Norco | game review
A no-go for me.
Game summary: Your brother Blake has gone missing in the aftermath of your mother's death. In the hopes of finding him, you must follow a fugitive security android through the refineries, strip malls, and drainage ditches of suburban New Orleans. (Xbox.com)
Being a fan of point-and-click adventure games, I was really looking forward to diving into Norco with some of the stellar responses it had been receiving, but finished it wondering what the hell all that praise was about. First off, it's barely an adventure game and more often feels like a visual novel instead, and the setting seems to have been more important to the creators than making a story that uses it well.
Most of the time, it's very clearly signposted where you have to go and what you have to do to proceed to the point of just reading dialogue occasionally broken up with fairly simple puzzles. However, there a small handful of occasions where you have to do things that, while making sense in context, are the only times in the game that it works that way so may break your sense of immersion when the path ahead is way more heavily obscured than the rest of the game.
Then there's the setting, a dystopian world where everything seems to be falling apart or failing, and technology or other odd things that seemingly exist for the sake of it most of the time. There's no problem with including a hefty dose of world-building when telling a story - look at Lord of the Rings, for crying out loud! - but prioritising the world over the story is a no-no and that feels very much the case here.
Norco's story really doesn't need a lot of the more outlandish elements when you really look at it: your mother has died, your brother has gone missing and religious zealots who believe your family are the descendants of Christ are involved. That plot could easily be told in a completely true-to-life setting too - there are enough crazy religious types in real-life USA, no need to invent more for a game.
Now, the weird world created for the setting may click with others more than it did for me in terms of how much they appreciate some of the odder sights and souls you encounter, but that doesn't stop it coming across as superfluous to the plot. Not being psychic, I can't tell the developer's intentions, but it really does feel like they kept coming up with bits of a fictional that they enjoyed building and fleshed it out in a lot of detail before realising that their story didn't actually need most of it as anything other than window dressing.
None of this is helped by a main cast that are not a very nice bunch of people. Now, there's nothing wrong with having arseholes for characters, or even the lead, but you have to make them interesting and I don't think Norco managed the job there either. Again, if the weird world works for you, some of the weird characters might too, but they just didn't for me.
I can't really recommend this game when it comes down to it, but I don't want to slam it too hard either because it might just be that the tone of the game is just absolutely not for me and, if you like odd dystopias, you may end up loving Norco and wondering what the hell I'm talking about! It's simple enough to pick up and play, so most people should be able to see it through to the end if it does work for them.
Norco really failed to live up to its reputation, with a setting that feels almost entirely inessential for the story the game is telling, meaning that a lot of the weird stuff just feels weird for the sake of it. The core story is decent enough by itself, but I can't help but think that it would hit harder if simply set in our world so it's easier to associate with a generally unlikeable group of characters.