Publisher: Raw Fury
Developer: Geography of Robots
Release Date: 03/24/2022
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Adventure games seem to be making a comeback which is a great thing. My fondest memories of PC games are adventure games with The Longest Journey being my favorite of all time. They are basically interactive novels with visuals, and sometimes voice acting, to help illustrate the story. Norco is one of the better modern adventure games of late but still fails in a few spots.
The story itself has moments of clarity, but like most text-heavy adventure games of late, it becomes a convoluted mess with few characters to care about and a disappointing ending. You play as two different characters – a mother and a daughter. You play as the mother, Catherine, in the past playing events that lead up to the present daughter’s events. The daughter is chasing her mother’s ghosts and trying to recover belongings that a corporation took from her. These belongings are supposed to have answers as to why this corporation targeted your family. The whole game is set in a 20-minutes-into-the-future borderline post-apocalyptic New Orleans. There isn’t too much world-building, but a lot of poetic metaphoric dialogue that a lot of games right now think is clever and interesting, but just compounds the fact that a more normal cohesive story is what makes adventure games memorable.
There are a few moments where you might enter a combat mini-game, but these are far and few between and it seems almost impossible to fail these. Various typical adventure game elements are lightly sprinkled throughout like inventory items, backtracking, code memorization, but surprisingly no puzzles really. A lot of important clues and context will be shown in green during dialog and talking to your party can give you hints which is helpful. I rarely couldn’t figure out where to go. The explorable areas are just still images that you can move your mouse around and click on things to interact with. The entire game is from a first-person perspective. There is a small mini-map in the corner that lets you click around to various “rooms” you’ve unlocked and then there’s a larger map to jump around to the main areas.
The best part about the game is the art and abstract character design. There is some weird imagery here and I really enjoyed the pixel art. The entire game gives off a great sense of atmosphere and foreboding helplessness. You meet weird characters, an occult, strange objects, and overall the game just pulls off a great sci-fi setting, but just the setting. As the game progresses the entire reason why you’re doing any of this is lost and it just devolves into just abstract poetry and makes no sense. Sometimes things seemed normal and there was decent character building, but it just wasn’t enough to push it to that top-tier adventure game level. I still didn’t care about anyone in the game enough as right when things seemed to pick up the game dropped the ball with more abstract poetry, weird imagery, and unanswered questions.
Overall, Norco has great art and super weird characters and settings, but the overall story is just a convoluted mess that devolves into poetic abstractness that seems to be plaguing adventure titles today. I love fantastical stories, but please make them make sense. Poetry isn’t making your game more clever, deep, or interesting. It just takes away from a cohesive narrative and likable characters.