Review: NORCO

Welcome to a dystopian version of New Orleans

When I played a preview of NORCO last year I was preliminarily excited about playing the rest of the game. It had the conditions for a really cool experience, but I have also been disappointed by such a promising start before. I’m still nagging after finishing the game, but one thing I can say for sure is that this is easily my favorite game I’ve played so far this year.

Just like I said after playing the preview, NORCO is a really bizarre game. However, it does not fall into the trap of being weird just for the sake of it – it uses its weirdness to make you anxious in a way that ties in with the game’s main themes really well. Every action point and character is nuanced, and the game sympathizes with every idea it introduces, no matter how ugly or dissuasive or pathetic it may seem from the beginning.

NORCO (PC)
Developer: Geography of Robots
Publisher: Raw Fury
Released: March 24, 2022
RRP: $ 14.99

The visual in NORCO are some of the most amazing and suggestive I’ve seen in a game in a long time, and it has some of the most beautiful pixel art I’ve ever seen. It’s atmospheric and evocative, it feels like a real space that these characters live in, while at other times the images are trippy, alien and grotesque. There is a fine line between reality and fantasy, and I felt that it balanced the two perfectly, whether it was in writing, the visual or the game.

Genre reflection at its best

As a piece of genre reflection, NORCO does an excellent job of using his genre to say something meaningful about our present time, in addition to just being a fun point-and-click mystery game set in the Deep South. The game creates this incredible feeling of meaninglessness, fear and inevitability. It is a portrait of people who are only trying to cope to the best of their ability and the acceptance of a life that they did not imagine themselves.

It’s about life feeling different than you wanted, something that really hits home in the middle of a global pandemic, and the developers could perfectly capture that struggle of wanting the world and the future to be better, but also feeling the world push back when trying to achieve some form of change.

NORCO also has one of the best implementations of phones I have seen in a game, not only in the game, but also in history. It never feels like a mechanic who was implemented for superficial reasons, but instead feels like a natural extension of the characters and how they interact with the world. It somehow manages to criticize our over-association, as well as the predators that run the apps we use too often, while still understanding why we use them, and sometimes really like them, in the first place.

Southern Gothic meets magical realism

And the writing – wow, that’s so good! It’s poetic and whimsical and dark and feels atmospheric to 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 who comes from the south and absolutely loves southern gothic, NORCO really feels like a love letter to both its genre and its environment. Like I said, you can see clear inspiration from 20th century southern writers, and the story delves deep into the ecological and geographic features of New Orleans, and the interrelationships between the big corporations, the country, and the people who live in it. .

I can also feel clear parallels to another South Gothic game that leans towards magical realism: Kentucky Route Zero. Even with all its influences, though, NORCO manages to create its own space and its own identity, not only in the gaming industry, but in the South Gothic canon as a whole. I can not think of anything else that feels really like it, and it’s a game I know I’ll be thinking about for weeks to come.

A few little things

I have some complaints, although they are relatively small compared to the rest of the game. There were places where I felt that the gambling dragged on, mostly due to fixed games that felt a bit out of place to be too “playful”. It broke the depression a bit when characters stopped what they were doing to explain and re-explain the game mechanics to me, but it only happened a few times during the game.

I will say that NORCO is designed in such a way that it does not make you feel lost very easily, which can often be the case for point-and-click games. I did not have to spend a lot of time going back or trying to come up with something, and even if a few moments felt a little gripping, I would rather have it than a game that throws me into the deep end all by myself. Primarily, NORCO is a story game, so it was a smart move on the part of the developers to prioritize moving forward with the story rather than disturbing players.

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

Geography of Robots may be a studio that is still in its infancy, but after playing this game you might think they are experienced professionals. When I get 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 imagine.

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

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