Narcosis seemed like such a great idea in theory. Get trapped underwater in a big diving suit because of an earthquake and try to escape as your sanity degrades due to lack of oxygen or your nitrogen levels or maybe something to do with all the methane that shot all over the place after the quake, it’s never really fully clear. All you know (because the game directly tells you) is that your sanity will decrease the lower your oxygen gets and the longer you’re down there. Looking at a trailer or images of the game might give you the impression that there’s some kind of supernatural or sci-fi horror situation going on here, especially since it all looks remarkably similar to the underwater levels in Soma, but as the name of the game pretty directly suggests, nope, this is all just in your mind.
Avid horror fans will know that it’s still possible to make a game or movie spooky even if everything is technically just a hallucination or dream, but unfortunately this isn’t one of those stories. While the underwater environments are very visually impressive, there’s really just not much going on down there. This is an extremely slow game that mostly just involves walking around aimlessly looking for the exit. Occasionally there will be a brief jump scare moment, but they’re extremely predictable and repetitive, almost always involving you seeing an unknown person or persons in diving suits similar to your own that just kind of stand there and stare at you in menacing poses. It’s not at all effective as horror.
Every once and a while you’ll run into a troublesome sea creature, but there’s not much to these encounters either. There are giant spider crabs that can kill you which you simply have to avoid, and there are little octopi and anglerfish that half-heartedly attack you, but all they can really do is waste a bit of your oxygen and all it takes to get rid of them is mashing the same button over and over again.
Usually games like this get by with a great story, great atmosphere, and tense chase scenes against strange, deadly monsters, but this only has some of the atmosphere element at best (I imagine the atmosphere would have been more impressive if I could have played this in VR as the game was intended to be played, but there is no VR version of the game for PS4 for some fucking reason). The story isn’t much more complicated than what I already described above, though there is a half-assed twist thrown in at the end which I found more annoying than clever, and there are only one or two brief chase sequences near the end of the game. Oddly enough, the only few interesting parts where the hallucinations get really creative all happen together right in the very end. It’s really mostly just walking around for 95% of the time before that.
Also of some annoyance is how much clunky first person platforming is thrown in here. This is something you don’t really want to try to do in a game if you don’t have a great movement system, and Narcosis definitely does not have one of those. Your movement is incredibly slow, you can’t jump, you can only do an awkward semi-jumping boost move, and your vertical field of vision is incredibly limited due to your bulky suit. So you’ve got to do things like jump across the tops of a bunch of raised column type things, but without a regular jump and you can only tilt your head down by something like 10 degrees. It’s not impossible, but it’s not fun either.
Bonus annoyance: During one of these platforming sequences I magically got stuck in the ground and couldn’t get out. This is when I learned that the game has NO WAY TO LOAD LAST CHECKPOINT. You can only restart the entire chapter or wait for your oxygen to run out so you die, which if you’re not moving and nothing’s around to spook you and increase your breathing, apparently takes an extremely long time. It was actually faster for me to just start the whole level over. What time period is this game living in that it doesn’t have such a basic feature?
Anyway, it wasn’t terrible enough that I couldn’t finish its meager three-hour-or-so campaign, but I do feel like I kind of wasted my time and money a bit and I can’t imagine that I’d ever play this again. I hate to have to compare this to Soma so much, but the game clearly very badly wants to be just like Soma, but it just can’t do it. It’s not creepy, it’s not compelling, and it’s just not fun enough. If you want a creepy, claustrophobic deep underwater horror story, one that actually has a story, just play Soma instead. I guess at least it’s not as bad as Hollow though…