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Narcosis is an Unsettling and Engrossing Deep Sea Horror Adventure | Hands-On

We go hands-on with Narcosis

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Loneliness can be a horrible thing, but it is especially horrible when you’re alone under the sea with a limited oxygen supply, trapped in a bulky diving suit that is keeping you alive, but is also horribly claustrophobic. To continue our running series where we examine Honor Code’s debut game ‘Narcosis’, we got to play two demos of the game which offered a taste of what is to come, and that sense of being alone in a huge landscape is just a little bit of it.

The premise is simple. Your character is left, seemingly alone, in the husk of the facility that he worked at. Stranded and without much to help him your character needs to return to the surface before the oxygen runs out or, not much more comfortingly, the bleakness of the situation crushes him in to losing his mind.

As you can probably guess, ‘Narcosis’ isn’t a game for the light-hearted. When I spoke to the lead on the project, Quentin De Beukelaer, he referred to the diving suit as “a walking coffin.” Weirdly enough, even though the thing is what is keeping you from what would probably be a horrible death, it doesn’t feel like your friend. It’s an unwieldy machine that makes movement difficult, even torturous, making even small tasks a bit of a slog. When you’re playing a survival horror game, these difficulties just serve to amp up the tension. There’s nothing like making what should be simple difficult to increase the sense of unease.

Gameplay is also straightforward. Your suit is decked out with flares and thrust compatibility to make movement slightly easier, and also keeps you informed of your oxygen levels and what tools you may have at your disposal. You have a flashlight, which often provides the only real means of being able to see what’s in front or to the side of you. This has the two-pronged effect of making you feel more secure about your immediate surroundings, but even less secure about what else there could be out there, just out of the reach of your feeble light.

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You do have a knife, to fend off any immediate threats, but because of the awkward nature of your suit the movement is laboured so you have to time your strike for it to be most effective. All these things, together with the sense of unease created by an atmosphere that can at times be terrifying simply by looking menacing in the background, makes for a veritable cornucopia of tension.

The first demo takes place within the closed confines of the facility, meaning that the vast expanse of the deep sea isn’t your enemy here. What you do have to do though is carefully negotiate through a set of different rooms, picking up supplies and trying to figure out the way forward.

At the beginning, the game provides you with a voiceover. Delivered very matter-of-factly, this voiceover is essentially our only means of getting to know the situation and piecing together anything we can about our character. This is particularly reminiscent of games like ‘Amnesia’ that make character development as much of a mystery as your surroundings, meaning that the more you explore what’s around you, the more you’re likely to find out about what’s going on.

There are a number of understated chills in this demo. Discarded diving suits are a particular culprit, especially when they just pop up around the next corner and appear like they’re looking right at you. They’re creepy things when you know (or would like to think) that they’re empty and their ominous appearance makes them disturbing, especially when they turn up out of seemingly nowhere.

The animals that lurk in the facility are also deeply unsettling. Quite aside from the gigantic crabs that roam the halls and dare you to come near them, an attack from one of the vitriolic squids that patrols the area is particularly intense the first time round. Sadly I don’t have access to an Oculus Rift, but I can imagine that the moment when the squid wraps itself around the screen is particularly effective with the VR set, which would catapult you right in to the action.

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You also get a sense of the mental fragility of your character with a couple of befuddling moments where what seems to be actually isn’t, throwing a lot of what you think you are seeing in to doubt. This is another great mechanism that serves to build the atmosphere and make you question your surroundings.

The second demo follows a similar formula, but gives us a larger space to explore as we’re plunged in to the deep sea itself. The sheer expanse of blackness that engulfs you makes your character and his diving suit feel insignificant, and against that background your measly flashlight is but a candle. In this environment, things that were chilling inside are definitely starting to escalate to being straightforwardly terrifying, and it’s hard not to breathe heavily along with your character as you negotiate particularly tense areas.

It’s also quite difficult to ensure that you don’t accidentally just walk off one of the deep sea cliffs and down to a dark, watery death, so being careful just where you’re standing is also important, and this is where your thrust capability becomes invaluable as you move from cliff to cliff in an effort to reach your destination.

