiful pixel art I’ve ever seen. It’s moody and atmospheric, feeling like a real space these characters inhabit, while at other times the visuals are trippy, otherworldly and grotesque. It walks a fine line between reality and fantasy, and I felt it balanced the two perfectly, whether in writing, visuals, or gameplay.

Genre fiction at its finest

As genre fiction, NORCO does a great job of using its genre to say something meaningful about our present time outside of just being an enjoyable point-and-click mystery game set in the Deep South. The game creates this incredible feeling of futility, dread and inevitability. It’s a portrait of people who are just trying to fend for themselves to the best of their abilities and accept a life they hadn’t imagined for themselves.

It’s about life that feels different from what you wanted, something that really hits home in the midst of a global pandemic, and the developers were able to perfectly capture that struggle of wanting the world and the future is better, but also to feel the world pushing back when trying to bring about any kind of change.

NORCO also has one of the best phone implementations I’ve seen in a game, not just in gameplay but also in story. It never feels like a mechanic that was implemented for superficial reasons, but rather a natural extension of the characters and how they interact with the world. It somehow manages to criticize our over-connectivity, as well as the predatory corporations that run the apps we use too often, while still understanding why we use them, and sometimes really enjoying them, in the first place.

Southern Gothic meets magical realism

And the writing – ugh, it’s so good! It’s poetic, whimsical and dark, and it evokes other Southern writers like William Faulkner or Flannery O’Connor, but with a nihilistic sci-fi twist. The characters all feel so alive and dynamic, even if we only see them for a second, and when the prose becomes more abstract, it really feels like reading poetry.

As someone from the South who loves Southern Gothic, NORCO truly feels like a love letter to both its genre and its setting. As I said, you can see clear inspirations from 20th century Southern writers, and the story dives deep into the ecological and geographic characteristics of New Orleans, and the reciprocal relationships between big business, the land and the people who inhabit it.

I can also sense clear parallels with another Southern Gothic game that leans into magical realism: Kentucky Route Zero. Even with all its influences, however, NORCO manages to carve out its own space and identity, not just in the games industry, but in the Southern Gothic canon as a whole. I can’t think of anything else quite like it, and it’s a game I know I’ll be thinking about for weeks.

A few little things

I do have a few gripes, although they are relatively small compared to the rest of the game. There were places where I felt the gameplay dragged a bit, mostly due to scenery that felt slightly out of place because they were too “game-y”. It interrupted the immersion a bit as characters stopped what they were doing to explain and re-explain game mechanics to me, but this only happened a few times over the course of the game.

I will say that NORCO is designed in such a way that it doesn’t leave you feeling lost very easily, which can often be the case with point-and-click games. I didn’t have to spend a lot of time backtracking or trying to figure anything out, and while a few moments felt a bit nagging, I’d rather have that than a game that throws me into the ruts on my own. depths. First of all, NORCO is a story game, so prioritizing storytelling progression over players blocking was a smart move on the part of the developers.

NORCO takes you on a wild and bizarre journey that makes you feel like you’ve really been through something when you come out the other side. In a sea of ​​point-and-click narrative adventures, it exudes style, polish, and seriousness in a way that makes me think it will become a staple of the genre for years to come.

Geography of Robots may be a studio still in its infancy, but after playing this game, you’d think they’re seasoned pros. When I’m excited about the potential of video games in what they can do as a whole new storytelling medium, NORCO is exactly the kind of experience I envision.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the author.]

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