From my experience, ‘Narcosis’ is set to be a tense, thrilling and really quite scary game that offers you a glimpse in to the realm of the deep sea in a way that ensures you’re always on the edge of your seat.

It’s hard to argue that the game would probably be boosted by virtual reality, with some moments in particular feeling particularly suited to a medium where you’re entirely engulfed in your surroundings, but it still makes for an engrossing experience without it, which is a mark of its potential to be an incredibly effective survival horror game.

E3 2019

Biomutant is Vibrant, Unique, and a Hell of a Lot of Fun

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THQ Nordic had a bevy of games available to play on the show floor at this year’s E3. While some attendees eagerly lined up to play Darksiders Genesis (as our own Michael Cripe did), others sought to finally get their hands on Experiment 101’s highly unique Biomutant for a hands-on, 30-minute demo. Thankfully, Biomutant’s E3 demo is more than enough proof that the will end up being something truly special.

After selecting their preferred language, players were given the option to recode their mutant’s DNA, serving as Biomutant’s version of a character customizer. The customization options were satisfying. A circle graph appears on the screen with five key skills the player must find their preferred balance between: strength, agility, intellect, charisma, and vitality. A sixth skill, luck, was also present, but it was not one that the player could influence from the circle graph. This graph not only influences the player’s mutant’s skills but it also directly changes the mutant’s appearance.

Other customization options included determining the mutant’s fur length and primary and secondary colors. Once these options were set, the demo thrusts the player into a mission that begins with riding a hot air balloon  while the narrator speaks of the excitement of an adventure. Enemies begin firing to bring down the hot air balloon and the player is dropped into the action.

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The world of Biomutant immediately pops, as the colors were sharp and invoked thoughts of Ratchet &Clank with a slightly more comic-book style. The visuals reflected the conditions of the area, too, with vibrant reds representing intense heat being a memorable example. The first thing that stood out about this sequence was how great the combat felt. Similarly to Insomniac’s Spider-Man and Rocksteady’s Arkham series, sliding through an enemy’s legs while kicking, punching, and shooting felt tight and familiar. In some instances, the game slowed down when a knockout blow was dealt, which was a nice cinematic touch.

Progressing forward saw the player in an area with additional enemies with a larger, more intimidating foe acting as the main objective. This section introduced the Super Wushu attack, which varies depending on the equipped weapon. The most rewarding of these attacks was with the Klonk Fist which was obtained later in the demo. The Klonk Fist offered huge gauntlets that could pummel multiple enemies by mashing the action button.

The key to unlocking the Super Wushu attack involves stringing together combos which felt fairly easy to do. I do not recall ever losing my combo to an enemy attack, as I obtained the special attack fairly often. The combat allowed for those who wished to mash the melee or firing button but also rewards the players who are more tactical in their combos while mixing in shooting with melee attacks.

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With the tutorial for the demo out the way, the game continues by having the player go to a different part of the planet. This new area showcased the vibrant greens and life that contrasted the overheated reds from the previous area. After some platforming, the demo descends the player down into the world where Gizmo the Greasemonkey resides.

Biomutant NPC dialogue is spoken by the narrator from the beginning of the demo while the player’s character makes vague sounds during the conversation. This exchange felt a bit underwhelming for the action-RPG as options did not hold any consequences for how the next section plays out and can be skipped without missing out on much of the story or mission objective.

After descending down and exiting an elevator shaft, the player enters a dark, oil-spilt area. The color palette here reflected the same pop to its visuals as the other sections. A mech suit, which was required to clean up the oil, controlled fine, though combat definitely felt better out of the mech suit than in it.

A final enemy awaited which served as the boss fight for the mission. This fight contained three phases with the enemy adding a new attack method from in the second. The third phase, however, took place inside the creature. After taking him down from the inside, the planet’s Tree of Life becomes more alive as indicating a reversal of destitute for the planet.

The demo confirmed the anticipation OnlySP had for Biomutant. The combat felt great and the visuals really popped. THQ Nordic and Experiment 101 may something special on their hands if the rest of the game plays as the demo did.

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